Monday, January 5, 2015

Lets Begin By Understanding Who They Are

By Jeff Simpson - Cross Posted at Purple Wisconsin

  The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty(WILL), run by fellow Purple WIsconsin blogger Rick Esenberg, recently released a report which unsurprisingly tells us that charter/voucher schools in WI have it rough and are over regulated.  
That the law branch of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation would come up with such findings surprises no one.  WILL is an extremely well funded "non profit" and they have the Bradly Foundation to thank.  It is always good to keep your donors happy, so advancing the agenda of the public school profiteers, is to be expected.   
Let's take a look at who WILL is.   This "study" was put together by three people, Rick Esenberg, CJ Szafir and Martin Lueken. A quick check of credentials and we see that neither Mr. EsenbergMr. Szafir nor Mr. Lueken have spent a day working in a public school, nor are they certified or eligible to teach in a public school.   Martin Lueken was a recent hire to the team, courtesy of the private school pushing Walton family.  
In New Wisconsin, working on a Republican campaign is all of the credentials you need to be an expert on any topic.  Not a single education credential went into this report, and future reports to come from WILL,  on voucher/private schools.  
Now that we see who they are, let's take a look at the four main findings they came up with
1.  State accountability laws on the school choice programs are at least as rigorous – and probably enforced more aggressively – than anything imposed on public schools. However, unlike public schools, schools in the choice programs must meet their mark or be immediately dropped from the programs, which will cause many schools to close.
We can look in WILL's backyard, to see this is blatantly not true.  As we pointed out recently:
Witness the example of Milwaukee voucher schools Ceria M. Travis Academy(437 students, K-12) and Travis Technology High School(179 students). These two schools receive over $4.6 Million Wisconsin taxpayer public education dollars and are being told to shape up or get kicked out of the voucher program.
After three years of not serving their kids, are being told to shape up or you might eventually get kicked off the program of taking taxpayer money(currently approx.  $5 million a year!)  So much for "immediately" when this school has received close to $35 million of our public education tax dollars and counting.    
2. The Department of Public Instruction interprets the accountability laws in ways that deviates from the statutory language, making it more demanding than originally intended.
There should be an asterisk here.  The DPI interprets the laws in ways that deviate from statutory language according to WILL.   WILL has a history of filing frivolous lawsuits to serve partisan purposes, so keep that in mind when reading these reports.  
3. Policymakers should consider the current accountability scheme on schools in choice programs before implementing any new regulations.
Here we actually agree, lawmakers should take into account current accountability of voucher schools. As we found out at the Travis Academy and Travis Technology High Schools(emphasis mine): 
But new documents and former employees have raised concerns about the internal workings at Ceria M. Travis Academy, a private school that's received more than $35 million in state voucher payments through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program since 1996.
Complaints filed with the state in 2014 and obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel through an open records request allege that the school has violated state law by employing people without bachelor's degrees to teach students.
And former and current staff members say the close-knit family business has crossed a number of other lines that, while not illegal under state statutes governing private voucher schools, may be holding children back from getting the kind of education they deserve.
They say Dorothy Travis Moore, the founder and CEO of Ceria M. Travis Academy Inc., employs an unusually high number of family members and that it's hard to tell where the money for education goes, as classrooms lack adequate resources.
School officials counter that a recent review of the schools by an independent accrediting organization found the programs to be operating in accordance with state law.
That review was requested by the Department of Public Instruction as it sought to follow-up on the claims made via email about unqualified teachers at the school.
Double-checking the review's conclusion is difficult.
Travis Moore and Wilnekia Brinson, her daughter and vice president of the organization, declined to provide the Journal Sentinel with staff rosters from 2014-'15 and 2013-'14, as well as a current list of individual staff titles and salaries.
Because voucher schools are private, they do not have to make such information public.
We agree that voucher schools, taking public money should be held to the same standards as public schools.  Want to know how much money your favorite public school teacher makes?  They are all published in this paper.  
4. New accountability measures should be tailored with an appreciation for the value of diverse approaches and parental choice. There are a number of ways to measure school performance, and different families will place different weight on these measures and the outcomes that they reflect.
As we pointed out, with the complete debacle of the Travis voucher schools, in the backyard of WILL and others, there has been complete silence.  
The silence was reinforced yesterday, after putting out their 16 page report, Mr. Esenberg added this disclaimer.   
The recent story regarding the Ceria M. Travis Academy illustrates this. I - and WILL - are not familiar with the school and, for that reason, take no position on its recent difficulties.
Finally, why is this so important to know?  The Republicans who control the gerrymandered State legislature have made expanding vouchers and a school accountability bill top priorities.   During this debate amongst themselves, you will hear them reference this report and subsequent reports that WILL puts out on this issue.   
It is important to know it is not worth the paper it is printed on and if legislation is passed based on this report, we have all been shortchanged!   

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