By Craig Ford
One of the biggest arguments against charter schools is that they have been hotbeds of waste, fraud and corruption. Nationally, charter schools have cost the taxpayers over $100 million dollars in fraud and corruption.
Now, Alabama has become the new victim of corruption and waste at the hands of charter schools.
Nicole Ivey was the principal of LEAD Academy, the first charter school in Montgomery, until last week. Mrs. Ivey was fired after she raised questions about whether the school was following state laws related to charter schools.
Specifically, Mrs. Ivey approached the State Department of Education about her concerns that LEAD was not in compliance with state laws related to student health, safety and financial accountability.
Because Mrs. Ivey had the courage and integrity to raise these questions, she was asked to resign by board chair Charlotte Meadows, who was just elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in a special election held in August.
Details of Mrs. Ivey’s concerns have not been made public, but she was quoted in the Montgomery Advertiser as saying, “I refused to engage in illegal activity and am confident that the truth will come out as this matter moves forward.”
The accusations of illegal activity are deeply concerning, if not surprising. And the fact that Mrs. Ivey was fired for coming forward just adds more credibility to her accusations.
Corruption and waste associated with charter schools is well known and has been seen in states throughout the country. In Pennsylvania alone, there has been more than $30 million dollars in taxpayer dollars lost to waste, fraud and abuse. So, it should not come as a surprise that the same waste, corruption and fraud is now happening here in Alabama.
On top of the misuse of taxpayer money, researchers at the National Education Policy Center have found that 80 percent of charter school governing boards refused or ignored Freedom of Information Act requests for copies of their contracts with education management organizations, meaning that charter operators and education service providers have a history of refusing to comply with state laws.
The arguments for charter schools never made sense, anyway. After all, if charter schools actually worked, then why not just apply what they are doing to all schools in Alabama? If it’s a question of flexibility, then give every school the same flexibility, not just the charter schools.
The truth is that charter schools at best have mixed results when it comes to actual academic progress.
Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes conducted a pair of studies comparing academic performance between charter schools and traditional public schools across 26 states and the District of Columbia. Researchers found that only 25 percent of charter schools performed better in reading than traditional public schools, while only 29 percent performed better in math. Fifty-six percent of charters produced no significant difference in reading, while 19 percent performed worse. And 40 percent of charter schools performed no better in math, while 31 percent performed “significantly worse.”
So if charter schools are not producing better results on test scores and charter school operators across the country have a consistent history of fraud, waste and corruption, including not complying with open records laws, then the only logical explanation for the existence of charter schools is that someone is making money off them at the taxpayer’s expense.
With this clear history and mounting evidence, you would think that state leaders would start putting the breaks on charter schools in Alabama until they can at least figure out a way to more adequately enforce the laws.
But instead of slowing things down and taking a cautious approach, our state legislators have quadrupled the amount of taxpayer money going to the Alabama Charter School Commission, including $400,000 that is being allocated to a non-profit organization to promote and push more charter schools in Alabama.
The stench surrounding LEAD Academy is only the beginning. I hope that Mrs. Ivey is right and that the whole truth will come out. At the very least, Charlotte Meadows should either resign from the charter school board or resign from the State House of Representatives. And the Legislative Contract Review Committee should put a hold on the contract with the non-profit.
But I doubt we will see any of that happen, and in the meantime, your taxpayer dollars will continue to go down the drain.
Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and The Messenger newspaper. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.