Texas Senator Dan Patrick has said he will hold a fact finding hearing about the connections between Harmony Public Schools, The Pelican Educational Foundation and Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Bravo to Senator Patrick for holding Harmony Public Schools accountable and seeking to understand whether they are entangled with organizations that have gotten in trouble for mishandling public money in the past. Although he hasn’t scheduled it yet, I hope he follows through.
Back to Louisiana. Kenilworth Charter, operated by the Pelican Educational Foundation since 2009, was paid a “visit” from the F.B.I on Dec. 11th The FBI is not divulging the nature of the visit to Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Wednesday, Dec. 11th, but it’s not the first time a school run by the Pelican Educational Foundation has been under investigation.
In 2011, Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans (run by the Pelican Educational Foundation) was shut down due to allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior among students, the inappropriate handling of those issues by school staff, and ultimately a bribe of $25,000 dollars from Atlas Texas Construction and Trading (working on Abramson’s campus during the scandal), to a state regulator to make the problem “go away.”
In 2012 , the Legislative Auditor accused the Pelican Educational Foundation of improperly handling the reportedly 5,000,000 dollars they receive in public funds. It was discovered that $8,600 was spent on gifts for students who had high scores on LEAP tests. What does this malfeasance have to do with Harmony Public Schools and charters here in Texas, DC, elsewhere?
The Pelican Educational Foundation partners with Harmony Charter schools —one of the biggest charter operators in Texas, and one that is seeking to expand not only in Texas, but in Washington D.C. as well. Both of these organizations as well as Atlas Texas Construction and Trading have alleged relations with Fethullah Gulen who is affiliated with more than 120 charter schools in the nation. Read an interview with him here (See Karen Fontenot vice president of Pelican Educational Foundation speak at the Mapping the Gulen Movement here, Harmony’s to the “movements” connections here).
In 2012, an audit of the Cosmos Foundation found that Harmony misspent $186,187 in federal funds that was supposed to be for special education and low-income students. Good thing we have public accountability systems that hold these charter schools accountable for their educational practices that could cheat kids out of money for qualified certified teachers, special education services, curriculum and support staff. Fortunately, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and other State Education Agencies (SEAs) can do a great job of monitoring charter schools financial and academic practices. Or do we…
In 2012 Representatives Anchia, Cook, Dutton, Price, Birdwell, Patrick and Whitmire formed the Sunset Advisory Commission and released a report in October 2012 detailing specific inadequacies of the TEA. It featured an entire chapter labeled “TEA Lacks Full Range of Tools to Effectively Address Poor Academic Performance and Financial Mismanagement at Low Performing Charter Schools.” Well, let’s hope SB2, the charter school expansion bill passed by Sen. Dan Patrick – the one that;
- Allows charter school expansion up to 305 of them by 2019 (section 9),
- Consolidates authorization and revocation power within the Commissioner of Education’s office (sections 9 and 12.1141) AND
- Allows for charters to open up their own juvenile detention centers (section 44), special education schools (section 12.1014) and residential treatment facilities (section 45)
SB2, the charter expansion bill… Let’s hope it also improves TEA’s ability to properly monitor charter schools in instead of piling on more tasks it doesn’t have the full range of tools and resources to address.
Charter schools are not terrible. There are great charter schools that are doing great things for kids. However it’s important to make sure we have the ability to monitor their spending and academic practices so we can sort out the ones that are a part of a network of businesses whose spending practices are questionable at best and detrimental to children at worst. Public scandal is always interesting, and Harmony’s potential mishandling of funds and connection to the Pelican Educational Foundation needs to be investigated. But would Senator Patrick be calling a fact finding hearing about Harmony Public Schools had one of the organizations it partners with not been under investigation by the F.B.I?
But here’s the thing, financial “misallocation” has a real impact on children.
The $8,600 spent on electronic prizes such as iPads and computers for kids who achieved high-test scores could have been used for a professional development for Kenilworth Charter’s young and inexperienced staff. The $186,000 in federal funds for Harmony Schools- (meant for special education services and programs for low income students) what could that have meant in terms of resources for students at those schools?
As we go forward in expanding charter schools across the nation- do we really have the tools or even the desire to investigate who is setting up these schools and why? Are we sure that SEAs have the capacity and resources to ascertain whether these schools are using their resources in the best interest of children or whether their primary function is to line their pockets via the public funds generated by our kids?
A downside to charters is the increasing amount of malfeasance noted in the sector. In fact an entire blog is dedicated to the abuses nationwide. Check out Charter School Scandals. So don’t be surprised when the FBI (who usually investigates public corruption, major theft, white collar crime) shows up at your child’s charter school with a warrant because somebody decided that figuring out ways to profit off of your child was more important than finding ways to teach them. Good thing Sen. Patrick is holding that fact finding hearing…
Gotta love Bob Marley harmony.
For a compilation of articles about Gulen charters from Charter School Scandals click here.
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***Added by @ProfessorJVH 1/15/14 12:35 p.m.: Cloaking Inequity seeks to be balanced. Thus, I have included a recent tweet on education reform from Sen. Van De Putte who is also a candidate for Lt. Gov in Texas.