Charters and $$$$: Has anyone seen anything like this?

Has anyone seen anything like this? Charter requiring parents to pay $$$$ in lieu of required volunteer hours. In the words of Jerry McGuire:

Show me the money!

Apparently the California Charter School Association hasn’t heard of such a thing happening in practice or charter school policy, even though Public Advocates delivered the evidence to the public via parent whistleblowers and publicly available policy documents. Public Advocates’ report documented its year-long investigation into an inequitable and illegal practice by some of California’s charter schools, and calls for charter schools to end requiring payment in lieu of volunteer hours. Public Advocates is demanding that the state take immediate action to stop the practice and increase its oversight of charter schools more generally.

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Of course we know that there are lots of bad apples in the charter movement. The way that charters have used to limit equity and access have been discussed extensively on Cloaking Inequity. (For all posts on charters click here). See for example Breaking News: Kevin Welner’s Charter School Dirty Dozen and Colonizing the Black Natives: Reflections from a former NOLA Charter School Dean of Students and Don’t Trust Charters More than a Sweaty Used Car Salesman (A Citizen Research Template) Do I believe that ALL charters are bad apples? No. For example see The Gem on the Hill: How to Create a Community-Based In-District Charter However, based on my peer reviewed research on charters over the past five years, I posit that Travis Heights is the exception, not the rule.

Back to Show me the Money!… The San Francisco Chronicle covered the Public Advocates report:

At least 170 California charter schools are violating the state Constitution by requiring parents to volunteer up to 100 hours a year if they want their kids to participate in field trips and other activities or remain enrolled in the school, according to civil rights lawyers in a report released Thursday.

A survey of 555 California charter schools — about half of all charters in the state — found that nearly a third impose family volunteer time, with some allowing parents to pay $5 to $25 per hour to buy their way out of the commitment.

“One of the reasons it’s so alarming to us is it’s punishing a kid for something that’s not the kid’s fault,” said Hilary Hammel, attorney at the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and lead author on the report.

Hammel cited an Oakland parent who found on the first day of seventh grade that her son was not enrolled at his charter school because she had not completed the required volunteer hours the previous year. She was told she could either pay $300 on the spot or go buy three large boxes of paper.

She went and bought $80 worth of paper and returned to enroll her son.

The California Charter school Association is in DENY DENY DENY mode. Here is there response in the Chronicle article

“We would not say, however, that there is a widespread application of these requirements,” he said. “We would just encourage these kinds of people doing this research do more than review documents on the Web and perhaps find a few individuals.”

The Chronicle continued:

One of the worst cases identified in the study was Manzanita Charter Middle School in Richmond, Hammel said.

The school requires parents sign a contract agreeing to 96 hours of volunteer time as well as participation in two mandatory school cleanings and attendance at 10 monthly meetings for a family to “remain in good standing.”

Those not in good standing are not guaranteed admission for the following school year, their siblings are not granted priority admission and, for graduating eighth graders, their families receive limited tickets to graduation, according to school documents.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

In Los Angeles, the group found that parents at Academia Moderna in Walnut Park, which is overseen by the Los Angeles Unified School District, must volunteer 20 hours per family, and that those who fail to fulfill that requirement could be at risk of losing their child’s spot the following year.

At the Academy of Science and Engineering charter school, also authorized by L.A. Unified, parents must volunteer to work at least 20 hours in a variety of jobs: document translation, school cleanup and facilities maintenance.

The California Charter School Association weighed in:

In a statement, the California Charter Schools Assn. said it was not familiar with any situation in which a student was excluded from a school as the result of a parent’s failure to volunteer. The group said it would provide guidance to its members on the issue.

I think this photo sums up that response:


Then there is the Sac Bee report… what did the eminent California Charter School Association have to say?

Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, agreed that excluding students from a charter school because a parent failed to volunteer is illegal and inappropriate. But, he said, that’s not the practice.

“When we looked at the report out today, we saw that it’s basically dependent on a cursory scan of documents available on the Web,” he said, “and we don’t think that’s a very deep look at what has happened.”

The evidence is damning. You can choose to ignore, ignore, deny, deny, i am not listening, i am not listening, or you can look at the evidence that the team of civil rights lawyers has collected. Later in the Sac Bee article:

 But Public Advocates is focusing on schools that prescribe a specific number of volunteer hours, ask parents to sign a contract before enrollment and suggest potential consequences if the hour threshold is not met. Such parents are often required to log their volunteer time electronically or on paper forms. Some schools allow parents to buy out hours; Westlake Charter School in Natomas, for instance, says on its website that a $20 contribution can satisfy one hour of volunteer time.

The Phoebe Hearst website specifies that families “are required to donate 40 hours of volunteer time per year” and can do so by helping in the office, ensuring safety on the playground or in the school parking lot or helping in the classrooms. Parents can also donate $5 an hour in lieu of volunteering to cover up to 20 hours, according to a parent participation form that families are asked to submit each month.

Now, what the California Charter School Association and school are saying is that these policies are not being enforced necessarily… What do the whistleblower parents in the report have to say about whether these policies are being enforced?

Kristen was looking forward to her fifth grade class’s end-of-year field trip to a water park. But on the Friday before the field trip, her teacher told Kristen that she could not go because her mother had not worked at school for the required 40 annual “service” hours. Kristen went home in tears. Her mother, Raquel, became furious. She drove to the school immediately and asked the teacher to give her work to do. “I’ll volunteer right now,” Raquel said. “What can I do so that Kristen can go on the trip?” “She made me clean her room. I had to take posters down from the walls. I had to climb up on a small children’s desk to pull the nails off the wall by hand. I felt like I was a mother one minute and a cleaning lady the next.” At the teacher’s instruction, Raquel went to a paint store to buy paint in a specific shade of blue, and then painted the classroom shelves. Finally, the teacher decided that Raquel had worked for enough hours to fulfill her quota, and Kristen was allowed to go on the field trip

What is the message that the charter schools are sending by publicly stating that parents have to have a certain number of hours volunteering or they must pay $$$$? What families do you think are being purposefully discoursed from attending these charters schools… the 170 schools that have had these policies printed in black and white?!

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In fact these policies are illegal in California, and should be in your state too!

The recommendations provide by Public Advocates, if implemented, should snuff out this practice whether it be widespread or isolated to a set of bad apples. Here are the recommendations for the California Legislature (and yours) from the report:

  • Amend the law governing charter approval to make clear that authorizers must not authorize a charter school that intends to implement a facially unconstitutional policy such as illegal fees or forced work quotas.
  • Amend the law on charter renewal to make clear that charter authorizers must not renew a charter school with an unconstitutional policy such as illegal fees or forced work quotas.
  • Amend the law on charter revocation to make clear that charter schools with unlawful policies and practices, such as illegal fees or forced work quotas, must be revoked.
  • Amend the law on charter school authorizers’ oversight and monitoring duties to make clear that authorizers must annually monitor charter schools’ compliance with state constitutional requirements, and must revoke the charter of any charter school with an unconstitutional practice.

Public Advocates concludes:

Requiring parents to work at a public school as a condition of their child’s participation in educational activities is illegal under the California Constitution and Education Code. Yet the practice is rampant in charter schools throughout the state. Charter schools must immediately stop forcing parents to do work at the school as a condition of their child’s enrollment or as a condition of their child’s receiving educational benefits. State-level agencies such as the CDE, the SBE and the legislature must also take immediate and affirmative steps to ensure that the practice does not persist. Failure to eliminate this practice could expose charter schools and the state to liability.

Schools seeking to achieve a high level of parent involvement should develop and implement programs that do not force parents to do work, but instead eliminate barriers to parent participation and increase parental capacity to meaningfully participate in their child’s education. No public school should ever penalize or exclude a student because his or her parent or guardian cannot or chooses not to donate time or labor to the school.

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Please blame the monkeys at the California Charter School Association (I almost typed Texas) for any typos.

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