KIPP Mothers Want to Sue Charters

If you are paying attention, the evidence about KIPP charter schools, a darling of the charter movement, is not all roses and bows.

This blog actually began back in 2012 in response to a KIPP charter schools press release. The KIPP press office was trying to discount our research findings that we published in the Berkeley Review of Education about the attrition of Black students out of KIPP charters that we found in the Texas state data.

I discussed the KIPP research here on Cloaking Inequity in the very first blog post Is choice a panacea? An analysis of black secondary student attrition from KIPP, other private charters and urban districts

We also can’t forget the infamous padded rooms in NYC KIPP.

Or the EdWeek conversation about the high dropout rate for Black male students in KIPP.

In the early years of the blog, I even sat down with KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg for an interview to ask him some pointed questions about the criticism. See Frank Convo with KIPP’s Mike Feinberg: Do you call BS?

Now, two courageous Houston KIPP mothers, Mary Courtney and Cher Dawson, are speaking out against KIPP’s “optional athletic fees, field trip fees, academic fees, etc” and they state that these optional fees “have been charged as required fees at at least ten KIPP schools since 1994 and that the optional fees go into one account and are used for whatever purpose KIPP decides.”

They would like to sue KIPP for violations of state or federal law and make the public aware of how KIPP allegedly takes their money illegally— but has no public accountability or oversight of the parents’ money. Here is an excellent article in the Houston Chronicle about the situation.

They reported,

Mary Courtney was one of KIPP Houston’s biggest advocates, even as she had to borrow money from relatives to keep up with payments to the charter school.

She drove to Austin during School Choice Week, talking to lawmakers about why they should better fund charter schools. She volunteered on campus. She paid thousands in fees so her boys and other students could have access to books and science materials.

But that was before she realized the fees she was paying were optional, something she says was never mentioned by teachers or principals or on the fee agreement forms that the schools – KIPP Liberation College Prep and KIPP PEACE Elementary – tied to student registration. Now, Courtney and several other KIPP Houston parents are furious because they believe they were duped by the charter nonprofit system into paying for what they believe should be a free public education.

The Texas Education Agency investigation last year (a copy of which was obtained by the Houston Chronicle) found some KIPP Houston schools violated the Texas Education Code by collecting impermissible student fees.

Some of it’s poor and minority families paid hundreds of dollars per student each year for things such as reading materials, student supplies, Kipp Through College, Library, accident insurance, extra technology and KIPP parent associations.

But KIPP is denying the findings of the report and has not refunded the “optional” fees that they have been charging poor families. This problem was raised by parents at a KIPP Houston Board meeting on 6.22.17. You can watch here. The student fees conversation starts at 59:12 in the video. If you don’t want to watch, I have included a paraphrase of the conversation that took place during the board meeting below.

Thomas, Director of Finance, started the conversation off by stating (in paraphrase):

Kipp has increased all of their school funding for AVA. Due to TEA revenue compliance component. Because they were charging student fees that they probably shouldn’t have been. To help kind of fill that gap.

Then KIPP Houston Superintendent Ali stated (in paraphrase):

That’s actually incorrect we were able to charge fees. We were not charging anything unallowable. But we just want to offset that anyway and just provide more for our students. So rather than charge the optional student fees to families we decided to just cover that internal.

Then Mike Feinberg added (in paraphrase):

So given that we were already subsidizing a lot of that, we’re subsidizing more for our families. It was never a hundred thousand dollars before right?

KIPP Houston Superintendent Ali replied (in paraphrase):

“That’s right” But I do want to be really clear that we were not charging unallowable student fees.

Do you believe it’s problematic that KIPP has been allegedly charging poor families optional fees since their inception without explicitly telling parents that they do not have to pay? Should KIPP refund the fees?

Here is what the KIPP parent had to say in the Chronicle,

“I would like to know when will we be reimbursed,” Courtney said. “I believe my child should receive a free appropriate public education as I did.”

It’s been awhile since I wrote about KIPP, I really should get back to it. Thanks for reading Cloaking Inequity.

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 See also A Challenge to KIPP






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