I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Charter Hypocrisy Runs Wild in NJ

The hypocrisy of the charter cheerleaders is apparently boundless:
Two local charter schools, including the city’s oldest, have lost tax-exempt status after failing to file required forms with the IRS for a three-year period.
The institutions — LEAP Academy University Charter School and the three-school Camden Pride system — are required to maintain nonprofit status under state law, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education noted Thursday.
“We will be examining these issues with each of the schools to determine the next steps we will take,” said DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan.
Carlos Perez, president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, called for authorities to focus on keeping the schools open. “They have a good track record,” he said. [emphasis mine]
Keep in mind that LEAP Academy failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two years. And Rutgers professor Bruce Baker has shown that, when accounting for student demographics, LEAP Academy has actually performed below its expectations. Here, for example, is a graph showing LEAP's relative performance against it's expected performance on the 2010-11 NJASK (the annotation is mine to make it more clear):

See how LEAP is below the line across the middle? According to Baker's regression model, LEAP is "below predicted" on the test when considering the students it serves compared to other schools in the state. Here are the 2009 results in 8th Grade math; the graph is a little less cluttered:

Let me be clear: as enlightening as I find Baker's work, I don't think it definitively shows that LEAP should be closed (and Baker almost certainly would agree with me). What I do find disturbing is that Perez, the head charter cheerleader, would suggest that we ought to be closing "failing" charters, but we should still keep LEAP open even though LEAP is under-performing relative to other schools and has serious fiscal problems.

Which begs a question: what is it about LEAP that has earned them a free pass?

Well, LEAP has an exceptionally well-connected Board of Trustees. Many of them have close ties to Rutgers-Camden, which guaranteed the bonds whose tax-exempt status is now in question:
LEAP obtained $8.5 million in tax-exempt bonds from the Delaware River Port Authority in 2003 for development and construction of its Cooper Street campus in downtown Camden.
IRS spokesman David Stewart on Wednesday said it is too soon to know whether the loss of tax-exempt status will affect LEAP’s outstanding bonds. Lenders typically allow a lower interest rate on such loans, because their return will not be taxed.
Tim Ireland, a spokesman for the DRPA, said the authority “served only as a conduit to the bond market for LEAP,” and that the charter school’s debt is guaranteed by Rutgers-Camden.
“The tollpayers (who use DRPA bridges) have no exposure here because of the way the deal was structured,” said Ireland.
“Rutgers’ commitment remains unchanged,” said Mike Sepanic, a spokesman for the Camden university. “We are reviewing this situation.”
Should LEAP be given a second chance just because it has close ties to the guarantor of its bonds, while schools like Emily Fischer Charter in Trenton, which are not politically connected, are given the axe?

Where is the consistency?

Not here...


Mrs. King's music students said...

And if memory serves, there was a substantial outcry against closing Emily Fischer from the community which it served, just as there was in Camden against closing Lanning Square. And in both of these Abbott districts where the majority of community members have to find public transportation to high crime areas after dark, public outcry is a tribute to the schools they valued. If I take your meaning correctly, you are pointing out that politically savvy profiteers in the charter business are not necessarily providing a valued service to the communities they serve, and even where they do, it has no bearing on the outcome. Well stated. And I would add that the same is true in public schools where BOEs put state funding before the ability of teachers to teach and their own children to learn. This is another instance in which public outcry from the communities they serve has no bearing on the outcome. Just sayin...

Deb said...

The problems highlighted by LEAP (and I am quite sure this is not the only school with such or similar problems) highlight so much that must be fixed in our dual school system. We have example after example of charter schools getting into trouble - financial, academic, etc. with a lack of oversight from the state (since the state is the only oversight for them) while at the same time the state, with heavy hand, is overseeing public schools through RACs and other potentially punitive means - and threatening closure. Time to call Cerf's bluff as he insists he is going to ensure that charters are high quality options. So, Cerf, LEAP?????