We lead with the story of how Clark and Jeanette Parker of Beverly Hills used charter schools as a piggy bank, following a long history of dodgy accounting in the "charity" sector, moving to a new location whenever their self-dealing and underperformance became known by the local educational regulators.
The Parkers have cast themselves as selfless philanthropists, telling the California Board of Education that they have “devoted all of our lives to the education of other people’s children, committed many millions of our own dollars directly to that particular purpose, with no gain directly to us.”
But the couple have, in fact, made millions from their charter schools. Financial records show the Parkers’ schools have paid more than $800,000 annually to rent buildings the couple own. The charters have contracted out services to the Parkers’ nonprofits and companies and paid Clark Parker generous consulting fees, all with taxpayer money, a Times investigation found.
Presented with The Times’ findings, the Parkers did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
How the Parkers have stayed in business, surviving years of allegations of financial and academic wrongdoing, illustrates glaring flaws in the way California oversees its growing number of charter schools.
Many of the people responsible for regulating the couple’s schools, including school board members and state elected officials, had accepted thousands of dollars from the Parkers in campaign contributions.
Like other charter operators who have run into trouble, the Parkers were able to appeal to the state Board of Education when they faced the threat of being shut down; the panel is known for overturning local regulators’ decisions. A Times analysis of the state board’s decisions has found that, over the last five years, it has sided with charters over local school districts or county offices of education in about 70% of appeals.
California law also enables troubled charter operators to escape sanction or scrutiny by moving to school districts more willing to accept them. The Parkers have used this to their advantage, keeping one step ahead of the regulators.
“They’re like cats,” said Kawamoto, who began working at one of the couple’s charter schools in 2006. “They have so many lives.”
Charter schools are technically public schools operated by private entities. Make the subject to the freedom of information acts that normal schools do.On the "Good News" side, we have a public education advocate turned public education advocacy lawyer Robert Skeels, who has been beating the Charter School establishment like a drum in court:
On Tuesday, March 23, 2021, I got my second big win in court against a charter school corporation. It was also a major victory over their California Charter Schools Association (“CCSA”) trade association, which tried to use the case to carve out immunity to the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”). I represented @DotKohlhaas in the action.
My first win against a corporate charter school was a year ago as third chair in a suit to overturn a wrongful expulsion of a student of color. The Partnerships to Uplift Communities (“PUC”) charter chain (of convicted felon Ref Rodriguez fame) had violated the student’s due process rights. Violated isn’t a strong enough word for what they did. PUC unilaterally changed the charges at the appeals hearing and then branded the child as a terrorist in his permanent record. Under the tutelage of the brilliant partners at the law firm I was a part-timer at the time (I am currently transitioning to full time there), plus sage advice from @DrPrestonGreen, we built a strong case.
It was my argument that the charter corporation never proved specific intent — a crucial element to Ed. Code § 48900.7, as well as PUC’s glaring lack of notice afforded to the student, that saw the court overturn the wrongful expulsion and give the student their life back.
This latest case was a charter trying to hide all its dirty secrets by not complying with the CPRA. The scandal-ridden The Accelerated Schools (“TAS”) charter chain’s leaders absconded when the community started pushing back and started asking questions about union busting.
I suppose I can’t blame them. The charter industry — long used to unaccountably spending tax dollars in total secrecy — fought tooth and nail the imposition of the CPRA and Brown Act added by Ed. Code § 47604.1(b)(2)(A). When the statute took effect January 2020, charter school corporations were already looking for ways to skirt the law. At the firm where I’m a junior associate, we use the CPRA for pre-discovery work against charter corporations. Michael Kohlhaas dot org, on the other hand, has used the CPRA to expose some of the ugliest, scandalous conduct by an industry already infamous for scandal. Uncovering the vile Nick Melvoin’s sharing of Los Angeles Unified School District’s (“LAUSD”) confidential legal strategies with their then party-opponent in a lawsuit (the CCSA) was a blockbuster revelation enabled by the CPRA.
When one looks at the corruption, self dealing, and opacity of the Charter School industry, it's almost as if the entire process was designed to serve the dual goals of resegregating public education and allowing private operators to loot the public coffers.
Oh wait, it was.