Day: <span>September 11, 2013</span>

Carpe Diem: Seizing tax dollars for charters

carpe diem

The Latin phrase, carpe diem, has been popularly translated to mean seize the day or seize the moment — or go for your next opportunity. Well, a charter school operator by that name has its sights on seizing Texas tax dollars for an educational program that spends public money to buy lots of computers while hiring few teachers. It also is tailored more toward highly motivated students than children who really need help.

Carpe Diem has distinguished itself for high student test scores in Arizona, where it got started, and for cavernous, cubicle-filled classrooms that resemble call centers. Along the way, though, there have been allegations of possible cheating and a sweetheart real estate deal in Indiana that could give the school’s landlord — an entrepreneur with close ties to that state’s governor — as much as a half million dollars of Indiana taxpayers’ money.

Now, Carpe Diem wants to set up shop in San Antonio, and its application is to be heard this week by the Texas Education Agency. It is among a number of charter applications that largely will be decided, under a new state law, by state Education Commissioner Michael Williams, who assumes the charter approval authority once held by the State Board of Education. I wrote about another controversial applicant, Great Hearts Academies, in my previous blog posting.

Remember, charter schools – although relieved of some state regulations – receive an allotment of tax dollars for each student they enroll, and they are attracted to those tax dollars like flies to the picnic table. Some charters are good. Others are out to cash in on the taxpayers – and raid traditional public schools.

The Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma, Ariz., has received considerable attention for its high student test scores and high student-teacher ratio. The school operates under a so-called “blended learning” model, a combination of online and face-to-face instruction. According to the Arizona Republic, students spend most of their time at computers. In one recent school year, each major subject had only one teacher who was responsible for 240 students in grades six through 12.

That arrangement may be fine, some educators believe, for highly motivated students who are self-starters. But what about the millions of other students in Arizona, Texas and elsewhere, many from low-income families, who need smaller classes and more attention from teachers? Their best opportunities are still found in traditional public schools. In fact, according to a story last year in The Hechinger Report, Carpe Diem tended to lose a higher percentage of students each year than traditional schools in Yuma did.

In spring 2010, the Arizona Republic reported, Pearson Education, the company that administers the Arizona student achievement test, flagged the reading test taken by Carpe Diem sophomores for having a higher-than average number of erasure marks. Pearson said one group of 27 Carpe Diem students had a total number of wrong-to-right erasure marks seven times as high as the state average. The school denied any cheating, and the state apparently didn’t increase monitoring.

And, now Carpe Diem is expanding in Indiana and, it hopes, Texas, among other places.

Earlier this year, The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind., reported that Ambassador Enterprises, a company owned by businessman Daryle Doden, which is providing space for a new Carpe Diem school, will be paid $1,000 for each student who enrolls, up to 550 students, plus “associated property costs.” Daryle Doden is a political contributor to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and the father of Eric Doden, the governor’s appointed director for statewide economic development.

The newspaper reported that the Indiana Charter School Board rushed to approve the Carpe Diem deal despite strong community opposition. It wrote, “The community knows exactly what the deal is – hundreds of thousands of dollars being sucked out of area school districts as rent paid to Ambassador Enterprises.”

You don’t think that could happen in Texas? Think again.