Take 5: LaRaviere update, charter money questions, New York high schools, New Orleans and local control

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Parents and community members packed a meeting at a charter high school in New Orleans in 2007. The city’s elected school board will now regain control of schools, which became virtually all-charter after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

Photo by Rachel Feierman/Flickr

Parents and community members packed a meeting at a charter high school in New Orleans in 2007. The city’s elected school board will now regain control of schools, which became virtually all-charter after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

LaRaviere’s “dereliction of duty.” Troy LaRaviere, the outspoken critic of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education policies and a candidate for the top job in the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association, says he was removed as principal of Blaine Elementary for “dereliction of duty” because he never completed paperwork involved in rating teachers.

LaRaviere says paperwork errors have never been grounds for removal — until now, as he runs to head the principals group against a retired principal, Kenneth Hunter, whose nominating petition was signed by some top district officials.

Separately, in a blog post published last week, LaRaviere speculated that City Hall wanted to keep him from digging into a multi-million cleaning contract with a private company, SodexoMAGICM, tied to an Emanuel campaign contributor. District officials issued a request for proposals to expand the number of schools whose building engineers are managed by the company.

The original Sodexo contract got less attention when it was first signed two years ago, when CPS approved a separate contract with Aramark that privatized janitorial staff and infuriated principals, who claimed Aramark janitors left schools dirty.

Charter money questions. Concept Schools, a charter school operator with four Chicago campuses, received nearly $340,000 last year in federal funding to open a new school at the same time it was under investigation for allegedly defrauding a federal grant program, the Sun-Times reports.

The U.S. Department of Education gave the charter network a three-year grant to open Horizon Science Academy-Southwest Chicago. Concept was to receive nearly all of the money it requested to cover the costs of new furniture, textbooks and other supplies for 450 mostly low-income students. The DOE now says it has put restrictions on Concept’s access to the federal money, and the $200,000 it was going to receive last year is on hold.

Concept is under investigation for its involvement with the government’s E-Rate program, which gives money to expand Internet access in schools with low-income students. Concept allegedly pushed $5 million in E-rate funds to vendors that they already worked with, violating government open-bidding rules.

On a separate note, Concept was sued last week by a former teacher who says she was fired after complaining about sexual harassment.

Income over schooling. New York City’s high-school choice system came under scrutiny this week after a study that showed graduation rates remain closely tied to income — not the high school students attend. This means that the decade-old system isn’t really meeting its goal of helping “poor teenagers escape the troubled options in their own neighborhoods,” as the Wall Street Journal describes.

New York City’s enrollment system, launched under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004, requires all 8th graders to pick and rank up to 12 choices for high school and, on paper, giving lower-income students a better shot at top schools. But the study by research group Measure of America found that these students mostly applied to the lower-performing high schools and that “families also find it daunting to tackle the stressful, time-consuming admissions process,” the Journal reported.

Chicago is now considering a single application system for all high schools, including charters, for the 2017-2018 school year. CPS first committed to centralizing its enrollment system five years ago when it signed a compact initiated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Local control—or not—in New Orleans. Louisiana’s governor is expected to sign off on a bill that would return control of New Orleans schools to the city’s elected school board. It’s meant as a first step to re-engaging residents who feel their voices were cut off when the district shifted to an almost all-charter system in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Louisiana’s pro-charter state superintendent, John White, told the New York Times he supports the legislation but acknowledges that it may actually help maintain the status quo.

That’s drawn criticism from the New Orleans Tribune, which serves African-American communities and published an editorial titled “Don’t Be Fooled By A Trojan Horse.” The newspaper’s editorial board says the bill was “written to serve the needs and desires of the charter school movement and the predators and profiteers that have unapologetically gained from this experiment.”

The op-ed also complained that the bill would allow any school under the elected board’s jurisdiction to act as its own local education agency–meaning charter schools don’t actually have to give up much autonomy.

School funding fight. State Sen. Andy Manar’s bill to change the way Illinois funds schools passed 31-21 in the Senate, but it’s unclear how the bill will do in the House, where Democrats — the main supporters of the bill — have less control. A spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan says a House task force is still working on its own plan, but will incorporate the “best” parts of the Manar bill.

The bill would increase money to districts with mostly low-income children, including $175 million more for Chicago next year, while phasing out money for wealthier districts. CPS also would receive about $205 million in pension relief, which some Republicans called a bailout. Most of CPS’ deficit stems from its growing teacher pension payments that are due. CPS is the only district in the state that must fund its own teacher pensions.

Republicans who represent districts that would lose money dislike the bill. Instead, they support a proposal from Gov. Bruce Rauner that calls for pumping $55 million into schools now and looking at the funding formula later. Under Rauner’s plan, the state would cut $74 million from CPS next year.

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Education has determined that CPS’ finances aren’t bad enough to trigger the state takeover Rauner sought.

Last notes… Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be honored at the annual Reach Awards Gala with National Louis University’s Pioneer Award for his work to increase access to quality education during his time in Washington D.C. Three others will also receive an award for their work in Chicago.