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Laurie Roberts: Charters in Arizona Scored Nearly $100 Million. That’s Ridiculous.

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Laurie Roberts is a columnist for the Arizona Republic who has written frequently about frauds in the charter and voucher sectors. When I was writing Slaying Goliath, I found her reporting and her sharp to be invaluable. She read Carol Burris’s article about the Network for Public Education study of charters that double dipped in two different pots of federal funding, and she thought that their greed was ridiculous.

As Congress considers the next economic stimulus package, it’s worth mentioning that America’s charter schools snagged at least $925 million in emergency funding from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to an analysis by Network for Public Education.

In Arizona, 100 charter school operations bagged anywhere from $40 million to nearly $100 million in emergency funding, the analysis of U.S. Small Business Administration records shows.

That’s a lot of stimulation, economically speaking. Especially when you consider that the losses at publicly funded charter schools are largely a figment of the federal government’s imagination.

Unlike small businesses that saw their operations fall off a cliff when COVID-19 hit, Arizona taxpayers fund Arizona’s charter schools.

Charters already getting state, federal aid

Not only have charter operators received their regular per-student allotments of state money, they are eligible for a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act funding that is being pumped into public schools to cover added costs due to COVID-19 and budget shortfalls.

So, what losses?

The Arizona Charter Schools Association sent me a statement saying charter schools were concerned this spring that the coronavirus would lead to state budget cuts, requiring them to lay off teachers.

“Charter schools have not only faced questions about the uncertainty of the state budget, but also seen steep declines in charitable fundraising and programs such as before-and after-care – which are important revenue sources for our schools and students,” the statement said. “These federal funds have provided financial assistance to eligible recipients, as Congress intended.”

No word on how many of those schools returned the money when those state budget cuts didn’t happen.

Roberts notes that more than 400 charter schools had the decency not to apply for money they didn’t need.

But:

Among the 100 charters that went for the windfall was – surprise! – American Virtual Academy. The management company, which runs Primavera Online School, snagged somewhere between $2 million and $5 million in PPP money.

This is the same company whose CEO, Damian Creamer, managed to pay himself a combined $10.1 million in 2017 and 2018 out of taxpayer money set aside to educate students. Never mind that fewer than a third of his students couldn’t read or do math at grade level or that nearly half were dropping out.

Creamer’s education technology company, StrongMind, also scored a $2 million to $5 million forgivable loan from the PPP program, according to The Arizona Republic’s Lily Altavena. Meanwhile, Verano Learning Partners, which was founded by Creamer and lists the same address as American Virtual and StrongMind, snagged a PPP payout of $150,000 to $350,000.

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