District Attorney Summer Stephan / Photo by Megan Wood

Astounding details have emerged of an alleged charter school scam that netted some $50 million in taxpayer money by falsely enrolling thousands of students in summer school, according to an indictment obtained by the Union-Tribune.

The scheme focused on enrolling student athletes into summer credit recovery programs. The students didn’t take any classes, but the owners of A3 Education still got money from the state on their behalf. A3 operates more than a dozen online charter schools, three in San Diego County. One of the company’s owners is likely on the run in Australia, said District Attorney Summer Stephan, according to the U-T.

The owners, Sean McManus and Jason Schrock, pushed employees to falsely enroll as many students as possible, prosecutors allege. Those employees then earned bonuses for hitting certain benchmarks, according to the indictment.

On top of the explosive allegations, the indictment also contains some juicy details.

One employee texted another about a dream she had: “You were running around my office, drinking champagne, throwing money everywhere, yelling ‘I love bonuses,’” the indictment reads.

Dem Presidential Candidates Court Teacher’s Unions

“Any country that out-educates us, will out-compete us,” former Vice President Joe Biden told members of the American Federation of Teachers at a town hall event in Houston Tuesday night, quoting his wife Jill Biden.

Biden went on to say that many counties are out-educating the United States currently, but he laid out a plan for how he would raise up the teaching profession and education in the poorest parts of the country.

Biden joined many other candidates in the crowded field for the Democratic presidential nomination who have released major education proposals as the nation’s two largest teacher’s unions begin deciding who to endorse, reports U.S. News and World Report.

This was Biden’s first major policy proposal, which bodes well for people like me who would love to see education become a serious part of the 2020 presidential race.

Biden’s plan would triple Title I money, which the federal government provides to poorer schools and school districts. It would also raise teacher pay and significantly increase the number of school nurses and counselors, according to Education Week.

Sen. Bernie Sander’s plan similarly triples Title I funding, but also makes significant pledges around charter schools, which Biden’s plan does not. Sander’s plan would put a moratorium on new federal funding for charter schools and ban for-profit charter schools, as California recently did.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren also has a flashy plan. Hers would eliminate student debt for 95 percent of borrowers and create universal childcare and pre-kindergarten, according to U.S. News and World Report. (Free pre-k is part of the plan for several contenders in the Democratic field.) Like Sanders, her plan would also make public colleges tuition-free. The part teacher’s unions might like best? Warren said she would make sure her secretary of education is a former public school teacher.

Then, of course, there is Sen. Kamala Harris, who came out with her big education proposal first. I previously wrote about her big plan to give all teachers $10,000 per year and more in some places where teacher pay is lowest.

What I’m Reading

  • Black people trust public schools more than the police, but less than black politicians or the military, according to the Black Census Project, which Alicia Garza, a Black Lives Matter activist, wrote about in the New York Times.
  • “Can you skip 47 days of English class and still graduate from high school?” asks the Washington Post. Apparently yes, the paper concluded after digging into documents from Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. Many students missed dozens of days of English and algebra, but graduated anyway, the Post reports.
  • President Donald Trump ordered officials to start enforcing a decades-old law that can force sponsors of immigrants to repay money the federal government spends providing aid to immigrants, reports Bloomberg. The move would affect food stamps and Medicaid, but it is unclear how it might touch federal education spending or Pell Grants.
  • Chronic absenteeism, a phenomenon that affects student’s likelihood to graduate and future prospects, is worse in the rural parts of California, reports EdSource.

What We’re Writing

  • California accountability laws that gave parents several legal options if their child’s school was performing extremely poorly are still on the books – but they are completely unusable. Legislators don’t seem to want the bad press of removing laws that gave parents the power to remove their children from poorly performing schools or in extreme cases shake up the leadership of a school site or even turn it into a charter school.
  • A newly obtained memo shows that officials pushed principals to move “a minimum of 75%” of eligible English-learners – students whose first language is not English – out of a specially designed program to help them improve their language skills in San Diego Unified School District.
  • Two teachers at Westview High School in Poway were busted sending inappropriate texts to students. “I also need to know that our conversations stay here and don’t get out to anyone. I trust you right?” one coach wrote to his student, who then informed school authorities.
  • San Diego Unified board trustee Kevin Beiser, who has been accused by four young men of sexual harassment and assault, is still showing up for school board meetings, acting as if nothing is wrong. But he still isn’t back to his teaching job at Sweetwater Union High School District.

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at will@vosd.org or 619-693-6249.

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