Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Our letter in response to the College Board asking for corrections

Yesterday, we sent a letter to the College Board in response to a letter they sent to us on October 18th, claiming inaccuracies in our petition urging the Attorney General to investigate the College Board's selling of student data, and in the fact sheet we posted that warned parents whose children are taking the PSAT/SAT/ACT/AP exams.

Check out the College Board's letter, as well as our response below.

Update: 11/3/19:  The College Board sent a second letter in reply to our response, insisting once again that I make changes in the parent fact sheet.  I made two minor changes as explained here: one, that the CB sells students'  information related to their "religious interests" or "religious activities" (rather than their religion per se) and that it is the ACT that has been sued for selling student special education status.  The other changes I refused to make, as the CB provided no convincing evidence to back their claims. - LH

Monday, October 21, 2019

Schools with the biggest shortfalls in matching funds for facility upgrades.

Here is the list from our report, Spending by NYC on Charter School Facilities: Diverted Resources, Inequities and Anomalies, of the 175 NYC public schools co-located with charter schools with the biggest shortfalls in funds for facility enhancements, totaling $22 million, which were supposed to be provided according to a state law passed in 2010.

New report reveals over $100 million spent last year by NYC on charter facilities

We  released our report today on NYC spending on charter school facilities – with over $100 million
spent last year on providing rent subsidies for charters or leasing buildings directly for them by DOE.  This includes nearly $15 million spent by DOE since FY 2015 for rent subsidies to charter schools whose charter management organization or affiliated foundation/LLC owns the building. 
We also found $22 million missing from the matching funds that co-located public schools are supposed the receive for facility upgrades.  
Check out the list of 175 public schools in Appendix B to see if your school is among them.  last year.  The press release is below and the full report is posted here.

For immediate release: October 21, 2019
Contact: Leonie Haimson, 917-435-9329,

New report reveals over $100 million spent last year by NYC on charter facilities

Includes payments to help charter schools rent space in buildings owned by their CMOs or related parties
Also: 175 public schools co-located with charters lack $22M in matching funds for facility upgrades

On Monday, October 21, Class Size Matters released a new report revealing how the NYC Department of Education spent more than $377 million on charter school facility costs from FY 2014 to FY 2019.  This amount includes both matching funds for facility upgrades for public schools, co-located with charter schools that spent more than $5000 for this purpose, and on paying the rent for new and expanding charter schools in private space.  Nearly $15 million of this total since FY 2015 was expended  by DOE to help charter schools pay for their space in buildings owned by their Charter Management Organization, affiliated foundation or LLC.
In FY 2019, DOE spent about $25 million on matching funds to public schools co-located with charter schools.  Yet between FY 2014 and FY 2019, more than $22 million in charter school expenditures on facility upgrades were not matched in 175 public schools that shared their buildings, in apparent contradiction to a state law passed in 2010, according to spreadsheets provided by DOE.  In FY 2019, only one third of co-located public schools received their full complement of matching funds. 
The two schools which experienced the largest shortfalls were both District 75 schools that serve students with serious disabilities: Mickey Mantle School (M811), located in two sites in Harlem, which lacked $1.5 million in matching funds, and P.S 368 (K368), located  in two sites in Brooklyn, which lacked $1.2 million. All four sites are co-located with different branches of Success Academy Charter schools.
Mindy Rosier is the UFT chapter delegate from Mickey Mantle School, which enrolls students with multiple disabilities, including autism, emotional/behavioral difficulties and/or significant language and communication disorders.  As Mindy pointed out, “The $1.5 million in matching funds for facility upgrades would have been incredibly helpful to our school.  Our District 3 site needs new wiring, since the internet is very slow and much of our curriculum is online. Our site in District 4 needs new bathrooms and water fountains, and nine classrooms out of ten badly need repainting.” 
The DOE currently holds leases for 12 private buildings that house 15 charter schools, with a cost to the city of $17.1 million in FY 2019 alone.  In addition, there are 88 charter schools that receive a per student “lease subsidy” from the city to help pay for their own private space, which has increased by 72 percent since FY 2017. In 2019, DOE was projected to spend about $83.6 million in lease subsidies for charter schools, with an estimated $50 million of that total reimbursed by the state.
By analyzing audited financial statements, charter school annual reports, and property records, the authors found that the lease payments made by DOE included $14.8 million to eight charter schools housed in buildings owned by related parties of these schools, that is, their own Charter Management Organizations or an affiliated LLC or foundation. 
For example, DOE provided lease subsidies of $2.2 million in FY 2019 for two Success Academy charter schools, even though the Success CMO owns the space in the Hudson Yards complex on the west side of Manhattan. In another case, the city paid $461,965 in lease subsidies in FY 2019 towards the rental costs of Beginning with Children II charter school, despite the fact that the Beginning with Children Foundation bought the Brooklyn building for only ten dollars in 2017. More examples are provided in the report.
Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education said: "It is outrageous that the taxpayers of New York City and the state are required to pay $2.2 million a year to house two Success Academy charter schools located in a building that their Charter Management Organization owns. And Success is not alone. This report documents eight charter schools for which taxpayers are footing the bill that are in buildings owned by the charters themselves or affiliated organizations. The Network for Public Education has studied all of the various charter laws and their loopholes.  I have never seen any other that requires the district to cover the costs of private facilities like this one does. One wonders whether this is about educating children or building a real estate empire at taxpayer expense." 
“New York City has more than 500,000 students in overcrowded public-school buildings, as well as class sizes far higher than those in the rest of the state.  Yet we are also the only district obligated to cover the cost of private space for charter schools, or offer them space in public school buildings,”  said Leonie Haimson, one of the co-authors of the report. “The cost to the city of providing space for charter schools has risen sharply over the last five years.  If the current trend continues, the amount spent annually may soon exceed the cost of the payments to finance the construction of new public schools.” 
“This is unconscionable! While public schools across the city and state have been fighting for more than $4 billion in funding owed under the Foundation Aid formula, we are handing over public dollars to charters such as Success Academy on a silver platter. Rectifying this budgetary fiasco would help ease overcrowded schools and bring much needed funding to our under-resourced schools and districts," expressed Senator Robert Jackson from Manhattan and lead plaintiff for Campaign for Fiscal Equity. 
Concluded Diane Ravitch, celebrated education historian, “The findings of this report should shock the conscience of the Governor and Legislature.  They should amend the law as soon as possible so that the city is no longer forced to subsidize the acquisition of private space by charter schools, even as our public schools are badly underfunded and overcrowded."
The report, entitled “Spending by NYC on Charter School Facilities: Diverted Resources, Inequities and Anomalies is posted here:


Monday, October 14, 2019

Early voting sites in 33 NYC public schools. But why?

Early voting will begin statewide on Saturday, October 26th and continue for 11 days.  Meanwhile, 33 NYC public schools have been chosen as early voting sites out of 61 across the city, though their principals were only informed of this fact on October 5, according to the reporting of Brigid Bergin of  Gothamist/WNYC. Here and above is the list of the NYC sites by borough.

The highlighting above reveals that six of the eleven early voting sites in the Bronx, twelve of  eighteen sites in Brooklyn, eight of nine sites in Manhattan and seven of nine sites in Staten Island are public schools.  [Why there are an equal number of voting sites in Manhattan and Staten Island is another question, given that there are more than three times as many residents of Manhattan as on Staten Island.  Shouldn't the number of sites or at least the number of the voting machines be proportional to the population of each borough?]

In the 33 public schools where early voting will occur, this will deprive many thousands of students of  their ability to have their scheduled phys ed classes in their gyms and/or eat lunch in their cafeterias.   It will also poses real security risks to students, with hundreds of voters gaining access to school buildings and possibly roaming school hallways during the school day. 

One principal was quoted in the Gothamist article as saying, I can’t not have kids [in the gym] for a week in October. That’s crazy."   

At the same time, there is not a single public school that will be used as an early voting site in the borough of Queens, as the city instead wisely located them instead in Board of Election headquarters, YMCAs, community centers, churches, colleges, museums, and even the Resort World Casino in Ozone Park.
I also checked the early voting sites of the 62 other New York counties on the League of Women Voters website. I could find only one other New York county that had any public schools listed: Suffolk County has one public school, Nesconset Elementary School among ten early voting sites.

The other hundreds of early voting sites located throughout the state include town halls and other government offices, public libraries, fire departments, YMCAs, local Board of election headquarters, community centers, senior centers, County courthouses, churches, recreational centers, office complexes and even malls. 

Why NYC had to put so many of their early voting sites in public schools is hard to fathom, when so many other, more appropriate options were available. 

Assemblymember Michael Reilly of Staten Island sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Board of Elections last May, expressing his concern over the use of public school facilities for early voting after the preliminary list of sites was announced on April 30.  

At that time, only nine of the 38 early voting sites selected were public schools, including five in Brooklyn, three in Manhattan, and only one in Staten Island -- although three parochial schools in the  borough were identified at that time, later to be eliminated.

In his letter, AM Reilly, who before his election to the Legislature was a member of Community Education Council 31, pointed out how early voting would be seriously disruptive to these schools:

“At most schools, voting machines are being placed in cafeterias, gymnasiums, and even the building’s main lobby. It impedes a student’s ability to navigate their school safely, and sometimes causes them to miss valuable academic time,” said Reilly. He continued, “Before early voting, schools were disrupted for just a maximum of three or four days each election year, but now we are inconveniencing students, teachers, and administrators for a minimum of 24 days to accommodate a 12-day primary election, and a 12-day general election, not to mention an additional 12-days for any special election. It’s ridiculous, plain and simple.

According to AM Reilly's twitter feed, his letter got no response, and instead of addressing this situation with the seriousness it deserved, the city added twenty-four more public schools to the list  this fall. On October 8, AM Reilly wrote the Mayor again, reaffirming his concerns.    

Let's hope this unacceptable situation gets fixed before the the primaries and general election next year.  

Friday, October 11, 2019

Warning to parents whose children are taking College Board or ACT exams and do NOT want their data sold

This one-pager fact sheet and backgrounder is cross-posted on the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy websiteFeel free to post the one-pager or distribute it in your school.  Please also sign our petition to Attorney General Letitia James to investigate and halt the College Board and ACT from illegally selling student data. 

Update 11.3.19: The College Board asked me to correct specific statements in the fact sheet below; see their letter, my response, and their reply here.  I have slightly revised the fact sheet below, to make it clearer that the College Board asks students about  their "religious interests" rather than religion -- and sells the data; and that it is the ACT that has specifically been sued in court about sharing students' special needs status.  I have made no other changes as the CB did not convincingly provide evidence of their other claims.

Both ACT and College Board sell personal student data to colleges and universities, as well as to other non-profit and for-profit organizations to help them recruit students and/or market their products and services.

The College Board makes an approximate $100 million per year from its “Student Search” program, for which it charges organizations 47 cents per student name. [1] Last year, ACT was sued via a class action lawsuit, because they allegedly included student disability information in the data they sold to customers.[2]

If your child is taking a College Board exam, and you don’t want any of their personal data sold, which may include their race, ethnicity, self-reported grades, religion and/or test scores within a certain range, as well as other confidential information, urge them NOT to fill out any of the optional questions that are included online or in the Student Questionnaire given before the administration of the exam. They should also be sure not to check the box that indicates they want to participate in the College Board “Student Search” program.

If your child is taking the ACT, you and your child should also refrain from filling out any of the extraneous information asked for in the ACT Student Profile Section, unless you want that data also sold and/or used for marketing purposes.

In May 2018, the US Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center warned schools and districts that have agreements with these companies to administer their exams during the school day that their practice of allowing these companies to gather confidential information directly from students and sell it without parental consent may be illegal under several federal laws.[3]

In addition, New York as well as Illinois and 21 other states prohibit school vendors from selling student data under any circumstances. [4] Illinois legislators have now asked the State Attorney General to investigate the College Board’s practices for that reason. [5] NY Times has reported that this data often ends up in the hands of unscrupulous for-profit companies that use the information to market dubious products and services to families; in some cases, the information may end up in the hands of data brokers. [6]

Some districts now refrain from giving these voluntary surveys to their students or tell them not to answer any of its questions, because this takes considerable time and can add stress to an already pressure-filled situation.

Districts also should be aware that these companies disclose personal data that may be illegal.

Here are some questions parents should ask their children’s school or district ahead of time:

  1. Is any survey or voluntary list of questions going to be asked of their children before the administration of these exams?
  1. If so, can they give you a copy of these questions? Prior parental notification of any such survey is required under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), passed by Congress in 1978.[7]
  1. If any highly sensitive questions are included, such as those involving religious preferences or affiliations, will the school notify parents of their right to opt their children out of the survey ahead of time, as is required under PPRA?
  1. Does the district have a contract with the testing company that prohibits them from selling any of this personal student data, as is required by NY state law as well as student privacy laws in 21 other states?
  1. If not, why not? And can they share a copy of this contract?








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