Sunday, June 8, 2014

Is The FBI Looking At Chicago Charter Schools?

A Concept charter school in Indianapolis has been raided by the FBI, and it looks like the feds might be looking hard at the whole chain.

Here's what the Indy Star had to say.

Three federal agencies are investigating the Indiana Math and Science Academy North as part of a broader probe involving 18 schools in the Midwest.
Armed with a warrant, officials representing the FBI, Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Education entered the school Wednesday afternoon to gather documents.
An FBI spokeswoman would say little Friday other than confirm the investigation is underway.
“These (searches of 19 total schools in various states) were related to investigating a white-collar crime matter,” agent Vicki Anderson said. “It does not involve violence or threats to students or faculty. No arrests were made.”

I'll leave it to a local media person to try to figure out if any of the Concept outfits in Chicago were also raided. It seems entirely within the realm of reason that they have all been raided.

This tv station seems to have run with the Concept PR person's story that the investigation is related to federal e-rate transactions.

There are times when I know more about a situation than I can comfortably post here. I obviously have no idea what this particular raid was about, but I would just point out that when the feds finally got Al Capone, they did it through the tax laws, not the vice laws.

The tv story's reporter is typically vague. He refers to talking to a "school board" member who didn't even know about the raid. Is he talking about one of the Concept "board members" or someone in an actual public office? Hard to say. There's a huge, huge difference. And I love how the thing is reduced to an "audit."

Yeah. An audit. I got news for you: when the FBI shows up to cart away your files, it's not an audit.

Anyway, I'll confess this much: for a long time we used to keep our eyes on one of the local Concept schools for signs of a quiet raid--- anything that looked like boxes of documents being carted out by guys in FBI jackets.  I still scan the parking lot every time I go by the campus on the bus.   From the video, it looks like the feds are using your basic Chevy vans.

Anyone seen one of these over at CMSA?

Concept runs these schools in Illinois:

The Belmont and Mckinley Park schools have an interesting connection to the now-under-investigation Indiana Math and Science Academy, in addition to simply being run by the same firm. Part of why CPS turned down the Belmont and McKinley Park charter proposals (which were later overruled by the state charter commission) is that the Concept people initially submitted some boilerplate language to CPS that actually came from their earlier Indiana proposal.

In other words, in filling out the CPS paperwork for the two charters that CPS denied, Concept appears to have simply copied and pasted some bullsh*t that they used back in Indiana, without even changing the names in the paperwork. Their explanation was basically, "oopsie."
As it was explained before, we initially had submitted a draft version of the proposal narrative by mistake, which included references from other proposals such as the Indiana Math and Science Academy proposal. 
(The above is from a communication from Concept to the Illinois State Charter Commission.) I have another really funny example of boilerplate substitution in the Concept application to CPS, but it will have to wait.

One last thing:  what hasn't come out in the press is that the Chicago Concept schools (approved by the state commission) named "Belmont" and  "McKinley Park" are,  legally speaking, a whole different kettle of fish from, say, CMSA.

This is also from a communication from Concept to the state commission:

Concept Schools is an Illinois-based, not-for-profit management organization. Concept currently manages 27 successful charter schools across the Midwest. Each of the Concept-managed schools has their own board of directors who signs a management agreement with Concept. Concept manages the schools on behalf of their board of directors. 
However, Concept intends to be the charter holder for the proposed Horizon Science Academy-McKinley Park and Horizon Science Academy-Belmont. This structure is explained in detail in Section 2.3 Governance Model of the Concept Proposal Narrative (page 58 through 73). 

In other words, Concept is an EMO in some cases, and a charter-holder in others, and possibly also a charter-holder + EMO in these latter examples, and I'm not sure how that squares with some of the new charter legislation in Illinois.

It's all very, very slippery. But the odds are pretty good that the FBI has already paid a little visit. If you're a journalist, would you mind having a look into it? 


PS: I'd also like to point out that we've entered the era when and FBI investigation into a charter school is basically just part of the background noise. It's expected. 

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