How Inclusionary Housing in Sacramento has led to Integration in Neighborhoods and Schools

Introduction:

“The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” That quote from a William Gibson science fiction novel is used widely in Silicon Valley to describe the technology landscape, but it applies to segregation as well. In the United States, schools are more segregated than they have ever have been despite the Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed separate schools for all races (Millhiser, 2015). In the U.S., over one-third of black and Latino students go to schools that are over 90% non-white, while more than one-third of white students go to schools that are over 90% white (Potter & Quick, 2016). The increase in segregation stems in large part from racialized housing practices such as redlining, blockbusting, and racial covenants that have led to the segregation of neighborhoods. These discriminatory practices prevented certain people from buying homes in better areas, which determined where people lived, and as a result, led to segregation in schools as well. Neighborhood stratification led to school segregation because school attendance zones were tethered to real estate and busing-based integration efforts have declined so more students go to the school closest to them (Potter & Quick, 2016).

I will focus primarily on the Sacramento, California district and how it has tried to address these discriminatory practices from the 1900s by instituting inclusionary housing policies to fight racial and economic segregation. Sacramento has succeeded, by and large, because it is considered one of the most diverse and integrated cities in the U.S. (Silver, 2015). Time magazine asked The Civil Rights Project to name the most residentially integrated city in the U.S., and they chose Sacramento (Orfield, 2016).

I will explain how housing discrimination caused segregation in neighborhoods and in schools and how Sacramento’s commitment to creating more affordable housing has had a positive effect in Sacramento on not only its neighborhoods but on the schools as well. By focusing on getting rid of neighborhood segregation, Sacramento has also succeeded in increasing the diversity in schools. In California, Sacramento has the most integrated large public school districts (Orfield, 2016).

While other research has examined how integrated Sacramento is as a city, this report is unique because it ties Sacramento’s focus on desegregating neighborhoods with desegregation in schools. Also, this report will examine the racial demographics in Sacramento public schools and the surrounding county in context with other cities to show how its diversity in neighborhoods is carrying over to the schools and how Sacramento can be an example.

Sacramento may turn out to be the future for school inclusion, once that future gets a bit more widely distributed.

Background

Housing Discrimination

Throughout the 1900s, the U.S. government, realtors, and banks conspired against minorities in a multitude of ways to prevent them from living in certain areas. One example of this is redlining, where banks disproportionately denied black people loans and mortgages so that they couldn’t afford to buy a home. Neighborhoods where black people lived were colored in red and were deemed ineligible for support for the Federal Housing Administration. An example of Chicago in 1939 where an entire area was considered to be minority housing is shown below. Blacks were denied services because of raising prices and because people wanted to maintain the current ethnic composition of the area that would be primarily white (Coates, 2014).

Another practice was blockbusting, where realtors would essentially encourage “white flight.” They would sell a home to a black person in an area and then encourage the white people in the area to move. The realtor would buy it from a white family for a relatively low price and then would charge much more than market rate when selling to a black person, because they may not have had any other options (Coates, 2014). The final discriminatory housing practice that I’ll mention (though there are many more), is racial covenants. This was a legal way to prevent blacks from living in an area, because neighborhoods could band together and prevent blacks from moving into the neighborhood by agreeing not ever sell their home to a black person. For example, by 1940 in Chicago and Los Angeles, 80% of properties had racial covenants (Fair Housing Center, 2010).

Neighborhood Segregation Effects

These methods to prevent blacks from living in white neighborhoods resulted in the segregation of neighborhoods that have had crippling effects for minorities in the U.S, such as increased poverty, poorer health, and higher exposure to violent crime (Bethea 2013). One of the main effects of neighborhood segregation is the segregation of schools. School districts lines tend to be drawn to reflect the neighborhoods and can be segregated by race, as transportation from one school district to another is costly and not time-efficient. Segregated schools tend to lead to better schools for white students and often impoverished schools that don’t have the same resources for minorities (Walsemann, 2010). There have also been shown to be many benefits of racially integrated schools such as obviously allowing minorities to get the same opportunities as white students but also to socialize students and prepare them for a diverse workforce where employers value people who can work with others from diverse cultural backgrounds (Stuart, 2016). In addition, a report found that, “researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” To be sure, there are some drawbacks about promoting the integration of schools, such as the fact that the onus is often placed on minority students and their families to be the ones doing the integrating, and they often have to leave the comfort of their own schools to go to a new school with new people. But, promoting neighborhood integration means that minority students won’t have to travel a long ways to get to a quality school – instead, their neighborhood school will be diverse and likely of better quality.

History in Sacramento

Sacramento, California is one of the cities in the U.S. that is actively trying to address segregated neighborhoods by introducing an inclusionary housing policy. Sacramento passed the Mixed-Income Housing Ordinance in 2000 that applied to all residential developments over nine units in “new growth areas” (Brunick, 2004). The ordinance requires that 15% of all units by affordable housing. The goal is to fight racial and economic segregation by allowing mid-to-low income families to purchase homes in a multitude of areas.

This inclusionary housing policy in Sacramento has contributed to Sacramento becoming one of the most diverse and integrated cities in the U.S, and other large cities could follow their model (Silver, 2015). Sacramento was considered the third most diverse city in the U.S. from a citywide level, the most diverse city from a neighborhood level, and the second most diverse city from an integration standpoint, as shown in the graph below (Silver, 2015).

This graph is from FiveThirtyEight. Sacramento is in the top-right quadrant, which means it has high neighborhood and citywide diversity scores – Sacramento is both diverse and integrated.

Inclusionary Housing in Sacramento

Sacramento decided to adopt an inclusionary housing ordinance in large part because of the affordable housing crisis and to counteract the legal discriminatory practices from the 1900s. In the late 1900s, house prices skyrocketed, as “the cost of a new home nearly tripled and the cost of an existing home nearly doubled” because of high demand for homes, scarcity of available land, and a low supply of houses (Padilla, 1995). The average sales prices of homes increased at a faster rate than the average family income did; from 1994-2003, the average family income increased by 44.6%, but the average sales price of a home increased by 101.5% (Basolo & Scally, 2008).

Sacramento adopted the Mixed-Income Housing Ordinance on October 3, 2000. The main aspect is that it required 15% of new housing projects to be affordable housing for lower-income families. Some other aspects of the ordinance are: it applies to residential projects of 10 or more dwellings, 5% must be low income units and 10% must be very low income unites, developments of 50% or more of inclusionary housing can’t be located next to one another, and the design of inclusionary units needs to be compatible with the other units (Sacramento City Council, 2015).

The idea behind inclusionary housing in Sacramento is that by having more mixed-income and diverse communities, lower-income workers can own a home near where their jobs are, and their kids can live near good, quality schools that have a history of performing well academically (Garvin, 2015). In this way, low-income families can afford houses in already very good neighborhoods, which will build equity over time.

The Need for Inclusionary Housing

The outright housing discrimination in the U.S.that led to neighborhood inequality was banned by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that addressed issues of, for example, redlining, blockbusting, and forming racial covenants. It deemed these practices to be unconstitutional and tried to make sure the buyer or renter could get access to affordable housing (U.S. Department of Justice, 2015). While these practices were made illegal, the damage had been done, and neighborhoods have remained segregated since then. There have been very few policy efforts to address the segregation problem in the U.S., as “housing policy in the United States appears to be in a protracted, transformative period that combines a lack of strong federal leadership with continued reliance on increasingly uncertain federal funding” (Basolo and Scally, 2008). This may be the case because many politicians are uncomfortable talking about race and don’t want to acknowledge the rampant inequality in neighborhoods around the country.

As stated in a UCLA report on segregation in California, “Housing segregation is a root cause of school segregation. Any long-term policy to foster increased and lasting school integration must determine how to enforce fair housing and affordable housing policies more effectively” (Orfield, 2014).

Inclusionary Housing in Sacramento and its School Districts

We can see the benefits of inclusionary housing with the effects that it has had on the neighborhoods in Sacramento, because of how integrated Sacramento is as a city. Show below is a graph (using this tool) of the downtown Sacramento area, where each dot represents an ethnicity. A blue dot is white, a green dot is black, a red dot is asian, and an orange dot is hispanic. The darker the dot, the more concentrated a certain population is in that area. While there are certain areas that seem to be primarily one race, such as the red section in the middle, the city as a whole appears very diverse. In fact, Sacramento is the most integrated major city in the U.S. (Silver, 2015). It’s a city where every race is in the minority. Sacramento County is 12.7 percent Black, 13.5% Asian, 30.7% Hispanic, 32.4% White, and 10.3% other.

Data Analysis

The desegregated neighborhoods have had the effect of making the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) one of the most diverse and desegregated in the U.S in terms of the wide range of students they serve (Rutherford, 2013). The SCUSD is made up of public schools in the area and serves 36.5% Hispanic students, 18.6% white students, 19.1% Asian students, 18% black students, and 5.3% multiracial students (Rutherford, 2013). These numbers show the wide range of students who attend public schools in Sacramento. The one caveat is that the Hispanic population is somewhat overrepresented in the public schools, and the white population is somewhat underrepresented, which is shown in the graphs below.

Even though there is a difference (15.9%) in the percentage of white students who attend the Sacramento public schools (18.6%) and the white percentage of the population (34.5), it is much smaller than in other major cities. This may be a result of Sacramento’s focus on a move toward integrating neighborhoods.

Below, I look at two other cities (Chicago and Baltimore) to show how the disparity between the percentage of white students in public schools versus the percentage of white people in the population in Sacramento is much less than these three cities that have fairly high levels of neighborhood segregation. The population numbers of Sacramento, Chicago, and Baltimore are from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Chicago:

As seen in the map, the neighborhoods in Chicago are very segregated. And, the percentage of white students who attend the public schools in Chicago is much less than the white makeup of the city as a whole. Shown below are two pie charts that show the difference (CPS).

This shows that the number of white students in Chicago (9.9%) is disproportionately low to the number of white people in Chicago (39%). The reason for the disparity in white students in the public schools may because because of the segregated nature of the neighborhoods and schools in Chicago.

Baltimore:

Again, Baltimore is shown above to be a very segregated city. And, the number of white students in Baltimore (7.9%) is disproportionately low to the number of white people in Baltimore (962%).

This effect is also seen somewhat in Sacramento but to a much lesser extent, which shows that Sacramento may be on the right path with the inclusionary housing policy.

Benefits of Integration in Schools

In Sacramento, the fact that the neighborhoods and schools are very desegregated has positive effects for the school and for the students. Diversity in Sacramento schools has cognitive, social, and emotional benefits for students, because the students get a chance to interact with a multitude of people from a variety of backgrounds (Wells, 2016). Diversity in schools also has purported benefits in the workforce, as one study found that 96% of major employers say that it’s important for employees to be “comfortable working with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds” (Wells, 2016). Diversity in schools allows students to interact with people of different backgrounds, which will help prepare them socially for the future.

Effects of Desegregation in Sacramento Schools

It is hard to know what exactly the benefits of integration have been so far, since the inclusionary housing policy has only been in place since 2000. But, there are still some signs that the Sacramento City School District is improving – student test scores moved up substantially on the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) from 2011-2012 (SCUSD, 2012). English Language Learners, in particular, has the greatest improvement as a demographic by moving up 15 points in API to above the state average for ELL students. These are just a couple example of improvements in Sacramento schools. It will be important to follow the progress in Sacramento over the next couple of decades to see how the schools fare academically and socially to see if the neighborhood effects of desegregation can carry over to the schools.

 

Conclusion

One potential solution for integrated neighborhoods is the inclusionary housing policies that have been voluntarily adopted more and more by cities in California. They are needed because of the rising housing costs in the U.S. that are making it harder for impoverished families to buy good houses in good areas. The main purported benefit of inclusionary housing policies has been to make neighborhoods more diverse both economically and racially (Basolo & Scally, 2010). To be sure, there have also been potential negative effects of inclusionary housing such as the supply of homes may go down because the developers may lose incentive to build and construction activity would be reduced and then affordable houses wouldn’t be built. But, there has been no empirical data to show that this is the case.

Overall, inclusionary housing policies in Sacramento have had the effect of making Sacramento one of the most integrated cities in the U.S. The change has been recent, so it is hard to know for certain whether or not the effect will carry over fully to schools. But, there has been some positive changes in the Sacramento school district schools that signifies that focusing on housing policies may be the solution.

The inclusionary housing model has been successful in Sacramento and can be expanded and applied to many more large cities around the U.S. We need more people to be aware of the segregation problem in neighborhoods and in schools in order to fix the rampant problem. With awareness comes more ideas for solutions, and we can start with inclusionary housing practices. By looking at the example in Sacramento, we can make this desegregated and integrated future real everywhere across the United States.

Works Cited

Basolo, V., & Scally C. (2008). State innovations in affordable housing policy: Lessons from California and New Jersey, Housing Policy Debate, 19:4, 741-774

Bethea, B. J. (2013, November 6). Effects of segregation negatively impact health | The Source | Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://source.wustl.edu/2013/11/effects-of-segregation-negatively-impact-health/

Brunick, N. (2004). Inclusionary Housing: Proven Success in Large Cities. Zoning Practice: American Planning Association, (10).

City Schools at a Glance. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.baltimorecityschools.org/about/by_the_numbers

Coates, T. (2014, June). The Case for Reparations. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

CPS Stats and Facts . (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://cps.edu/About_CPS/At-a-glance/Pages/Stats_and_facts.aspx

Garvin, C. (2015, July 23). ‘Segregation’ will happen if the city of Sacramento ditches inclusionary housing – Bites – Opinions – July 23, 2015. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/segregation-039-will-happen-if/content?oid=17653788

Millhiser, I. (2015, August 13). American Schools Are More Segregated Now Than They Were In 1968, And The Supreme Court Doesn’t Care, from https://thinkprogress.org/american-schools-are-more-segregated-now-than-they-were-in-1968-and-the-supreme-court-doesnt-care-cc7abbf6651c

Padilla, L. (1995). Reflections on Inclusionary Housing and Renewed Look at its Viability. Hofstra Law Review 23(3), 539-626.

Potter, H., Quick, K., & Davies, E. (2016). A New Wave of School Integration: Districts and Charters Pursuing Socioeconomic Diversity. The Century Foundation. Retrieved from tcf.org.

Orfield, G., & EE, J. (2014). Segregating California’s Future: Inequality and Its Alternative 60 Years after Brown v. Board of Education. The Civil Rights Project.

S. (2015, September 1). AN ORDINANCE REPEALING CHAPTER 17.712 OF, AND ADDING CHAPTER 17.712 AND SECTION 17.808.260 TO, THE SACRAMENTO CITY CODE, RELATING TO MIXED INCOME HOUSING . Retrieved from http://www.qcode.us/codes/sacramento/revisions/2015-0029.pdf

Sacramento City Unified School District. (2012, October 16). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.scusd.edu/e-connections-post/scusd-student-test-scores-are-rise

Silver, N. (2015, May 1). The Most Diverse Cities Are Often The Most Segregated, from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-most-diverse-cities-are-often-the-most-segregated/

 

Stuart Wells, A., Fox, L., & Codova-Cobo, D. (2016, February 09). How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://tcf.org/content/report/how-racially-diverse-schools-and-classrooms-can-benefit-all-students/

U. (2015, August 6). Fair Housing Act. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from https://www.justice.gov/crt/fair-housing-act-2

U. (n.d.). United States Census: Quick Facts. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts

T. (2010). 1920s–1948: Racially Restrictive Covenants. Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.bostonfairhousing.org/timeline/1920s1948-Restrictive-Covenants.html

Walsemann, K. M., & Bell, B. A. (2010). Integrated Schools, Segregated Curriculum: Effects of Within-School Segregation on Adolescent Health Behaviors and Educational Aspirations. American Journal of Public Health, 100(9), 1687–1695. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.179424

 

National Heritage Academies: A Case Study of For-Profit Educational Management Organizations

National Heritage Academies: A Case Study of For-Profit Educational Management Organizations; by Brian Pok, Clare Carroll, Denzell Jobson, Eliza Scruton

1. Introduction

National Heritage Academies (NHA) is a for-profit education management organization (EMO) based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It encompasses 85 schools across nine states, with the majority of these schools located in cities in Michigan, and serves grades K-8 (Singer, 2014). While an organization that manages charter schools is typically called a charter management organization (CMO), NHA is classified as an EMO because it is a for-profit entity, and CMOs are non-profit entities. From our research, it seems that schools under the NHA umbrella bear with them both a number of upsides and downsides. There is some evidence, for instance, that academic performance in NHA schools slightly exceeds that of surrounding district schools and that NHA schools are relatively diverse with respect to their public school counterparts. However, NHA has been criticized for its political ties, its financial structure, and the inexperienced nature of many teachers and other staffers within the schools. Since NHA is a for-profit organization, we found that many of their goals and practices seem oriented on making money, which often comes at the beset of the schools under their purview.

The findings of this report are based on analysis of information from a variety of sources, including information distributed by the NHA itself on their website and journalistic articles. Specific quantitative data on school demographics comes from the National Center for Education Statistics. Data on disciplinary practices comes from the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

The following sections will more deeply explain and analyze various features of the NHA and its constituent schools.

2. History, Pedagogy, and Mission

NHA is an EMO that was founded in 1995 by billionaire J. C. Huizenga. Of the 85 primary schools NHA serves, 47 are located in Michigan. The headquarters is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and more than 55,000 students are currently enrolled in their schools (NHA, “At a Glance”). As of 2017, they are the second largest for-profit charter organization in the United States by number of schools (In-Perspective, 2017).

According to the NHA website, their main core values are: academic excellence, moral focus, parental partnership, and student responsibility. To facilitate these values, they emphasize the importance of teacher-child relationships, individualized attention to students, and timely feedback (NHA, “Moral Focus”). Furthermore, each student is assigned an advocate beginning in middle school who provides step-by-step guidance for high school academic and enrollment requirements. This is to ensure that the student makes a smooth transition into high school.

Overall as an organization, NHA says they are committed to taking personal responsibility for the success of their students, adapting a growth mindset, and embracing accountability measures.

3. School Demographics

In our sample of 6 randomly generated charter schools (all in Michigan) of the 85 under NHA’s purview, we found that NHA enrolls a very large proportion of students of color in charters – often more than their respective districts, as shown in graph 4 below. This is demonstrated by the graphs below. In general, the majority of NHA students were students of color; a majority also qualified for free and reduced lunch. NHA schools served a greater percentage of people from these populations than the surrounding district did. These numbers show that NHA serves a very diverse, often low-income population.

Graph 1: Sample breakdown of school demographics at 6 NHA charters
Graph 2: Percentage of White vs Students of Color at 6 NHA charters
Graph 3: Percentage of Free, Reduced, or FRL students at 6 NHA charters
Graph #4: Percentage Difference of Students of Color at the charter school compared to the surrounding district

4. Student Achievement

In general, NHA’s claims that they boast high academic achievement in their schools hold water, but there may be underlying causes. According to the 2016 Michigan Student Test of Educational Prep (M-STEP) standardized test scores released by the Michigan Education State Department, each of the six NHA charters we examined outperformed their respective districts in english language arts and mathematics scores in grades 3-8 (MDE, 2016). This might show that the schools that NHA operate are slightly higher achieving than the schools in the surrounding district. At a glance, NHA seem to boast a higher standard of student achievement than do the districts they represent and in some cases Michigan state averages. The graphs below present the 2016 M-STEP scores for the state of Michigan and show ELA and math scores for grades 3-8.

What the graphs don’t and can’t show, however, is that NHA’s claims of high academic performance may be inflated. A Buffalo newspaper reported that there was a trend of students in charter schools transferring to enroll in the public school system again (Meiksins, 2014). It has not been proven, but there is speculation in several reports that students in NHA schools are being asked to leave because their test scores are lowering the school’s test scores (Meiksins, 2014). So, NHA’s claims of higher test score averages could be because they are somewhat self-selecting who they have take the tests.

Michigan State Results
Canton Charter School vs. Plymouth-Canton District
Quest Charter School vs. Taylor School District

5. School Discipline

NHA uses the language of discipline throughout its website to associate academic success with order and safety. One of NHA’s main core values is acting with discipline to sustain academic prowess (NHA, “Core Values”). NHA promotes the success of its schools through its “moral focus” curriculum and “behave with care” system, which emphasize respect and support in order to create and sustain a safe learning environment (NHA, “Why NHA”). The disciplinary language is both vague and broad and indirectly seems to hold misbehavers accountable for their own lack of learning. This may have a negative impact on english language learners and students with disabilities, because these students may believe that if they can’t understand something, it’s their own fault. Some reviews from teachers on the website Glassdoor emphasized the lack of consistency in the discipline policies and the expectations for the students (Glassdoor, 2017). They also emphasize that there is a very high teacher turnover rate that means the teachers do not learn the stated discipline policy and may not spend as much time with kids who don’t understand the lesson as they should (Glassdoor, 2017). A fired special education teacher from an NHA school even sued NHA, alleging that NHA leans against admitting handicapped students and had deficient services for students with special needs (Golden, 1999).

Among the six charter schools we researched, according to Department of Education Office of Civil Rights data, in the 2013-2014 academic year, four had lower in-school suspension rates than their surrounding districts and two exceeded the in-school suspension rates of their respective districts (OCR, 2014). None of the six charters have any mention of discipline on their individual websites. This data is especially interesting because the Detroit Merit Academy case with its exceptionally high rate of in-school suspensions fails to meet the standards set by NHA and far outweighs its district rates. There is no mention of direct and/or student-oriented initiatives that the charter uses to facilitate and maintain low rates of suspension.

6. Marketing and Media

CMOs and EMOs, in marketing themselves, frequently make use of discourse pertaining to race and diversity, academic quality, and personalized learning experiences for their students (Wilson & Carlsen, 2016). NHA is no exception to these trends, but its marketing places particular emphasis on the language of academic rigor and materially successful outcomes (such as sending students to college after graduation). The front page of NHA’s website features a glitzy video entitled “A Day in the Life of an NHA student,” which includes testimony from a variety of students (NHA, 2016). Both the students featured and the words they say seem distinctly curated: an array of racially diverse children discuss their personal academic achievements, their future goals, abstract values they have learned in school, and the help they receive from their teachers.

Despite the rosy picture painted by NHA’s website, the media attention the organization has received has been largely negative. For example, a 2014 Huffington Post article provocatively entitled, “Why is this Charter School Management Company Still in Business?,” called NHA a “cautionary tale” about the replacement of traditional public schools by charters (Singer, 2014). This article lambasts NHA for its inefficient use of funds and the high-powered political connections that have helped keep it afloat. The article also references the closure of the Rochester Leadership Academy Charter School (a school under the management of the NHA) due to poor academic performance; however, given that the schools we examined exhibited slightly better academic performance than the schools in their surrounding districts, it is hard to know which is the exception and which is the rule.

These factors, particularly the relatively low academic performance of NHA students, suggest that many of the ideals highlighted by NHA’s website are either genuine goals that have not been actualized, or else simply abstract ideas that make NHA schools more marketable.

7. Accountability and Oversight

Because NHA is a private company, they have very little accountability or oversight for their actions. The relationship between the charter schools and NHA has been widely criticized (Singer, 2014; Meiksins, 2014). The NHA, at least as of a 2012 audit, was the sole arbiter of how finances were used within the individual charter schools. Studies have shown that nearly all of the public money given to charter schools under the umbrella of the NHA gets funneled back into the NHA itself, largely for “rent” and “management costs” (Meiksins, 2014).

Furthermore, the NHA has been criticized for its connections to high-power political officials. J. C. Huizenga, the founder and chair of the NHA, was a major campaign donor to the presidential campaigns of both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. (Singer, 2014; Meiksins, 2014). NHA is also politically aligned with controversial Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. Indeed, much of Devos’s advocacy work in Michigan has come at the direct benefit of NHA and Huizenga (Martinez, 2016). In addition, the NHA has pushed for specific policies that benefit it, at the expense of other charter schools: for example, Huizenga successfully pushed through measures that would ensure that EMO’s as large as NHA could expand without direct permission from local and state education commissions (Barnum, 2017).

While there have been no widely publicized scandals involving the NHA’s leadership of its charter schools, many find its financial and political interests suspect.

8. Funding

Since NHA is a for-profit organization, they need to receive funding to stay afloat while also making a profit. The charter schools that NHA operates receive funding from the state just like public schools do. In return, they agree to be managed by an EMO for purposes of accountability (NHA, “Our Story”).

NHA funds itself partly by charging its schools high rates. For example, the New York Daily News reported that NHA owned property in Brooklyn and charged one of its charter schools there $2.3 million to rent the property, which is $1 million over market rate. This means that the extra $1 million dollars goes to NHA instead of the individual charter schools.

NHA is a private firm and thus doesn’t have to disclose its finances, but its connections to wealthy Republican donors suggest at least some political motivation. Republicans, in general, favor school choice and an expansion of charter schools, and Devos has advocated this view vociferously. Some NHA schools, as well, have gotten in trouble for teaching creationism and other religious doctrines. NHA, therefore, may be trying to serve the Republican agenda in order to keep getting large donations and funding. Since NHA doesn’t have to release any details of its funding, however, it’s not possible to know whether or not this is the case.

9. Staffing

In general, NHA is very positive on its website about hiring teachers and the benefits that come from teaching at an NHA school. The website features many quotes from parents and students, who say that it’s easy for a student to establish a one-on-one relationship with a teacher (NHA, “Why Apply”). But, under the surface, it seems as though the high turnover rate of teachers and the relative inexperience of the teachers may be detrimental to the student’s education.

About half of NHA teachers are recent college graduates, while the other hirees come from other school systems. New hirees are trained in NHA’s educational charter school model. NHA seems to prioritize young teachers who are recent college graduates. The NHA website, however, does not advertise hiring any teachers through TFA.

Digging deeper reveals reviews and blogs posts about NHA and its charter schools, which seems to paint a different picture (Glassdoor, 2017). Reviews of NHA focused on the pressure-filled environment that comes from the corporate overhead that insists on good grades and test scores, the high turnover rate that may be due to poor working conditions, and corporate powers who pull strings while trying to make more money (NHA teacher, 2015). Studies have shown that a high teacher turnover rate can negatively affect student achievement across the whole school, which causes a cycle where some schools are very hard-to-staff. So, the school has to bring in and rely on more inexperienced teachers (Sutcher et. al, 2016). This seems to be the case with NHA, as they have a high turnover rate of teachers and also advertise hiring young teachers.

10. Relationship to the District

Since NHA is a for-profit company, they make cuts and raise costs on their own schools in order to maintain profits to ensure their share-holder satisfaction. The EMOs (not the schools) own the contents of school buildings, including the desks, computers, books and supplies, even while they may have been purchased with taxpayer money (Wood, 2011).

Typically, NHA takes at least 95% of a school’s state aid payments as a fee, pays school bills with the money, and takes whatever remains as a profit (Dixon, 2014). In turn, NHA promises a quality education at the schools, but they have no oversight and the school board can’t have any say in how NHA spends the money. This essentially means that the if there is any way for NHA to save money by not spending it on the school, it will choose to do so. This is because their goal is to make a large profit. The National Education Policy Center noted one particular example of an NHA owned charter in Louisiana, where public transportation is not offered despite 7% of the state funding being given to the school to do so (Crawfish, 2015). Rather, the NHA pocket that money for profit.

The school board lacks any kind of leverage with the NHA, as NHA owns all of the school’s property and could take everything away if the school board decided to fire the NHA. This means that people on the school board have an incentive to not fire NHA, because otherwise, they would be out of a job and the school might close. Several charter schools were told they would be closed if they stopped their contract with NHA (Wood, 2011). When people on the boards of several charter schools under NHA questioned the spending and wanted a new arrangement, they were removed and/or their schools were threatened with closure (Wood, 2011). NHA gets to hand-pick the public school board that they will be accountable to. This conflict of interest ultimately forces NHA-owned schools to comply with NHA’s demands, which therefore indirectly serve NHA’s shareholders and arguably causes harm toward a student’s education.

NHA’s relationship to their surrounding district is shaky. Former and current employees have said that NHA aims to build schools in places that have very low-rated schools so that it doesn’t take much convincing to get people to come to their charter school (Crawfish, 2015). And, as we’ve shown, NHA is concerned with turning a profit, while school districts aren’t, so the school districts seem to be spending more money on their schools and students than NHA does (Crawfish, 2015). School districts are spending more money on things such as technology and transportation, while NHA can get away with not spending the money because they are a for-profit company that is often not beholden to anyone. NHA charter schools may entice parents to send their children to them since they boast of better schools and higher academic performance, but then there has been a trend of parents transferring their children to re-enroll in the public school system again (Meiksins, 2014). This may cause shake-ups in the public school district and affect students and teachers mid-year.

11. Conclusion

Overall, NHA’s mission is to serve a wide variety of students with diverse backgrounds in useful topics that will help them on their way to college. They emphasize their diversity and their teacher-student relationships. The charters schools that NHA manages are, for the most part, more diverse than the public schools in the surrounding districts, and the students in the charter schools have done slightly better in testing than the students in the public schools. These could seemingly be used as arguments to say that NHA is a beneficial education management organization that fulfills many purposes. However, the fact that NHA is a for-profit organization and the deep political ties they have call into question their true motives. While it’s impossible to know where all the money going into NHA is coming from, it’s safe to say that the majority of this money is coming from Republican Party donors and lobbyists, who have an incentive to keep NHA in business. And, they seem to making a lot of money, as they’re continually expanded into more states and are opening more schools. So, while there are purported benefits to the NHA charter schools, NHA is largely a corrupt organization that worries about making money instead of caring for students, teachers, and the individual charter schools.

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