Facing new rules, a for-profit charter school company evolves

The city’s most established for-profit charter school management company is rebranding and recreating itself in light of a new law that forbids the group from running schools.

As of tomorrow, Victory Schools will be named Victory Education Partners and it will no longer be a traditional management company. The group will retain its for-profit status, but will continue to work in schools by offering a variety of services, from professional development to back-office support, that schools can choose to purchase.

The change was prompted by the passage of a new law last spring that doubled the cap on charter schools, and also barred for-profit companies from operating or managing new charter schools. One of three for-profit charter management groups work with New York City schools, Victory had to change or close shop in the city. It’s choosing to change.

Since 1999, Victory has managed 13 New York charter schools and it continues to run seven of them in the city, with an additional two in New York State. Most of them began when community or church groups discovered the charter management company and signed five-year contracts for services that came as one package. A contract with Victory meant the company would oversee everything from professional development to payroll.

Under the new law, Victory can continue to manage these schools — Stovall calls them his “legacy clients” — but it can’t open new ones in New York. In other cities where Victory works, such as Philadelphia and Chicago, it can continue to run schools.

But in New York, the company is evolving in accordance with the new law.

“Going forward, we are unbundling our services,” said James Stovall, who become Victory’s CEO in June. Instead of hiring Victory for all of their management and instructional services, schools will be able to pick and choose from a menu.

“So if a school wants to hire us to provide just leadership coaching, they can do that,” Stovall said. “If a school wants to hire us to provide their accounting and finance functions, they can do that.”

In addition to allowing schools to pick from a menu of services, Stovall said the company wants to get involved in turnaround schools. In the next year, New York City may begin closing as many as 47 schools, and the Department of Education is likely to replace some of them with charter schools that could buy services from Victory.

The new law that bars for-profit companies from managing charter schools is vague about precisely how involved a company can be before it crosses the line into management. One problem Victory may face is how to define that line.

“I’ve heard tossed around that well, as long as you stay below 50 percent of a school’s total number of outside vendor services, you’re safe,” Stovall said.

Executive Director of SUNY’s Charter School Institute Jonas Chartock said the charter school authorizer would look at a variety of factors to decide whether a for-profit company was overstepping the law’s bounds.

“We would not view the provision of back office services only (payroll, benefits management, accounting,
etc.) to be a violation,” he wrote in an email.

“At the other end of the spectrum, a full-service, sweep contract where the management provider receives all funds after expenses certainly would violate the law,” he said. Chartock said that SUNY would also look at how much of a school’s per pupil funding was going to pay a vendor’s fees.

“Anything over 8-10 percent would be worthy of further review and look like a more traditional management model, whereas a 3-5 percent fee would be more typical of a back-office only arrangement,” he wrote.

Established in 1999, Victory has had a mixed record in New York City. While some of the schools it helped start, like the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts, have earned top grades on the annual progress reports, others are struggling. The Sisulu-Walker Charter School — the first school Victory opened — went from an A last year to landing on the list of the 15 lowest performing elementary and public schools this year.

Victory has been targeted by the city’s teachers union for how much it charges schools. An analysis by Kim Gittleson showed that Victory charges schools an average of 17 percent of their per-pupil funding, or about $2,000 per student. Non-profit management groups charge their schools an average of 7 percent of their per-pupil funding, or about $1000 per student. According to Victory officials, their company charges more because it offers more support to its schools.

The union has made inroads at three Victory-run schools, where teachers voted to unionize after relations between’s the schools’ administration and staff broken down.

List of schools Victory manages:


New World Preparatory (Staten Island), Merrick Academy (Queens), Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls (Bronx), New Hope Academy (Brooklyn), New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries (Bronx), Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem (Manhattan), South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts (Bronx)

New York State:

Academy Charter School (Hempstead), Charter School of Educational Excellence (Yonkers)

Victory also helps several non-charter high schools and advises their principals. Those schools are:

August Martin High School
Herbert Lehman High School
High School for Media and Communications in Manhattan
High School for Law and Public Policy in Manhattan

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.