The Washington Post

Va. legislator withdraws support from controversial Loudoun charter school proposal

A Virginia state senator has withdrawn support  from a proposed charter school — which would be the first in Loudoun and possibly in Northern Virginia if allowed to open — because of public “misgivings” and other concerns.

phvasession1i_1326310740[1] Junior Sen. Richard H. Black D-Loudoun (R) is introduced on the Senate floor on January 11, 2012. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

The application to open the Loudoun Math & IT Academy has sparked controversy in the Northern Virginia county. A three-member select committee of the Loudoun School Board voted recently against recommending that the full panel approve the school because of questions involving curriculum and other operational issues. In hearings, the applicants were unable to answer basic questions about curriculum, student transportation and other subjects to the satisfaction of the members. The full board will vote in late February on the application. The legislature does not have a role in the process.

An undated letter from state Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Leesburg), posted on the school system’s Web site, says he is withdrawing support for the proposed charter for another reason. It says in part:

…Unfortunately, I was not fully apprised of certain misgivings expressed by the public regarding this proposal.

 

 Questions have been raised about whether other charter schools associated with this particular network have experienced high rates of failure and poor financial management.

 

Since $8 million will be diverted from the Loudoun County Public School System for the proposed school, I am reluctant to endorse a proposal submitted from a group whose management does not enjoy a solid level of public trust and confidence…

The “particular network” to which he is referring is a group of charter schools around the country that have been opened by supporters of of a reclusive Turkish Islamic preacher named Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. There are believed to be about 135 charter schools in this network, and a number of them have come under investigation from state and federal officials for various issues, including connections to the Gulen Movement. 

Gulen himself won a green card in 2008 to emigrate to the United States after the Department of Homeland Security initially denied his request for a special visa. A 2007 lawsuit  he filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia said  that he was “head of the Gulen Movement,” and an important educational figure who had “overseen” the creation of a network of schools in the United States as well as in other countries,  the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in this story.

The Turkish men who are applying to open the academy have said they are not connected to Gulen though critics say there are connections between them and other Gulen-connected schools. I recently asked Sinan Yildirim, listed as one of the members of the proposed school’s initial governing board, whether he and his fellow applicants are connected to the preacher as critics have said and he answered: “We said no. They said yes. If they claim something they have to prove. And they can’t prove it.”

Some of the applicants run the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School in Anne Arundel County, which has had academic success but has clashed repeatedly with Anne Arundel education officials. The school is suing the district, alleging that it has been underfunded. The school won a three-year extension on its contract last summer even though Superintendent Kevin Maxwell cited enormous problems. In a June post I noted:

Maxwell wants the school, among other things, to hire qualified and fully certified teachers, allow parents to elect the board of directors “to reflect the community it serves,” use appropriate procurement and bidding processes for outside contracts, use the same data system that other public schools in the country use, follow board policy for the hiring of foreign nationals, and agree not to allow any of its contractors or subcontractors to “knowingly employ” anybody who has been investigated for criminal activity.

 
 
A member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), recently sent a letter to Superintendent Edgar Hatrick III and the Loudoun School Board withdrawing his earlier support for the academy.
 
State legislators and county supervisors are not officially involved in the application process, but it is interesting that both Higgins and Black are charter school supporters who initially supported the proposed academy.

 Higgins’ letter said in part:

I fully support the concept of charter schools. I also believe that enhanced STEM opportunities for Loudoun students could be of great benefit to the community. However, controversy has arisen around this application such that a closer evaluation is warranted.

 

Concerns about accounting practices, provision of special education students, hiring practices, and lack of accountability have all been brought to my attention. As a result of the worries raised to me by numerous citizens, I made direct inquiries to Anne Arundel County Public Schools — home to Chesapeake Science Point, which served as the model for LMITA — to check on those concerns. Unfortunately, some of these claims do not appear to be unfounded.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.