Once again, Valerie Strauss has reprinted an anti-charter blog post under The Washington Post banner without doing any actual “reporting,” which should involve research, fact-checking and an opportunity for the subjects to respond. The attack on Learn4Life is riddled with inaccuracies and non-factual reporting, and our students should not be the target of a personal or political agenda.

We’ve heard these accusations from blogger Burris before:

Burris loves to say we’re hiding the truth about how we spend money on students – FACT: Learn4Life is in complete compliance with the law and transparent in its practices. We are proud to be a GuideStar Platinum Seal of Transparency recipient for our ethical, transparent and effective organizational practices. Unlike a traditional public school, we must go through a rigorous renewal process with our authorizers every five years just to exist. This requires full transparency of internal operations. As routine, each charter is audited annually by the state, and we conduct our own internal analysis of financials and compliance standards, which is confirmed by an independent third-party auditor. Finally, our operations have recently been audited by state-appointed agencies (JLAC and FCMAT) with no findings of misappropriations or misconduct.

Burris continues to criticize our graduation rate – FACT: Learn4Life network schools qualify under the Dashboard Alternative School Status (DASS) school model. As a DASS or alternative model school that largely serves at-risk students, we are measured differently than traditional schools. Our success is measured on a one-year (versus four-year) cohort graduation rate. We are evaluated on the number of students who graduate within one year of becoming high school seniors. We’re proud to report that our one-year cohort graduation rate is 70%. Our foster student grad rate is 77%, exceeding the California state average of 59%.

Because our average student enrolls at 17 years of age and older, at a year or more behind in credits, it’s not possible for them to graduate with their four-year cohort.

  • Most read a 5th grade level
  • 80% are socio-economically disadvantaged
  • 60% are too old to attend high school
  • 17% are students with disabilities – which exceeds the California state average of 11.5%
  • 10% are homeless, foster or migrant students
  • 16% are pregnant or parenting

These are students that washed out of the public traditional school with nowhere to turn. We have been successful where traditional schools have been unable to provide the extra help they need. Without Learn4Life, these kids would be relegated to the lost potential of the 1.2M dropouts in our nation. For more information about the success of Learn4Life’s model in reaching the toughest student population, read a recent report by a public policy think tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Burris sneers at our “storefronts” – FACT: We don’t spend millions on buildings. We find affordable space in low-income areas where our students reside. Because we spend less on infrastructure, we’re able to put far more into actual student needs such as supplies, books, laptops, food, bus passes, computer labs, college and career exploration, job training and staff – for example, we have a 1:25 student teacher ratio (6x more than public schools) and provide 2.4 times more counselors than public schools.

Burris scoffs at paper packets (the lessons and homework assignments students complete) – FACT: Paper lessons are essential, since most of our students don’t have internet access at home. The real difference is that our students receive unlimited support to help them work through lessons – from one-on-one interactions with their supervising teacher, to small group instruction, labs and free tutoring.

Burris harps about our executive pay – FACT: Our executive compensation levels are all based on an independent analysis of the duties and value provided by those roles to our students and programs. They are made in complete compliance with federal and state law. Compensation is comparable – equal to or less than – public employees doing the same work.

Burris alludes to a money grab for home-schooled students – FACT: Because some of our charter agreements mandate that we offer a home school program, Learn4Life has always had such students – currently 860 out of our 49,000 students. We serve them well, but our focus is offering a high school diploma through personalized learning. We have never provided funds to parents to spend as they wish. Burris conflates the conduct of some bad actors and applies their deeds to Learn4Life, which is untrue.

Burris alleges self-dealing – FACT: We are committed to serving our students with the highest ethical standards and take this very seriously, and we quickly remove employees or divest from partnerships that we find are not in compliance with our standards. Given our performance in independent audits and receipt of the Guidestar Platinum Seal of Transparency, it is clear we have delivered on our promise of ethical, transparent and efficient operations for the benefit of at-risk students.

Burris stops the story short by claiming a judge ordered to close schools in San Diego – FACT: No final ruling has been issued on the location of our school sites. Two years ago, the Anderson USD vs. Shasta ruling prohibited boundaries of the authorizing school district but within the same county. All schools in the Learn4Life network legally complied with the judgement and exist in compliance with the law.

Burris cries about not including the real names of our charter schools on the website – FACT: Learn4Life is the brand name of our network. Our redesigned website was specifically made to give students ease in locating our centers across the state, since so many of them are housing insecure and often move to multiple cities in the course of a year. In many cases, Learn4Life is the only constant in their lives and we want them to know that wherever they move to, we are there to help them continue their education in a safe and caring environment. Charter names and records are public information and freely available to those seeking further information.

What Burris neglects to mention – Our students are the most underserved population in the public-school system. Without our one-on-one attention and personalized learning program, 70% of these students – who were once at-risk or considered a dropout – would be incarcerated. Find out more about why we need more charter schools like Learn4Life.

Answer Sheet is published under The Washington Post banner. It is their duty to check facts and provide balanced “reporting,” rather than merely reposting one-sided opinion blogs that may be harmful to the students who most need our help. These are highly courageous learners who want to change their story – some being the first to graduate in their family.

Excerpt from the Answer Sheet blog that references Learn4Life with inaccurate information:

In 2019, the Parkers were not alone in engaging in alleged profiteering schemes involving self-dealing. The storefront California Learn4Life charter chain allegedly created elaborate ways to hide self-dealing from the public eye to turn a profit, as explained in this August report from Voices of San Diego. Judges in San Diego and Grossmont, Calif., have ordered a total of five Learn4Life charters closed. Despite a clear violation of the state charter law, the chain is appealing their decisions.

In 2016, I wrote about the Learn4Life charter chain and its dismal results. The schools are cash cows — they have little overhead and provide minimal instruction to the at-risk population they serve. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, one charter in the chain, Diego Plus, collected $26 million in taxpayer funds in 2016 and paid its chief executive $295,462. Two of the high schools the judge ordered closed, Diego Valley and San Diego Workforce, had 2018 graduation rates of 28 percent and 20 percent. The Learn4Life chain has expanded into Ohio and Michigan and is attempting to open schools in Texas.

The Learn4Life website has a new look since I visited in 2016. It does not include the real names of its charter schools, which would allow parents to track school results and status. To get the school names, I had to speak with a supervisor. She told me that despite the new look, it was the same Learn4Life model — learning packets for students as young as 14 to complete and turn in. Learn4Life has also gotten into the newest California charter business: home-school charters. California home-school charters attract families by giving parents money for enrichment activities such as trips to Disneyland even as they keep taxpayer dollars for themselves for administrative expenses.

Home-school charters receive between $7,571 and $9,269 in state funding for every enrollee. According to the Learn4Life supervisor with whom I spoke, the chain’s home-charter school is called Apple Valley. The school provides curriculum to parents, she said.

How did Learn4Life get its start? At least four of its storefront charters received Charter Schools Program grants totaling $875,000.

Written By:
Ann Abajian
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