Education Funding

Fordham’s Connections to School That It Sponsors Spark Concerns

December 19, 2006 3 min read

For years, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has been a good friend to the Omega School of Excellence. Recently, though, it became the Dayton charter school’s authorizer. And some analysts worry that the foundation’s old supporting role may clash with its new supervisory one.

The Omega School of Excellence is being run by a group with ties to its authorizer.

Through its philanthropic arm, the Washington-based think tank has given grants to Omega and other charter schools, and still does. It also helped create the nonprofit Keys to Improving Dayton Schools Inc., or KIDS, which offers back-office support to many small, independent charter schools. KIDS last spring became the operator of the Omega school.

Fordham officials say they favor strong accountability, but also want to help the charter schools for which they became the authorizer in July 2005. In fact, Ohio law requires authorizers to provide technical assistance.

Researcher Henry M. Levin praises the foundation for advocating improvements in how charters are held accountable for performance, but argues that its ties to schools such as Omega could impede its role as an accountability agent.

“There are a lot of interlocking relationships here, and entanglements,” said Mr. Levin, the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, based at Teachers College, Columbia University. “Without impugning motives, just institutionally, it doesn’t sound proper to me. … You simply don’t commingle public stewardship with private commitments.”

See Also

Return to the main story,

A Think Tank Takes the Plunge

The Omega school, launched in 1999 by a minister at a large African-American church in Dayton, seemed to do fairly well until about two years ago. That’s when a family illness took the Rev. Vanessa Oliver Ward, the school’s main founder and board president, away from day-to-day involvement.

Student performance and enrollment plummeted. Fordham Foundation and school officials agreed that dramatic changes were needed. The school’s board last spring hired KIDS, which had been handling the school’s accounting, as the operator. KIDS helped bring in a new principal and teaching staff.

‘You Have to Separate That’

Concerned that the school was going broke, Fordham just recently gave Omega a $100,000 matching grant, well above the foundation’s usual school grants. The foundation sees the large turnaround grant for Omega as a one-time deal. Still, some observers question the arrangement.

“If they’re giving grants, … they’re partisan, so you have to separate that,” said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University who studies charters

Greg Richmond, the president of the Chicago-based National Association of Charter School Authorizers, sees matters differently. “If anything, it makes them more invested and more attentive,” he said. He also noted that state and district authorizers routinely give schools grants.

Chester E. Finn Jr., the foundation’s president, said he sees no need to halt grants to schools simply because Fordham sponsors them.

Meanwhile, Fordham’s ties to KIDS, Omega’s new operator, have also raised eyebrows.

Mr. Finn said the foundation has taken steps to limit the ties. It also established a policy that makes clear to schools it sponsors that “we will never tell you whom to hire and will not let you hire us, Fordham, to provide services,” he said.

“We are precisely an independent accountability agent because we spun off the service-providing function to an independent organization,” Mr. Finn said, referring to KIDS. But Mr. Finn and another Fordham official still serve on the KIDS board, and it shares office space with Fordham in Dayton.

Mr. Richmond said he’s not troubled by the link, as long as KIDS operates the Omega school only for a short time. “If it were an ongoing activity, it would really start to complicate the lines of authority,” he said.

To Mr. Finn, the Omega case illustrates the absence of black and white when it comes to closing schools. “If an important community organization sets out to run a charter school, and the school runs into trouble, my instinct is first to see if we can help them make it succeed,” he said.

Coverage of new schooling arrangements and classroom improvement efforts is supported by a grant from the Annenberg Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the December 20, 2006 edition of Education Week as Fordham’s Connections to School That It Sponsors Spark Concerns

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Some in Congress Fear State Budget Decisions May Undercut COVID-19 Education Relief
A dispute in Wisconsin over coronavirus relief underscores how technical issues and politics are affecting education spending decisions.
4 min read
Image shows an illustration of money providing relief against coronavirus.
DigitalVision Vectors/iStock/Getty
Education Funding There Are Big Funding Gaps Affecting High-Poverty Schools. Can Biden Close Them?
Hurdles lie ahead for a $20 billion bid to create "Title I equity grants" to address long-standing funding inequities.
9 min read
President Joe Biden talks about the May jobs report from the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Friday, June 4, 2021.
President Joe Biden made boosting Title I for disadvantaged students a key part of his education platform on the campaign trail.
Susan Walsh/AP
Education Funding Education Department Issues Directive on Shielding Students in Poverty From Funding Cuts
The agency released the "maintenance of equity" guidance on COVID-19 relief as part of a public-relations blitz on equity amid the pandemic.
5 min read
Image of a $100 dollar bill that is cut into blocks for distribution.
E+/Getty
Education Funding New COVID-19 Aid Coalition Highlights Strategies for Retaining Teachers, Digital Learning
The coalition representing school officials, teachers' unions, and others, has pledged a multiyear effort to use relief aid effectively.
2 min read
Mary Euell helps her sons, Michael Henry, left, and Mario Henry, work through math lessons remotely in their Erie, Pa., home.
Mary Euell helps her sons, Michael Henry, left, and Mario Henry, work through math lessons remotely in their Erie, Pa., home.
Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News via AP