Million-Dollar Babies

Some CEP students have been locked in for years

One of his hurdles to overcome in completing such a program, Jacobs said, is that "for several years we've never gotten complete data from HISD on any of the DAEPs." At a time when HISD's contract called for it to house 2,500 students at CEP, "they only reported 200 to 300 students," he said. "Houston made a better report this year, but I cannot validate whether that was all of the students or not."

Browne's response: "The district does recognize problems with data integrity and is working to resolve those issues."

Brenda Jones keeps dogging CEP.
Deron Neblett
Brenda Jones keeps dogging CEP.

Chief academic officer Robert Stockwell says HISD didn't move its voluntary CEP kids back to their home schools in February for "the best interests of the kids."

They decided not to disturb the kids for the remainder of this year, Stockwell said, and to instead change the policy to allow the voluntary placements in the future. Parents are being notified, and they will be given the option of requesting an extension, returning their children to their home schools, or sending them to another, nondisciplinary alternative program, he said.

"The performance of these kids [is] important to us, but they get sent away from the school in the first place because they're disruptive and they're destroying the home school environment for the benefit of the 99 percent of the kids who are there. That's why they lose the right to stay at the school," Stockwell said.

Jacobs said leaders who promote disciplinary alternative programs to the exclusion of everything else are using a tactic of fear, divisiveness and exclusion. No one wants bad, misbehaving, dangerous kids in the schools. No one wants other kids and teachers hurt. But as Jacobs said, most of the kids sent to CEP aren't dangers to themselves or others.

"If CEP was truly looking at what was in the best interests of children, I'd probably be one of their supporters," Jacobs said. "But what I simply see when you start locking districts in to guaranteed numbers, you're selling kids.

"When you start locking them in to guaranteed numbers of days, that has nothing to do with when a child is ready," he continued. "When you have a program that doesn't look at where a student is and what a student needs, that's a problem program, whether it's a public school or a private provider. And it's sad because the children suffer."

The children suffer, and taxpayers pay too much for something worth too little when something else might do some good.

Asked why HISD decided to keep CEP when Dallas didn't, Browne responded that "HISD feels CEP is providing an important service to the district and, more importantly, the students. As with any program, there is always room for improvement...the district feels the overall work done by CEP is beneficial."

Which raises the question of how does HISD know that? When asked whether HISD has tracked the graduation rate of CEP students, Browne said that "no tracking has been done at this point." Asked about low TAAS scores, Browne said the district doesn't know how the TEA arrived at this conclusion. CEP student TAAS scores are folded back into their home school, she said. So does this mean the district has no idea of how its CEP students are doing on the TAAS, and if so, what criteria exactly is it using to determine that CEP is beneficial?

On June 10, in a 4-3 vote, school board trustees in New Orleans approved a flat-fee arrangement with CEP for $8.7 million a year to house up to 1,000 students. The $51 million contract over six years also includes the mandatory 180-day stay, without exceptions.

After the vote, The Times-Picayune wrote that more time should have been taken, more thought given, especially considering the questions raised elsewhere about CEP. It noted that Rod Paige is a mentor of New Orleans schools chief Al Davis and that the CEP deal "was largely crafted under the radar."

CEP was built by businessmen with ties to high-ranking members of the Republican Party. Paige's chief of staff was a founder of CEP, resigning his position a few days before going to work for the secretary of education.

The company makes a habit of targeting urban school districts with high minority concentrations. Often the parents have neither the resources nor the means to fight having their children sent there.

Children are being swept away, and not to a program where qualified teachers work with them intensely to bring them up to speed. They disappear from sight. They cannot cause trouble in their home schools. They cannot embarrass the district there. They're tucked away, disposed of.

And some people are making a lot of money off these children's more-than-temporary detour into a dead end.

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