A Houston chapter of LULAC (The League of United Latin American Citizens) is asking the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to investigate the costs that the Houston ISD incurs by sending its misbehaving students to the two private alternative schools run by Community Education Partners.
The virtually identical letters from LULAC don't actually name CEP (that's because of ongoing litigation; the suit filed by CEP against its chief critic Robert Kimball) but they describe it unmistakably.
Edward Ybarra, president of LULAC Council 402 in Houston, writes that since 1999, HISD has spent more than $180 million to the for-profit corporation to manage two alternative schools in the district.
"During that ten year period, 14,772 students were referred to the program. According to HISD, only 811 have graduated."
At this point Hair Balls put in a call to the HISD press office, asking if the 811 figure could possibly be correct. We sent HISD a copy of the LULAC letter and they were checking out the stats, saying they would get back to us when they knew something.
Two days later, they did, furnishing us with reams of copy, which among other things, show a stellar "completion rate" of 100 percent for seniors at the Ferndale facility in 2007, 2005, 2004 (2006 was for some reason not available) and at the Beechnut facility for 2006, 2005 and 2004 (they skipped 2007). All of which compared with a district-wide completion rate of 82.1 percent in 2007.
Saying that the LULAC letter "contains inaccurate and misleading information," Norm Uhl, manager of the HISD Media Relations Department, wrote in an e-mail that "95 percent of students served in the CEP Partnership Schools are enrolled in grades 6 through 10. Less than one percent of the schools' enrollment is comprised of 12th graders."
And the average stay (now) at CEP is 100 days, according to Uhl. Ergo, no, there wouldn't be a lot of graduates because CEP deals mostly with younger kids.
But in his letter on behalf of LULAC, Ybarrra goes on to say that fewer than 20 percent of all students referred to the program are still in HISD, "indicating that the program is not succeeding as a program to retain students who were at risk of dropping out of school."
Since this goes back 10 years, LULAC concludes that some of the lost students are now too old to be re-enrolled.
Charging that millions of dollars have been lost due to students opting out of the CEP program, LULAC says CEP is not cost effective for HISD. It also says that "the HISD trustees and Superintendent have failed in exercising their fiduciary responsibilities by recently extending the contract of this company for five years and increasing the contract price to $19.2 million per year."
According to LULAC, the contract price does not include "bus transportation, food and the salaries of HISD employees involved with the referral process." That tab is picked up by HISD.
"The District does not know how much of the funds paid to the company are allocated for instruction because they pay the company a set amount of dollars per month for their services. This policy appears to violate TEA policy that specific amounts of funds are allocated for instruction."
"TEA has not been allowed to evaluate alternative programs. We believe that this policy needs to be changed so that children and their parents can be assured that alternative programs have oversight. "
The letter concludes with a final request that the state comptroller and TEA investigate how CEP received about $22 million from the Texas Growth Fund. "It is our understanding that the company is not based in Texas. According to our information, the headquarters is in Tennessee and it is licensed out of Delaware."
Kimball and HISD have had a long-standing dispute over the effectiveness of CEP and we've written about it a time or two ourselves. Kimball looks at the numbers and sees a huge dropout rate. HISD gets its stats from CEP and pronounces itself satisfied -- adding that previous Kimball claims are wrong, and in fact that a story done two years ago found that "82.5 percent of these students had either graduated or were still enrolled in school."
LULAC has waged an internal battle over the last few years regarding CEP. While Council 402 continues to denounce it, its overall governing body, District 8, continues to accept donations from CEP and in fact, its education committee was the one issuing the 2007 report that denounced Kimball and said CEP was doing a pretty fine job.
Now it will all get played out on a larger stage. At the upcoming national meeting of LULAC in Puerto Rico, a resolution concerning CEP will be introduced and all signs are, it won't be a pat on the back.
Update: Norm Uhl called this morning to say he had no idea where LULAC and its numbers cruncher Roibert Kimball came up with the 811 number. "We don't know where this 811 figure came from. We never put out a figure like this."
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Uhl explained that most students never get to the "graduating" point when they're with CEP. He also reiterated that in the two-year-old study done by the Education Committee for LULAC's District 8, that contrary to what Kimball had said about the district "losing" 200 students, they were able to account for the ultimate whereabouts of 196 of the kids, or 98 percent.
Hair Balls then called Kimball back this morning. So where did you get the 811 graduates number?
"HISD. I did an open records request from HISD. I wanted the list of every student that was ever referred to CEP, which is 14,772. I wanted to know what students graduated and out of those 14,772 students, 811 graduated.
"That came from HISD. That's what they gave me. I have that CD. I paid $1,600 for that CD that HISD charged me. They took my money. I have a receipt. $1,600. And that's information they provided me."