TCAPS is making headlines for a potentially serious issue with its student count procedures. As you know, the student count is the end-all-and-be-all of public education because it determines how much money each school gets from state tax dollars for their operations. Someone has accused TCAPS of fudging the numbers, and the State of Michigan education officials seem to agree. As we’ll discuss, it’s not the first time TCAPS may have misrepresented or manipulated a situation in an attempt to pad their bottom line.
TCAPS may have misclassified students for student count
The latest TCAPS allegations appear to surround its homeschool program. The district runs an elective program for homeschoolers one day a week at the former Interlochen Community School. (You know, the school that TCAPS shut down shortly after the relatively poor Interlochen community voted down a milage near the end of the Great Recession and at least one board member stated that the Interlochen community should be more supportive of milages. Right, that school. So we’re talking about that school.)
Okay, so, one day a week, homeschoolers can meet at the old Interlochen school building and take electives. The classes are things like cooking, Spanish, robotics, you know, electives. Students who attend the program are supposed to give TCAPS a reduced credit for their student count for funding; TCAPS gets some funding for these kids, but since they only attend one day a week, it’s not the same funding that TCAPS gets for kids who go to school full time.
None of the media articles are super clear about what exactly TCAPS did wrong. So we’re left to guess. The allegations have something to do with padding the numbers on either how many kids participate in the homeschool partnership program, or mischaracterizing the nature of the homeschool partnership program in order to report higher counts. After TCAPS inevitably asks for the 10-day extension to answer the FOIA, we might get to see a copy of the letter and learn what TCAPS supposedly did wrong. The Michigan Department of Education thought enough of the allegations to initially withdraw the money.
This article talks about the homeschool program in happier times. In the article, TCAPS brags that they bring in $6,400 per student who participates in the program. With per-pupil funding per full-time enrollee at approximately $7,800 per year, the $6,400 figure sounds way too high for students who essentially show up one day per week for electives and maybe (or maybe not) take a few extra electives online. At about $7,800 per pupil, per year, a full-time public school enrollee brings in $1,560 per day of instruction – Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, etc. It doesn’t make any sense that the State of Michigan would choose to fund the homeschool partnership at a 4x rate than they fund full-time public school students. Also, participation in the partnership program likely varies wildly – one student might take one, hour-long course each Wednesday while another student might take a full Wednesday of electives plus several online electives. It doesn’t make sense that every partnership student hauls in the same $6,400 whether they receive one hour of instruction per week or 20 hours.
“I’m really disappointed that somebody, for some agenda, is trying to undermine what we’re providing for students,” Soma said. Soma says that whoever the whistleblower is “doesn’t appreciate the good work that we’re doing.” Soma is ticked that someone made an anonymous report. Mr. Soma, just because someone thinks there’s something fishy with your finances doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate you or that they’re trying to sabotage education. The personal attacks are going to get you nowhere when it comes to proving that you’re on the up and up with this issue and resolving the issue honestly.
TCAPS tried to pad funding with Chinese exchange scheme
The latest allegations of TCAPS student misclassification aren’t the first time that TCAPS tried to manipulate the numbers in order to score big bucks. Only a few years ago, TCAPS wanted to bring in as many as 200 Chinese students each year. Their motivation for the scheme was one thing – profit.
By bringing in large numbers of Chinese students, TCAPS could receive per-pupil funding for the students from state tax dollars. They could also require the students to pay tuition. TCAPS wanted to pull in 100 kids per year, per high school, and classify them as seniors. There are about 300 students per high school class. So TCAPS wanted to bring in 25% of the senior class from China for the purpose of revenue. At some point, this fails the “You-want-to-do-what-now?” test.
TCAPS didn’t see the problem with the fact that these students wouldn’t have any true cultural immersion. They didn’t see a problem with paid host families taking up to six kids at a time, also motivated by profit. They didn’t even see the problem with housing some of the kids at NMC, even though they weren’t even true high school graduates. It made $en$e to TCAP$, and that’s all that mattered.
The students were classified as seniors so that they’d be eligible to receive F-1 visas. TCAPS then concocted a scheme to have the kids take classes at NMC the next year and then take courses to finish their high-school diplomas in the evenings (because they weren’t really seniors the year before). The students weren’t eligible for F-1 visas for high school two years in a row, and the NMC thing was the workaround. TCAPS saw dollar signs, but the program soon fell apart.
It’s not a stretch to say that the Chinese fly-in plan is a perversion of the state per-pupil funding system. Quite frankly, it was an attempt to exploit children.
TCAPS wasn’t the only school system to try the scheme. The international-minors-for-profit scheme became so popular in public schools throughout the country that the government changed the F-1 visa system.
Did TCAPS manipulate homeschool partnership enrollments to get funding they didn’t deserve?
Soma’s defense sounds technical – we counted the number of students that logged in online on count day – but what about the spirit of the law? What are the true programs that those students are enrolled in? What kind of funding goes with the true nature of what the students are attending TCAPS for? What’s fair? What’s right?
More state oversight of homeschool partnership programs
Starting October 1, there are new reporting requirements for all school districts that offer a homeschool partnership program. Changes include more detailed reporting about available courses and verification of actual enrollment in programs. We’ll call this the TCAPS rule.
Manipulating per-pupil funding – great business or in bad taste?
Has TCAPS fudged the homeschool partnership numbers? Is TCAPS right to try as get as much funding as possible, even if their stretching the true spirit of student count rules to do it? Or is TCAPS walking a fine, ethical line? What do you think?