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Rauner’s charter schools

Tuesday, Feb 4, 2014

* This revelation probably isn’t as bad as it first looks

Bruce Rauner’s family charity has contributed $800,000 to the scandal-tarred United Neighborhood Organization in recent years, including $750,000 to help expand the Hispanic community group’s network of 16 charter schools in Chicago, UNO records show.

When Gov. Pat Quinn temporarily cut off state funding to the charter operator last year, UNO put $285,000 of the Rauner Family Foundation’s money toward paying bills the state would have covered.

The state and local government gave UNO a whole lot more than Rauner. And that second sentence needs to be fleshed out a bit more

Rauner says he wasn’t aware UNO used some of his money to make up for the suspended state funding. He also says he didn’t specify how the contributions were to be spent. When Quinn later resumed the grant, UNO replenished the account it had created with the donations from Rauner, UNO records show.

The donations from the Rauner Family Foundation included $250,000 in December 2011, $500,000 in December 2012 and $50,000 in 2010. According to the foundation’s tax returns, the $50,000 contribution was to “improve Hispanic neighborhoods/community.”

If it can be found that Rauner donated to UNO after the allegations became public or even after the governor temporarily shut off the spigot, then that’s something.

Otherwise, he gave UNO some money. UNO put the money into a special fund. UNO suddenly needed cash, so it tapped that fund.

* Another story

Sarah Howard thought Bruce Rauner was an angel who would rescue her financially troubled, academically struggling charter school in East Garfield Park.

Instead, the would-be Republican candidate for Illinois governor took control of the Academy of Communications and Technology Charter School that Howard started, dumped her as executive director, suspended operations for two years, then turned it over to a national charter school operator.

“Bruce was coming to us, saying he was going to help us strengthen and improve our campus,” says Howard, who now works for the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success. “And instead what happened is he approached it like it was a turnaround that needed to be wiped out, sort of like a venture capital deal — come in, put in new leadership and change everything around. […]

“With the exception of high school test scores, we were outperforming our neighborhood school on every other metric and, in some cases, beating the CPS average,” Howard says. “I’m not saying we were knocking it out of the park, but we were serving the neighborhood well and were improving.”

* But

Howard and a business partner started ACT in 1997 at a former Catholic elementary school at 4319 W. Washington, offering classes to seventh- through 12th-graders. But ACT’s test scores lagged behind those of many public schools. That led the Chicago Board of Education to deny ACT’s application to renew its charter for five years. The board gave ACT a two-year extension, then two more extensions, through June 2011.

Charter schools are supposed to be innovative and are supposed to go away if they don’t perform up to standards. I don’t think it’s the case that this was a great school by any means, so I’m not sure I can say that this was a bad move by Rauner. But it sure is an insight into how he’d likely govern if elected.

* Another

On TV, Bruce Rauner has barraged voters with a commercial in which he boasts that he “helped start charter schools” to fight failing educational programs.

Other than giving millions of dollars, though, the Republican candidate for governor doesn’t have much to do with running the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which includes a school that bears his name, according to the head of Noble.

Rauner has “very little” involvement in running Noble’s 14 high schools, which include Rauner College Prep on the near West Side and one middle school, says Michael Milkie, the former Chicago Public Schools math teacher who founded Noble and is now its superintendent and chief executive officer.

Rauner, a venture capitalist and member of Noble’s 20-member board, says: “I’ve never had a role in day-to-day operations at Noble or, frankly, in almost anything I get involved with. My role is generally as a board member or kind of an adviser providing overall strategic advice or feedback. . . . I go to the campus that they named after our family once a year, maybe twice a year, to talk to students and the principal, things like that.”


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Adam Smith - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:06 am:

    Sounds like folks are desperate to find anything they can carp about with Rauner.

    How dare he kick out the leadership of a failing charter school and bring in new management to try to make it succeed! He should just keep his money buried in his backyard and not stick his nose in to try to do something to address the education disaster in disadvantaged communities.

    On the other hand, he isn’t sticking his nose in enough to manage a charter school he funded?

    Imagine a governor who wouldn’t tolerate failure and who hires real experts to run things they know how to run. It would be a 180-degree turn from the Quinn administration.

    Yeah, he’s a mean rich guy who demands results. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about Rauner. We don’t need a cuddly governor, we need someone who will change course. Any of the GOP candidates would move us in a better direction.

  2. - Conservative Republican - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:10 am:

    ==But it sure is an insight into how he’d likely govern if elected.===

    What part of “shake up Springfield” don’t you understand?

  3. - Conservative Republican - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:10 am:


  4. - Bill White - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    As Ricky Bobby said, “Hold on, because this is going to get bumpy”

    Anyway, I stand with Diane Ravitch on the supposed merits of charter schools:

  5. - MrJM - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:15 am:

    Yeah, he’s a mean rich guy

    Well, I’m sold!

    – MrJM

  6. - Grandson of Man - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:27 am:

    “folks are desperate to find anything they can carp about with Rauner”

    This is supposedly a “Watchdogs” story, and it’s basically a puff piece. What about the nursing homes Rauner owned, and the death, suffering and over $1 billion in jury awards? Where are the “Watchdog” stories about the abysmal conditions of the nursing homes, and the suffering and death of their residents? Where are the stories of the owners of the company gorging themselves on public monies while running the nursing homes into the ground?

    Where are the stories about how the nursing home company was sold to a shell company to protect its owners from financial liability? Who profited when people suffered miserably and died?

  7. - Joe Citizen - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:34 am:

    Clearly Rauner has been actively engaged in schools in Chicago/Illinois- for better or for worse. But he sent some of his own kids out of state to a $50,000/yr boarding school for their education (and equestrian skills). He and his family can do what they want with their money. I’m not faulting him there. But to me, it’s disingenuous to clamor about IL education when you’ve shipped off some of your own kids (and your $) to a school in California for their education.

  8. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:35 am:

    Pretty tame and lame stuff, particularly the part about how Rauner didn’t manage day to day operations. Umm, is everyone terribly confused about what major donors do when they get involved in projects. Geeezzuuss people.

  9. - Snucka - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    Meanwhile, the money train rolls on. $109,000 to Citizens for Rauner today.

    Interesting stat: of the 75 contributions to Rauner’s campaign fund in 2014, 66 have been from individuals other than Bruce Rauner. Of those, 64 are men and 2 are women.

  10. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 10:54 am:

    –“I’ve never had a role in day-to-day operations at Noble or, frankly, in almost anything I get involved with.”

    So vote for me, lmao.

  11. - Downstater - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 11:07 am:

    I am glad to see wealthy people make private contributions to help the schools. Kudos to Bruce Rauner.

  12. - Valerie F. Leonard - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 11:08 am:

    It’s interesting that Bruce Rauner was hands-on in the case of ACT. Before he gave ACT one dime he told them he had to choose his own person to lead the school. He fired the principal, her leadership team and staff. Rather than work to turn the school around, he let it go dormant and turned it over to KIPP. Why not work with Noble to fold it into the Noble Network, since he was on their board? This really gives the appearance that he started working with ACT just to turn it over to a friend.

    Bruce Rauner said he didn’t put any restrictions on his $800,000 (total)gifts to UNO or know how they would be using his money. He also said he had no idea how UNO conducted their business.

    Bruce Rauner is on Noble’s Board and said he had no idea that the network paid over $235,000 to Gery Chico and his law firm to represent Noble as a lobbyist. How could he not know this, given his position?

    These examples give a very good indication of how Bruce Rauner would govern. He will be a tough and hands-on manager when he wants to be, and look the other way when he wants. He’ll clean some houses and keep the status quo in others. Illinois needs a governor who will govern fairly and exercise his fiduciary responsibilities in a consistent manner.

  13. - circularfiringsquad - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 11:26 am:

    Funny stuff
    Especially since every political scribe believes all money given to UNO at any time believes it is all about buying Hispanic votes.
    This recap seems to suggest Rauner giving is one the square
    Give us a break

  14. - Frank - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 11:34 am:

    This report doesn’t lay a glove on Rauner…not the kind of effort one would expect from Novak and Fusco. Not surprising, though. Bruce Rauner ain’t Juan Rangel….he doesn’t need a charter school network to make him money or win him political influence. The more interesting story about Rauner’s charter school efforts needs to be done by an education reporter. How about fleshing out the story Rich posted a few months ago that showed one of Rauner’s schools threatened to flunk an underperforming student unless he agreed to transfer back to his regular neighborhood school? I don’t think any mainstream media outlets have picked that up. How widespread is this sort of practice at Noble charters and are there similar policies in place that allow them to essentially cherry pick their students?

    Rauner’s candidacy really should spark a bigger debate about charters…too bad the Sun-Times chose to fall back to their default approach on this by assigning their investigative reporters to find out about potential financial malfeasence or political corruption where it doesn’t exist.

  15. - Rod - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 11:42 am:

    I think Frank is not understanding the issue. If the Rauner vision of charter schools is that they succeed or fail on their own merits and should be held accountable, then his lobbying to keep a failing charter school in existence contradicts his free market rhetoric.

  16. - CollegeStudent - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 11:57 am:

    ===“I’ve never had a role in day-to-day operations at Noble or, frankly, in almost anything I get involved with. My role is generally as a board member or kind of an adviser providing overall strategic advice or feedback===

    But you will be on a first name basis with every legislator in Springfield and generally be a hands on Governor.


    Methinks the old canard about politicians, lies, and moving lips is quite applicable to you too Bruce.

  17. - Frank - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 11:57 am:

    Rod, did you read my post beyond the first sentence? I couldn’t agree with you more.

  18. - walker - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:06 pm:

    He believes in Charter schools, puts his money where his mouth is, and acts like a venture capitalist in trying to turn one around. First move, replace the management with someone you trust.

    So what’s new?

    Rauner better have more skills than these.

    You cannot do this in government, because the money is not yours, the people elect their representatives, you are only in charge of one third of it, processes are bound by law, and more.

  19. - Kwark - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:22 pm:

    In yesterday’s Trib debate, Rauner came out advocating not only for charters but for vouchers. I imagine that will become fodder in the general, should Rauner pull out a primary victory …

  20. - Joe Citizen - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:47 pm:

    Will vouches permit me to send my kids out of state for an education?

  21. - olddog - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:52 pm:

    @ Rod, and Frank –

    Several issues in play here, but you’re both right — somebody needs to take a look at charter schools in general, and KIPP in particular. I can’t speak to the facts regarding the school in East Garfield Park, of course, but when Rauner folded it into KIPP he was buying into a one-size-fits-all approach to education that raises red flags for most professional educators.

    These include, but are not limited to: selective admission policies that skew the metrics on student success; attrition rates as high as 60-70 percent among students and classroom teachers alike; reliance on inexperienced entry-level teachers who often lack professional training; and very heavily scripted pedagogical and classroom management techniques that are not appropriate for all students in all classroom situations. KIPP does, however, typically yield an attractive return on investment for its financial backers.

    Diane Ravitch, who is at worst ambivalent about KIPP but leery of charter schools overall, has several blog posts available on line that will provide some context for the educational issues here …

    And there’s an interview with a teacher who joined KIPP right out of college that gives some insight into how the KIPP scripts operate on a day-to-day basis, on another education blog at …

    KIPP has its defenders, and the metrics on standardized test scores do indicate its approach is appropriate for some at-risk students. But the Sun-Times story of Rauner’s involvement with the charter in Garfield Park suggests a very shallow, my-way-is-the-highway, don’t-bother-me-with-the-facts attitude to education and an unwillingness to listen on his part.

    Sort of like his attitude to state government.

  22. - Bill White - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:01 pm:

    @ olddog

    But, but, but, why should we talk actual policy when there is an exciting horse race being run?

  23. - Statesman - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:13 pm:

    “This report doesn’t lay a glove on Rauner…not the kind of effort one would expect from Novak and Fusco. Not surprising, though. Bruce Rauner ain’t Juan Rangel….he doesn’t need a charter school network to make him money or win him political influence.” What this bit does it tie former Daley Commissioner of HR- Tristan (who was UNO’s chief legal counsel) to Rauner’s re-election campaign. As Chicago puppetry might have it- Tristan’s wife was reported by Sneed to have been raising moolah for Rauner. This cash might have paved the way for Rangel to reappear on the State level should Bruce get elected. Then again stranger things have happened…

  24. - olddog - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 3:42 pm:

    @ Bill White –


    But I still think he’s peddling snake oil!

  25. - Just The Way It Is One - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 7:51 pm:

    Well, it may not be as bad as it first LOOKS, but for yet another “Will the REAL Rauner please stand UP!” type-revelation, it’s still quite bad…!

  26. - Dylan - Wednesday, Feb 5, 14 @ 10:18 pm:

    I used to teach at ACT Charter school, and actually started the year Bruce Rauner took over. His contribution did help keep the school open and the need for such donations might speak to the lack of funding that charters face, but he did step in with his personal money when it appears others were unwilling.

    On the other hand, the experience of closing the school was a very difficult and stressful one. I can say that our students were improving, and that there were a lot of talented, hard-working teachers who gave a lot every day. It is funny to think that ACT is now being discussed because of its relationship to the candidate for governor. I think most of us staff never really knew Bruce and in fact I introduced myself to him at a luncheon a year later because he had no idea who I was.

    It’s unfortunate that people see this story and use it to reinforce their predisposed perception of Mr. Rauner or charter schools. I can’t take anything away from Mr. Rauner for trying and wanting to bring in his people, but you should know there was more to the school than candidate conspiracies and viewpoints on charter schools. There were staff and students doing good things in a neighborhood where few outsiders go.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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