The national private companies that receive millions of dollars in public money to set up and manage charter schools in Nevada have received relatively little scrutiny from state lawmakers or the general public. But starting next year, charter schools will have to report the amount they pay to these education management organizations.
Senate Bill 363, a bill that quietly passed through the Legislature and is now headed to the governor’s desk, will require charter schools to report biennially the amount paid to their contracted education management organization. Charter schools must submit their reports to their sponsor, which in Nevada is almost always the State Public Charter School Authority. The Charter School Authority will compile them all for a report submitted to the Legislature on even-numbered years, directly before the biennial regular session begins at the beginning of odd-numbered years.
According to the state’s recently updated definition, education management organizations (EMOs) are: for-profit entities that “provide centralized support or operations” in areas like administration, compliance and instructional services, among other things. Within the charter school world, there are also non-profit management entities, referred to as charter management organizations (CMOs), that offer similar services.
But EMOs aren’t third-party vendors hired after a charter school has independently established. They are typically the organizations that set up and operate the nonprofits that ‘own’ the charter schools themselves.
The National Education Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank, in a report published in February, says these for-profit and not-for-profit companies are fueling the expansion of the charter school industry across the country. “EMOs are clearly the key vehicles for growth, both in the number of new school size and also in their quest to increase the size of existing schools,” reads the report. “Without EMOs, there would likely be a limited number of charter schools opening each year.”
NEPC notes that charter schools were pitched in the 1990s as “locally run, innovative, autonomous and highly accountable” but “these traits do not accurately describe the current reality.”
Florida-based Academica is the largest for-profit EMO in the country. It’s associated with more than 200 schools across the country, according to its website. Academica Nevada’s portfolio includes many of the largest brick-and-mortar charter schools in the state, including Somerset, Doral and Pinecrest academies.
Two other large national EMOs, Connections Education and K12 Inc are associated with virtual charter schools in Nevada — Nevada Connections Academy and Nevada Virtual Academy, respectively. Both EMOs operate in more than half a dozen states and enroll tens of thousands of students nationwide. Connections Education is a part of the British-owned publishing, testing and digital education giant Pearson Education.
Nevada’s virtual charter schools have been criticized for poor performance. Several have been shut down in recent years. Nevada Connections Academy’s high school is only open because of a legal settlement between the state and the school.
According to the NEPC report, there are at least three non-profit CMOs operating in Nevada: Imagine School Inc., Coral Education Corporation and Quest Preparatory Academy.
In June 2020, the Nevada Current reported on a legal battle between American Preparatory Academy Las Vegas and its Utah-based CMO, American Preparatory Schools. At the time, an attorney for the charter school told the Charter School Authority it was paying the out-of-state company a flat fee of $997 per student, which worked out to $1.6 million per academic year. That number was set to rise to $2.3 million annually with the opening of a second APA campus.
APA LV board chair Lee Igbody described the situation as paying “$1.6 million for essentially nothing and $2.3 million for even less.”
APA LV has since changed its name to Amplus. It is no longer associated with an EMO, though it does use third-party vendors for certain operational things like facilities maintenance and payroll, according to plans submitted to the Charter School Authority.
The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority oversees the vast majority of charter schools within the state. According to its growth management plan, which was approved by the Charter School Board on Friday, the Authority currently serves 53,223 students at 67 charter school campuses in five counties.
That makes the Charter School Authority about three-fourths the size of Washoe County School District. Clark County School District remains by far the largest district. But charter school growth is significantly outpacing both districts.