In December 2018 the New York Times published an expose on Southwest Key. The Texas company is notorious for operating inhumane border shelters for incarcerated migrants hoping to secure refugee status in the United States. Its four immigrant shelters include Case Padre, a detention center located in an abandoned Walmart. The company also makes millions of dollars warehousing children separated from their parents at border crossings. Over the last decade, Southwest Key pocketed $1.8 billion federal dollars.
It turns out Southwest Key is a diversified abuser of the public purse and helpless children. In a new report, the Times focused on rat and raccoon infested charter schools, part of the Promesa network the company and its “non-profit” foundation operate in Texas.
At one Texas Promesa charter school site, vermin roam the halls, offices, and classrooms and the roof leaks when it rains. The non-profit Southwest Key school pays its non-profit Southwest Key Foundation landlord almost a million dollars a year in state tax money for use of the building. Not only does Southwest Key collect rent from its four Southwest Key charters, but it forces them to purchase services including maintenance and school lunches from Southwest Key affiliate companies at above market rates. Southwest Key Maintenance charges almost $200,000 for janitorial work that an outside company offered to do for $93,000. The food served at Promesa’s schools is purchased from Southwest Key’s for-profit food company, Café del Sol. It is so bad that students have gone on a hunger strike. In addition, Southwest Key charged Promesa over $300,000 this year as a “management” fee and bills the schools for “accounting.”
Southwest Key uses its “non-profit” profits to pay hefty salaries to corporate and charity leaders and to stockpile tens of millions of dollars in reserves. Its former president and his wife were paid a combined $2 million a year. The foundation is now under federal investigation.
Texas Promesea schools are so badly run that when teachers quit they are not replaced. At one school someone hired to teach Spanish was assigned to teach history and someone hired for special-education is teaching photography. At Corpus Christi Promesa graduating senior have difficulty filing college applications and financial aid forms because the chief guidance counselor was laid-off. The Corpus Christi school is in a crumbling former shopping center rented by Promesa for $360,000 a year from a shell company operated by real estate developers tied to Southwest Key’s shelter operation.
The charter operation has tried to escape its reputation by rebranding and now calls itself Promesa Public Schools. It opened new campuses in fall 2018 in Corpus Christi and Brownsville.
Promesa has a major ally in the rightwing ideologically driven pro-charter Trump-DeVos Miseducation Department. In 2018 they awarded Promesa a federal grant for innovative literacy programs. Promesa promised it would “increase the oral and literacy skills of all students, particularly at-risk, low-income, minority, and English Learners to overall improve academic performance, and to create a campus culture and classroom climate that promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)/computer programming integration, capacity building, and literacy across all academic content areas.” The grant proposal did not mention the rodents and the crumbling facilities.
To help decide whether Southwest Key/Promesa is the worst charter chain or just the tip of the iceberg, see a new report from the Network for Public Education titled “Asleep at the wheel: How the Federal Charter School Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride.”
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