Report: Congressman’s Son Target in School-Operator Probe

Looks like the world of for-profit schools is battling some more negative press. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, federal authorities served search warrants Wednesday on Chaka Fattah Jr. and David T. Shulick, two men with connections to Delaware Valley High School, an alternative school operator that receives millions of dollars from the Philadelphia School District. Fattah Jr. is the son of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a veteran Pennsylvania Congressman and senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Delaware Valley High School, a Philadelphia-area private school company aimed at troubled and disadvantaged students, is being paid more than $4 million from the Philadelphia school district this fiscal year and enrolls 500 students. Shulick is the president of the company; Fattah Jr.’s company, 259 Strategies LLC, is a subcontractor paid $450,000 by Delaware Valley High School.

As recently as last month, Fattah Jr. lobbied local officials for Delaware Valley High School contracts, identifying himself as its director of business development, the Inquirer reported. Authorities have been investigating his business operations for about a year, the Inquirer reported. Fattah Jr.’s lawyer told the Inquirer he is cooperating with the investigation.

The Inquirer and Politico report that in 2009, the elder Fattah lobbied Congress’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for $375,000 to pay for green vehicles at the school. The congressman, who represents parts of the Philadelphia area, has supported Shulick’s schools in the past. Shulick has contributed money to the congressman and other state officials.

The congressman told Politico his son had nothing to do with the request. The congressman’s spokesman told the Inquirer he is not a subject of the investigation.

It’s still unclear what is the criminal basis for the investigation. Shulick told the Inquirer that the investigation has nothing to do with his school and that Fattah Jr. is “being victimized” because of his relationship to his father.

Fattah Jr.’s business practices have been the subject of federal inquiries before, the Inquirer reported. Fattah Jr.’s firm received $90,000 from a personal injury lawyer later convicted of fraud, Politico reported.

We’ll see how the investigation wraps up, but it brings forth some of the common criticisms of for-profit school operators: that they garner political favor through big lobbying efforts and that their labyrinthine corporate structure makes it unclear where public school dollars end up. That’s not inherently illegal, of course, but if any charges are filed, those criticisms would be bolstered at a time when many states are considering legislation related to for-profit school operators.

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