Tag Archives: charter school

CMD Publishes Full List of 2,500 Closed Charter Schools (with Interactive Map)

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Update September 28 — Some readers have pointed out that a few schools on the list are open but have a different address. This appears to be due to NCES assigning schools a different ID when they change districts. While this does not appear to affect a large number of schools on the list, it does affect some, and the editors appreciate the crowd sourcing help to clarify the list. CMD will post an updated version as soon as possible.

Today, the Center for Media and Democracy is releasing a complete state-by-state list of the failed charter schools since 2000. Among other things, this data reveals that millions and millions of federal tax dollars went to “ghost” schools that never even opened to students. The exact amount is unknown because the U.S. Department of Education is not required to report its failures, where money went to groups to help them start new charters that never even opened.

This data set also provides reporters and citizens of each state an opportunity to take a closer look at how much taxpayer money has been squandered on the failed charter school experiment in their states. The data set and the interactive map below are based on more than a decade’s worth of official but raw data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

This release comes as the U.S. Department of Education and industry insiders currently deciding which states to award half a billion dollar in grants designed to bolster the school privatization industry under the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP).

As CMD has calculated, nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and the failure rate for charter schools is much higher than for traditional public schools.

For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, charter school students ran two and half times the risk of having their education disrupted by a school closing and suffering academic setbacks as a result of closure. Dislocated students are less likely to graduate. In 2014 study, Matthew F. Larsen with the Department of Economics at Tulane University looked at high school closures in Milwaukee, almost all of which were charter schools, and he concluded that closures decreased “high school graduation rates by nearly 10%.” He found that the effects persist “even if the students attends a better quality school after closure.”

Hidden behind the statistics are the social consequences. According to 2013 paper by Robert Scott and Miguel Saucedo at the University of Illinois, school closures “have exacerbated inter-neighborhood tensions among Chicago youth in recent years” and have been a contributing factor to the high rate of youth incarceration.

Then there are the charter schools that never opened despite tax money from a federal program to help more entities apply to create even more charters. Drilling down into the data of just one state in just one school year, 25 charter schools (or, really, prospective charter schools) awarded grants in 2011-’12 never opened in Michigan. The non-profit groups behind these were granted a total of $3.7 million in federal tax money in implementation and planning grants, and they also received at least $1.7 million in state tax dollars. These charter schools exist only on paper, in this case on grant notification forms and in databases of state expenditures.

As CMD has calculated, the federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion in the past two-plus decades fueling the charter school industry that has taken money away from traditional public schools. And, as the Center for Popular Democracy has demonstrated, more than $200 million of that money resulted in fraud and waste over the past decade.

Click here for the full state-by-state list of charter schools that have closed between 2000 and 2013.

– See more at: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2015/09/12936/cmd-publishes-full-list-2500-closed-charter-schools#sthash.EBdahBQh.dpuf

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Dollars, Details And The Devil: Top 10 Needed Charter School Reforms

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“Oh it’s a long, long while from May to December,” Maxwell Anderson’s great lyric tells us, “But the days go short when you reach September.” And with the Ohio legislature’s inaction on anticipated charter school reform, the classic tune also reminds us that “One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”

We already knew that while its citizens waited, the Ohio legislature left town as one festering charter school scandal after another went unaddressed.  In particular, a long-awaited piece of “reform” legislation, HB 2, proposed to address “governance, sponsorship, and management of community schools,” languishes in the wind tunnel located at Broad and High.

But maybe the Cincinnati Enquirer headline “Did dollars or details slow Ohio charter reform”? spoke volumes about the wind tunnel, calm now until September.

The proposed reform legislation would, according to the Enquirer, “prevent failing charter schools from swapping sponsors to avoid closure, require that attendance and financial records be available for inspection, force online schools to track how many hours a student is learning and eliminate conflicts of interest between those who run the schools and the groups policing them.”

The Enquirer article also points out that perhaps $91,726 in timely donations in June and July by charter school leader William Lager might have distracted Republican lawmakers from doing the right thing. After all, isn’t the devil – or is it the dollar – in the details when the subject is Ohio charter schools?

In the meantime, a close look at HB 2 – which is subject to further dissection when the legislature returns – shows that there are many other areas of governance, sponsorship, and charter school management that cry out for reform. So it should come as no surprise that, in reaction to legislative inaction, a group of concerned citizens assembled recently to assist lawmakers in doing the right thing.

In the hope (snicker) of getting some action from our legislators in September, our citizen panel decided to channel the spirit of David Letterman and compile a list of the Top 10 Needed Charter School Reforms. Here are the results of our deliberative body.

#10: Cut legal exemptions

Charter schools are exempt from 150 sections of the Ohio Revised Code.

The legislature needs to eliminate at least half of these exemptions by the end of the current session. After all, if proponents like to call them “publiccharter schools,” they should be more aligned to our system of public education and therefore not need so many exemptions from laws which public schools must comply with due to their public nature. If the charter industry objects, we should not let them have it both ways. Charter proponents should stop using the term public charter schools due to their resistance to increased regulation and fewer legal exemptions. In turn, the public should start using the termcorporate charter schools to better define their nature.

#9: Management companies subject to full review by state auditor

Here’s another classic example of the charter industry having it both ways. If you receive public funds, the public has a right to see how their money is spent or misspent. Add to that the requirement that any furniture, equipment, and real estate purchased with public funds is public property, subject to liquidation at auction upon closure of the school, with the proceeds returned to the state treasury. Recall that White Hat Management took the position that such assets were corporate and not public property. JobsOhio is another example of the principle of having it both ways. Public money and the assets purchased with such funds should not be convertible to private assets through a management arrangement.

#8: Eliminate Non-Profit Sponsors

The charter industry is replete with example after example of someone or some entity having it both ways. Non-Profit charter school sponsors follow that tradition. They accept public funds for serving as charter school sponsors or authorizers but tell individuals and organizations seeking information that as non-profits, they are exempt from public records requests. As with Nos. 10 and 9, if a non-profit organization accepts public funds, it should be responsive to such requests and the same scrutiny that other types of sponsors (school district, educational service center, vocational school district, university) accept as a player in the charter industry. The public is tired of the charter world having it both ways.

#7: Celebrity endorsements and cap on advertising

This charter school reform measure is tied in with Nos. 9 and 8. Public funds should not be used to pay for endorsements to promote charter schools. Worse yet, we’ll probably never find out how much ECOT endorser Jack Hanna or anyone else might have been paid because the management companies maintain they are private entities and resist audits and requests for financial information from state regulators.

#6: Accuracy in advertising

If a rose is a rose, a charter school should be called just that. Ohio is the only one of forty states authorizing charter schools that uses the term community school rather than charter. That term by itself – used in the original legislation – is purposefully misleading. My recent article on charter names pointed out that only a handful have the word charter or community school in their official title. The same is true for television ads, where the name charter isn’t used. As the school year begins and you see and hear ads for charters, listen carefully for what you might not hear in the commercial.

The local public school is a community school and a charter is a charter.

#5: School treasurers.  There is a continuing concern about the ability of charter school treasurers to adequately perform their duties when many serve multiple schools. One former charter treasurer , sentenced to two years in prison, was said to have served as the chief financial officer of at least nine charter schools at the same time, though other treasurers have served more than that number in the past. New legislation is needed to cap the total number of schools a treasurer can serve simultaneously.

#4: Governance reform.  With more than a billion dollars in state education funds being diverted to charter schools, it’s time to require greater transparency and accountability for the use of scarce public dollars, and governance reform is one place to start.  In a previous article, I wrote this statement: “The public school district that has the largest number of its resident students enrolled should be entitled to a seat on the board. Since state funds are deducted from the foundation payments for the district’s resident students and sent to the charter school where the student is enrolled, the district is entitled to monitor the performance and operation of the school, particularly when many of these students return to the district at some point.” In addition, lawmakers should require authorizer and parent representatives to be members of the board, with the parent seat filled by an individual selected at an annual meeting of the school parents. An additional part of governance reform would be to require all board members to be registered with the Office of Secretary of State, as is the case with other public school board members.

#3: Administrative qualifications. Incredibly, there are no minimum educational or professional licensure requirements for charter school administrators. This situation needs to be addressed immediately if all charter reform efforts are to be viewed as substantive. After all, school is about education.

#2: Citizenship requirement. In traditional school districts, board members have to be qualified voters – citizens – in order to serve as overseers of public funds. News reports in the last year have focused on one charter school chain where some of the board members and administrators may not be American citizens. If charter proponents want to emphasize the word public in the term public charter school, they should also agree that requiring American citizenship for board members is a no-brainer for the charter industry.

And the Number One Needed Charter School Reform –

Get the money out!

The influence of charter moguls David Brennan an William Lager on the Ohio Republican party are well-known. Money talks, and in charter world, money speaks loudly. Public funds – the profits gained from running privately operated schools with public money – should not be allowed to unduly influence legislators. The fact that HB 2 stalled at the very time that another $91,726 arrived to replenish state Republican campaign coffers is no coincidence.

If Mark Twain was correct when he observed that “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” the absence of lawmakers at Broad and High compounds the inaction on charter reform. But if at least two of these Top 10 Needed Charter School Reforms wound up being included in this year’s reform package,  that would be a small victory for the life, liberty and property of Ohioans.

What, then? Are these Top 10 Needed Charter School Reforms merely pipedreams?

Hardly.

In the meantime, time’s a wasting. The days grow short when you reach September.

Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office.

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The case for closing charter schools

imageA first grader does his work while sitting on a bilingual rug at Enlace Academy, Tuesday, April 14, 2014. The charter school, with 70 percent English-language learners, uses a blended language learning approach. (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/The Star)

Young and idealistic, Tim Ehrgott was zealous for education reform in the early years. Now he wants some charter schools to be shut down.

Ehrgott helped lay the groundwork for charter schools and school choice for low-income families in Indianapolis. Then he launched a charter in Irvington and ran it for several years.

But now he thinks that charter schools with low grades (D or F) should be closed. He also thinks education reformers need to tone down their rhetoric and promises.

Using a stock market analogy, he sees charter schools in an artificial bubble. Perceived value is higher than actual performance. When the bubble pops, the entire movement could be in jeopardy.

Ehrgott comes to these sobering conclusions as a friend of education reform.

He worked with the late businessman Pat Rooney in the 1980s, as Rooney and other business leaders sought school vouchers for low-income families. The General Assembly said no, and Rooney started CHOICE Charitable Trust, offering more than 2,000 private school scholarships a year. CHOICE revealed a pent-up demand for alternatives to public schools.

Then, after the state finally adopted a charter school law, Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson launched the charter movement in Indianapolis. Republicans in the Statehouse later added a voucher program, which has became one of the largest in the country.

Ehrgott says charters have promoted competition in public schools, as well as helped neighborhoods. “The Tindley school has changed the Meadows neighborhood for the better dramatically,” he said.

He also credits charters with providing alternatives for students who struggled in traditional public schools.

Yet, he doesn’t see the overall success that was promised. “Charters in the D-F range should be closed immediately. Those in the C range should not be automatically renewed,” he said. “Produce superior results or be closed.”

More than half the charters, he added, are getting D or F. “Even when you standardize the results for at risk factors, charters are failing at twice the rate of traditional public schools.”

He fears that a good reform could be defeated by lax administration.

“We had a save-the-world mentality in the early years,” he said. “Reality set in. Now, 13 years later, we need a conversation, an honest assessment about the good and bad. The only result that counts is whether students are benefiting from reform.”

Pulliam is associate editor of The Star. E-mail him at Russell.Pulliam@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter at RBPulliam@twitter.com.

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Money Talks, Reform Walks: Ohio Fails to Fix Its Nationally Ridiculed Charter School System

281836_5_Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, center, participates in a round table discussion on school choice with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, at Carpe Diem-Aiken, a tuition-free public charter school, Friday, May 16, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

RCEd Commentary by Stephen Dyer

It wasn’t long ago when I wrote here that while there was much hope for reforming Ohio’s nationally ridiculed charter school system, there remained major hurdles – specifically the politically powerful for-profit, poor performing charter school lobby.

Well, it appears that the poor-performing charter school sector has again won the day. A substantive, meaningful reform package that passed unanimously out of the Ohio Senate late last month wasn’t even taken up by the Ohio House in time for the summer recess, even though there were the votes to pass it.

This means the bipartisan, well-thought out Senate package won’t be taken up again (if at all) until the fall, delaying many of the reforms until the 2016-2017 school year at the earliest.

This is a bad setback for the national charter school quality movement. While other states have successfully tightened their laws, Ohio – the “Wild, Wild West” of charter schools – remains the same national embarrassment it’s always been. The hope had been that if Ohio can become a quality-based state, any state could do it.

But instead, Ohio’s story serves as a warning to those who care about quality school choice: If the forces pushing choice over quality are allowed unchallenged political access, as it has been in Ohio, then quality will lose. Always.

Don’t believe me?

Ohio had its largest teachers unions, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Students First, more conservative advocates, more liberal advocates like mine, Innovation Ohio, and editorial pages all agreeing that charter school reform had to happen. Yet it didn’t.

The Real Politick of Ohio charter school reform stems from big campaign contributors William Lager, who runs the nation’s largest for-profit school – the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow – and David Brennan, who runs White Hat Management, which also has an E-School – OHDELA. Between them, they’ve given about $6 million to politicians since the charter school program began. In return, they’ve collected one out of every four state charter school dollars ever spent.

I’ve seen these guys’ legislative influence firsthand when I served two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives. No lobby in Ohio is more powerful, especially considering how poorly their schools perform.

The Ohio bill would have done several positive things. It would have had the state (for the first time) keep track of operators and have them account for how they spend money running charter schools. It would have prevented failing charter schools from seeking new authorizers without the authorizer vouching for the school at the state’s Department of Education. It would have prevented charter school board members from sitting on the board if they ran companies that had business dealings with the school. It would have ensured far better transparency.

The bill would fixed much of what is widely acknowledged as a failed charter school system where failing schools thrive and excellent schools languish. More than half the money sent to Ohio charter schools comes from the same or higher performing school districts. And charter schools received more Fs on the last state report card than As, Bs and Cs combined.

CREDO studied Ohio’s system and found that children in charters are significantly behind their local public school peers. Meanwhile, a recent examination of state audits found that no sector misspends money like charter schools.

Despite all this effort, we must work harder to bring needed change to Ohio’s charter school system.

We need to continue forcefully making the public case for reform, as well as talking beyond the current bill. I outlined in my earlier post a way for the state to create a charter school market that financially rewards success and punishes failure, as well as shortening the time failing schools can operate here.

But more than anything, we in the quality-based charter school movement need someone, or a group of someones, willing to invest in political candidates who care about quality school choices.

For in Ohio, the lesson is simple: Without campaign money, even the best, most common sense charter school policies won’t pass. It is a hard lesson in Real Politick. To many of us in education policy, it’s anathema to how we work. For to us, ideas always trump money.

But in Ohio and other places where quality means less to legislatures and governors than choice, we must remove the weeds so our garden and – most importantly – our children can bloom.

And in politics, the best weed killer is money.

I’ll never forget one of my mentor’s favorite sayings: “If they’re getting away with it, it’s your fault.”

Indeed.

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The Tip of the Iceberg Charter School Vulnerabilities…

…To Waste, Fraud, And Abuse.

Escalating Fraud Warrants Immediate Federal and State Action to Protect Public Dollars and Prevent Financial Mismanagement

MoneybagsA year ago, the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) issued a report demonstrating that charter schools in 15 states—about one-third of the states with charter schools—had experienced over $100 million in reported fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. This report offers further evidence that the money we know has been misused is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past 12 months, millions of dollars of new alleged and confirmed financial fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in charter schools have come to light, bringing the new total to over $200 million.

Despite the tremendous ongoing investment of public dollars to charter schools, government at all levels has failed to implement systems that proactively monitor charter schools for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. While charter schools are subject to significant reporting requirements by various public offices (including federal monitors, chartering entities, county superintendents, and state controllers and auditors), very few public offices regularly monitor for fraud.

The number of instances of serious fraud uncovered by whistleblowers, reporters, and investigations suggests that the fraud problem extends well beyond the cases we know about. According to standard forensic auditing methodologies, the deficiencies in charter oversight throughout the country suggest that federal, state, and local governments stand to lose more than $1.4 billion in 2015. b 1 The vast majority of the fraud perpetrated by charter officials will go undetected because the federal government, the states, and local charter authorizers lack the oversight necessary to detect the fraud.

Setting up systems that detect and deter charter school fraud is critical. Investments in strong oversight systems will almost certainly offset the necessary costs. We recommend the following reforms:

  • Mandate audits that are specifically designed to detect and prevent fraud, and increase the transparency and accountability of charter school operators and managers.
  • Clear planning-based public investments to ensure that any expansions of charter school investments ensure equity, transparency, and accountability.
  • Increased transparency and accountability to ensure that charter schools provide the information necessary for state agencies to detect and prevent fraud.

State and federal lawmakers should act now to put systems in place to prevent fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. While the majority of state legislative sessions are coming to an end, there is an opportunity to address the charter school fraud problem on a federal level by including strong oversight requirements in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is currently being debated in Congress. Unfortunately, some ESEA proposals do very little reduce the vulnerabilities that exist in the current law. If the Act is passed without the inclusion of the reforms outlined in this report, taxpayers stand to lose millions more dollars to charter school fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.

>>>Read Entire Report here ~> Charter-Schools-National-Report_rev2

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Reports of Charter School Fraud Grow as Oversight Continues to Lag

charter-school-protest-When charter schools appeared on the educational scene, they were envisioned as a way for public schools to experiment with new and better systems and methods to teach our children. While across the country their numbers have grown dramatically, they have transformed from educational laboratories into the bulwark of an alternate educational system designed to give every family the ability to choose a school that meets its unique perspective of what is best for their children and a mechanism through which power of the marketplace can be channeled to solve the problems in public education.

Given the ability to operate outside the traditional public school bureaucracy and often freed from many of the mandates and requirements that traditional public schools are required to fulfill, charter schools have all too often also become laboratories for ways to misuse public funds and mislead their supporters. Examples of mismanagement and worse make headlines regularly; two new ones hit the news just a few weeks ago.

In Dayton, Ohio, the Education News reported:

“A recently-closed charter school in Dayton, Ohio now owes taxpayers close to $1.2 million after it was said to have falsified its attendance records and received state funding for students who never attended the school. An investigation by state auditor Dave Yost found that almost half of the reported 459 students enrolled at General Chappie James Leadership Academy had either never attended the school or had already left the school. Of the alleged students found by investigators, some had been incarcerated, moved out of state, or had been working and not attending school.”

Across the country, in San Francisco’s Bay Area, ABC News recently uncovered that the FAME charter school had not been paying many of their vendors. “County officials say as of March, the school had enough funds in its reserve to make payments to vendors and their recent attempts to get financial statements from FAME have been unsuccessful.”

Over one year ago, the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education issued a report in response to one from the Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General that had raised concerns about vulnerabilities in the oversight of charter schools, pointing out that “state level agencies were failing to provide adequate oversight needed to ensure that Federal funds [were] properly used and accounted for.” The CPD report found “charter operator fraud and mismanagement is endemic” and “at least $100 million in public tax dollars has been lost due to fraud, waste, and abuse.”

Six distinct categories were needed for this report to capture the practices of the charter school operators that were studied:

  • Charter operators using public funds illegally for personal gain
  • School revenue used to illegally support other charter operator businesses
  • Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger
  • Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided
  • Charter operators illegally inflating enrollment to boost revenues; and
  • Charter operators mismanaging public funds and schools

At the federal level, despite the apparent misuse of such large sums of scarce funds and the lack of adequate oversight mechanisms, the 2016 budget that is working its way through Congress includes a significant increase in funding with little if any increase of management. According to Jonas Persson of PR Watch, “Despite drawing repeated criticism from the Office of the Inspector General for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls within the federal Charter Schools Program—designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools—the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is poised to increase its funding by 48 percent in FY 2016.”

There are also concerns at the individual state level, but little progress seems to have been made in limiting the losses.—Marty Levine

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A State of War: Traditional Public vs. Charter Schools in Chicago

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Against a budget with a $1 billion shortfall, a significantly underfunded pension plan, and the need to negotiate a new labor contract, the tug of war between charter schools and traditional public schools continues in Chicago as it does in many communities from coast to coast.

Under current Illinois law, local school districts have a difficult time integrating charter applications into a strategic planning framework. As written in the Chicago Sun-Times, Jack Elsey, the chief officer of innovation and incubation for the Chicago Public Schools, said the district “can’t base its charter school decisions on need and location because of the Illinois Charter School Commission, which can override CPS if it denies a charter and then fund the school with money that the district would have otherwise controlled. CPS would have no oversight of the school in that case.”

“We have to review applications based on quality, not on location,” he said.

So despite having closed 48 public schools in 2013 and already having over 130 charters operating within the city, CPS has been reviewing proposals for 30 new charter schools for the September 2016 school year.

The independence of charter schools, once approved, pits supporters of public neighborhood schools against charter school operators for a share of the already severely stressed CPS budget. Linze Rice of DNAinfo reports:

“Last week at a Local School Council meeting at Gale Elementary in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, members signed a formal letter ‘adamantly opposing’ the opening of any additional schools in the neighborhood, saying Gale had over $1 million in funding cuts in recent years. When students enroll in charter schools rather than public schools, those who remain within CPS suffer because of the per-pupil funding structure, they said. The reduced funding has caused Gale to cut after-school programs, all librarians, technology teachers and slim down its educational offerings.”

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said in a statement that “charter public schools exist because tens of thousands of Chicago parents demand a choice in the public education system and send their children to charter schools. We do not support charter school growth for the sake of more schools, but to address the quality issue facing the district.”

Local educators see the impact of charter schools differently. Susan Lofton, principal of Nicholas Senn High School, says, “We have all been working so hard with our community to bring our schools up, to serve the community, to offer the programs our families want and to really engage in this resurgence where the community has a true community school that is an asset and a partner.”

What is happening in Chicago illustrates well the debate going on nationally between those who believe that the solution to our educational challenges lies in creating a more robust educational marketplace where every parent and child has the ability to choose the school that is best suited to their needs, interests, and talents, and those who believe that ensuring a quality education for all children requires dealing with issues of proper school funding, poverty, race and community. The struggle in Chicago seems to indicate that the advocates for a market-based strategy are winning this tug of war.

The Chicago Tribune ended an editorial this week with this plea: “This is a war that has to end. It does not serve children.” But with limited school budgets and little data to suggest the marketplace model of education actually outperforms or even matches the public school model, it seems unlikely that their wish will come true.—Marty Levine

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