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Private ELT sector fights state rules in California

Leading private English language schools in the US state of California are considering lobbying action over costly new state licensing regulations which they say damage their businesses and are patently unfair.

In effect, California is making private operators pay a state-level licensing fee that can cost up to US$25,000

A group of big name English language teaching operators, including EF, St Giles and Embassy CES, have joined forces to make their voices heard over implementation of the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009 act, which was finalised in October 2011.

They complain that while the Act exempts those accredited by a list of national and accrediting bodies recognised by the federal government, it no longer accepts accreditation by CEA or ACCET – two of the country’s biggest accreditation bodies for English language schools (both of which are recognised by the Department of Education).

In effect, California is making private operators pay a state-level licensing fee that can cost up to US$25,000. (The licensing process depends on the size of the school.) This is on top of fees due to CEA or ACCET. Twenty three IEP outfits, with a total of 50 schools, could be affected.

Embassy CES has 3 California schools including this one in LA

Peter Graves of Embassy CES , which has three schools in the state, told The PIE News: “These inspections are astronomical. We’re paying around $25,000 a year… It’s based on how many students and income you have, and we are paying around the max. But I think many schools are paying that max.”

Schools claim they should not be under the jurisdiction of BPPE which now views them under “vocational education”

Cindy Ochoa, of EC English, which has ACCET accreditation, said: “There’s been a whole lack of clarity. For a while we thought we would all be exempted. Then one by one schools found out that they weren’t. We’re just following the rules at this point.”

California is one of only two states in the US which licenses its English schools through its Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE). However, English language schools claim they should not be under the jurisdiction of BPPE which now views them under a “vocational education” category.

Vocational education also requires state licensing (ESL schools were considered avocational before the BPPE’s closure in 2007 and thus exempt).

Jean Pierre Guittard of CISL, which has CEA accreditation, said: “It’s hard to think of languages being a trade. It’s something ubiquitous, that everybody needs… You wouldn’t get a job ‘speaking English’.”

Other conditions of BPPE licensing have also caused rankles. Schools are required to issue refunds of tuition fees as far as 60% through a course and may not accept advance payment for courses lasting over four weeks – practices schools say leave them open to abuse.

In addition, all English school students must pay into a statewide student tuition recovery fund

In addition, all English school students must pay into a statewide student tuition recovery fund (STRF). While a relatively modest fee of $2.50 per $1,000 paid in tuition, schools doubt their international students will have access to it as they don’t hold social security numbers.

Russ Heimerich, BPPE spokesman, told The PIE News that international students would have access to the recovery fund in the vast majority of cases, but that this was not guaranteed.

“The students can get a taxpayer identification number from the federal government. And if a school were to close, our bureau would work with them to get that number so they can get the money out of the STRF,” he explained.

Heimerich also defended the cost of the BPPE approval inspections, saying they cost just “3/4 of 1% of a school’s gross revenue”.

“If your gross income is a million dollars a year, 1% of that is $10,000,” he said, indicating $25,000 was the maximum anyone could pay for their school (although every branch is charged at an extra $1,000).

Operators say the state is “levying” the private sector because of its vertiginous $15.7 billion public deficit

But operators say the state is “levying” the private sector because of its vertiginous $15.7 billion public deficit. BPPE itself was closed between July 2007 and January 2010 due to budgetary difficulties – a hiatus during which schools were not subject to any regulation.

Graves said: “Nobody is opposed to regulation or accreditation. But it does come across as a way for the government bodies to raise funds for themselves. It’s not going to benefit those states in the long run if schools can’t afford to run.”

“They’re shutting down local businesses, so instead of generating a healthy economy they are depressing it.”

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