League of Women Voters Launches Education Blog

To Educate and Inform on Issues Relating to Public Education

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Gutting Class Size Limits

The latest from the Bush foundation is to gut the class size limits. Yes, the legislature has been doing this for years by exempting almost all classes. Any ‘elective’ is exempt, like American literature, marine biology, AP classes…or any school choice magnet programs, so those classes are much larger. Basic reading, writing and math courses are still covered. Scott Maxwell describes the persistent effort by the Bush ‘Excellence? in Education’ foundation to equate excellence with cheap. It’s a hard case to make, but Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Bush foundation is doing her best. Let’s hope it is not good enough to further erode the quality of our public schools.

Think about the impact of large class sizes for young children. Think about the impact of large classes we now have for children learning languages. You know more examples.

Levesque and Bobby Martinez, co-members of the Constitutional Revision Commission have filed an amendment to the Florida constitution. The voters have the final say at the November 2018 election. Read Scott Maxwell’s article and decide how you will vote.

NPE: Charter Management Exposed

The Network for Public Education summarized the dangers inherent in charter school practices that hurt children and communities. They give detailed examples. Here’s a quick list of problems and an important list of recommendations to manage the chaos that the choice system has created. Adherence to a free-market, no regulation philosophy is not necessary to have reasonable choices for children. Unregulated school choice is creating a monstrous problem with:

Charters that are not free public schools.
Charter students who need not attend school to graduate.
Charters for the wealthy..
Charters with secret profits
Seedy charters in storefronts.
Charters paying kids.
Religious charters.
Charters for political parties.
Charters faking achievement data.
Charters shedding students.
Shady charter business practices.
Charters that exacerbate segregation.
Charters that exclude students with disabilities.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE. The NPE list of recommendations represent a growing consensus:

Impose a moratorium on charter expansion.
Ban for-profit charters and charter chains.

Make charter management companies’ accounting systems transparent.
Ensure students’ due process rights in admission and dismissals.
Ensure enrollments are representative of community demographics.
Require openly disclosed bidding processes.
Review property leases and bond issues for appropriate costs.
Revert ownership of closed charter facilities to districts.
Strengthen local district authorization and oversight of charters.

With little or no oversight, abuse is given free rein. Which is the greater evil, reasonable rules or exploiting students and families for personal gain?

Tampa Teachers are Angry: Promises Not Kept

Education is the billionaires playground, and they are making a mess of it. The school choice movement is based on the theory that competition among schools and pressure on teachers will make students learn. In 2010, Bill Gates (Microsoft) came to Tampa to show how it is done. He promised $100 million dollars if the school board would try out his teacher evaluation system. The teachers and the district bought in. It’s a pay to play system. Teachers whose ratings were satisfactory would eventually be given raises…maybe.

Gates decided his system did not work. He pulled out and took his money with him. Twenty million dollars for salary raises disappeared. In 2015, his system was scrapped.

It gets worse. The Superintendent was fired in spite of being a finalist for national superintendent of the year. She was fired because she and some pro choice members of the Tampa school board did not get along. Some are currently under fire for taking campaign money from for-profit charter schools. The public would have to fire them.

Superintendent Elia did alright; Elia was hired as New York’s State Superintendent.

The education reform system put Hillsborough schools in financial trouble. More charters have opened. More children are in low quality private schools. Now, the teacher raises promised three years ago were cancelled. Students have walked out to support their teachers. The teachers came out in the hundreds this week to protest to the school board.

The public has been duped by the reform movement. Beware of strangers bearing gifts. Beware of school board members who accept them. Beware of the myth of cheap charters. It does not take a financial wizard to recognize that if you pool your resources, you have more funding. If you divide funds into charters, private schools and district run schools, you have less.

Now the public has a choice. Support your teachers or lose them. Support more charters and vouchers, lose not only quality in the classroom, but also the quality of the classrooms. Florida already has one of the lowest cost education systems in the country. The billionaires like Gates, Waltons (Walmart) and Koch (oil) know about making money. In Florida, they are figuring out how to bleed a turnip. The public gets what is left when they are through. In Tampa, it is a mess.

Mass Turnout at Hillsborough School Board Meeting

Imagine a thousand people turning out for a school board meeting. People are stirred up. They have reason to be. Read League member Pat Hall’s testimony at the November 14th meeting.

by Pat Hall

Thirteen hundred teachers, children and others attended this meeting, more than ever in the history of Hillsborough County! Salary negotiations have broken down, promises made and not kept, the budget is strained and nerves are frayed. I spoke because four more charter schools were on the agenda for school board approval adding 4404 students in the next 5 years. We’ve asked for an estimate of FTE (full time equivalent) dollars; approximately $7,178 per student per school year that will fly to these four charters as well as PECO (public education capital outlay) dollars lost to traditional schools by the addition of four more charters.

My goal in this statement was to wake up parents and the public to this boondoggle. “The management company for SLAM (Sports Leadership Management Academy) – proposed to teach 2750 children in two buildings is Academica. Academica is under multiple year federal investigation the last I checked. Eric Fresen was Chair of the Education Committee of the Florida Legislature for 8 years. Fresen is the brother-in-law of Academica owner Fernando Zulueta. Fresen is now in jail for fraud and tax evasion. He did not file returns the 8 years he was in the Legislature. Newpoint Company (for-profit management charter co.) has been indicted in Escambia County on fraud charges including Pinellas, Duval and the closing of Newpoint High in Hillsborough County in 2013.

The charter friendly atmosphere here changed immediately after the firing of Mrs. Elia. Tom Gonzales and Jenna Hodgens (H.C. Director of Charter Schools) had a strong case against Kids Community Charter school in Brandon and it was dropped at the request of Mr. Eakins and the Board (chaired by Susan Valdes in 2015).

Statewide 2.7 million traditional students attend public schools. Hillsborough County has 215,000 students including 22,500 in charters. Charter schools represent 10 to 11 % of school aged children in Florida but have grabbed the lion’s share of PECO funds for years. Most for profit charters have been built in the last seven years. The average age of individual schools in Hillsborough County is fifty years. The dramatic shift to charter schools was orchestrated in the legislature by convicted felon Eric Fresen and his very wealthy pals –Jon Hage, owner Charter Schools USA and F. Zulueta, owner of Academica. Research done by Noah Pransky of WTSP, CBS Channel 10 in August, 2014 proved millions of dollars had been stuffed in the pockets of legislators to influence their votes. Governor Scott took $50,000 in 2014 from Hage. In 2014 and 2016 in election contributions we documented, at least three current school board members have taken money from numerous for profit charter school owners, developers and real estate affiliated companies.

One board member took a five day long trip to Miami to visit SLAM there at taxpayer expense of over $1,200. Why 5 days? Why no limits on school board travel when the budget is so tight? This board member collected $13,000 from charter school operators.

Large for profit managed charters receive millions of FTE dollars as do traditional schools based on enrollment. While 86% of traditional school money is spent on instruction, our investigation has proven that large for profit managed charters spend 45 to 48% of FTE on classroom instruction and teachers. The owners take 42-50% of our taxpayer dollars for management fees and real estate leases and rent fees.

When these schools close or go out of business –these buildings we have paid for remain the property of the charter school owners! In Hillsborough County we have authorized 123 schools since 1997 (under Jeb Bush, Governor). We now have 51 open-7 consolidated like Pepin Academy- but 65 never opened or have closed. What are taxpayers choices?

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