Senator Simmons Replaced

The hero of the last legislative session fought a valiant effort for fairness and equity in education. Senator Simmons led the charge against the most egregious parts of HB 7069. As Chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Education, he was in a position to bargain. He tried to stem the flow of money to charter schools. He recognized the inequities. He saw the damage and possible unconstitutionality of taking local capital outlay from public schools and giving it to privately owned charters. His reward?

He was moved from his post on education to the appropriations subcommittee on general government. His replacement is a first term senator from Naples who just moved up from the House. The only thing I could find out about her was that she was in favor of school uniforms. She did support HB 7069, the religious expression bill and the textbook review bill. She campaigned on her record of consistently cutting taxes, so she should fit right in with Governor Scott’s priorities for the next session.

HB 7069: Collateral Damage Hits Home

Imagine finding out that the State of Florida fired you, but you work for a local school. Imagine finding out you were fired because your students did not do well on the state assessments when 23 of your 39 students had left your school. Imagine being the Teacher of the Year when that happened. This is HB 7069 in action.

Imagine finding out you had to prove the State was wrong. Read this teacher’s story. She is not alone. It happened to teachers across the state.

Walking away with our money

Online charter students can be invisible. The charter boards get contracts to create a ‘school’. They subcontract to charter management companies to provide courses and track enrollment. You can’t see the students. You don’t know for sure who the teachers are. The money is real, however. It’s our tax funds.

There seems to be some link between Ohio and Florida. We just reported on the Newpoint charter criminal lawsuit in Florida. Newpoint is simply a renamed charter management company that had similar problems in Ohio while the same people called themselves White Hat.

Now, Ohio has a new scandal in their online charter schools. Their state auditor has called for the ECOT charter chain to return $12 million in state funding that ECOT collected by inflating student attendance. They are all in court, and the worry is that ECOT will simply declare bankruptcy in order to avoid repaying the money they owe the people of Ohio.

Management companies are not required to report their financial dealings. The Washington Post reported these issues in Florida, Michigan and other states with lax regulation.

The League has called for stronger regulations for financial transparency, particularly for for-profit companies that own their own real estate and other school service companies. They report what they charge the schools, but they don’t report what those services actually cost.

Make yourself a mental list of what need to change….Let’s see: 1. greater transparency of cost and profit; 2. for-profit management; 3. unregulated charter expansion regardless of need; 4. (Make your own list.)!

Florida Fraud Reaches Ohio or vice versa

We have posted the Newpoint charter education management story of fraud and corruption previously. It spread from Bay County, Florida to Pinellas and included 15 charters. It’s a story of fake courses, fiscal mismanagement and out right fraud. School leaders face a criminal trial. Now it appears that the same company reaches into Ohio.

Sometimes it is difficult to keep track of these companies. They organize in small groups with different names. In Florida, they are Newpoint; in Ohio their nineteen schools are called Cambridge. They share leadership, and it is not yet clear how much else. At issue are kickbacks for high priced merchandise, misuse of federal charter school expansion funds, grand theft, racketeering, fraudulent invoices, overcharging families for uniforms…the list goes on.

It’s instructive to note that this is really a conspiracy. Here’s a list of their associated companies: Apex Learning; Consolidus, School Warehouse, Red Ignition, and Epiphany Management Group. They are all intertwined. Even worse, this charter organization was formed when the organizers left White Hat charter management firm. It had collapsed due to fraud uncovered in Ohio several years ago.

We in the League and others have asked for better regulation and oversight. Leaders, particularly in the Florida House, seem deaf to the calls. Of course several key legislators have direct ties to their own charter schools.

You can read the Ohio story here.

Terminated Clay Charter To Reopen as Private School

Clay County schools terminated the charter for Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. State law requires charters to close if they earn two ‘F’ school grades in a row. The charter school enrolls 170 students and receives $1.5 million from the State. Now, according to a school spokesperson, the charter will go private. They will no longer receive public school funds directly. The students who qualify will receive Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. The nice thing for the owners of the charter/private school is that students will no longer have to take the Florida State Assessments. They no longer will receive school grades.

Should this school be an eligible private FTC school? How many others are out there? We don’t know. The State does not have to tell us.

Behind the Scenes on HB7069: Text Messages Revealed

If you are a legislature junky, this is an article for you. Politico got access to text messages by key legislators while they worked through the education bill HB 7069. Remember that the entire 300 page bill was not released until the last day of the session. The session was extended over the weekend, and we all wondered what was in store.

A few key people calculated that Governor Scott would veto the bill. Many thought the bill had provisions that were unconstitutional. Now five districts have filed a lawsuit and 14 more are planning similar strategies. In the Senate, Senator Simmons Educator Chair worked to get the bill revised. Senate President had his own agenda with SB 374 to promote higher education. Representative Corcoran was pushing for expansion of funding for charters and private schools. Senator Simmons was nearly replaced as the Senate Chair who is supposed to present the education bill. Add in the role of Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala who ‘got it wrong’ when he let the bill go ahead. Senator Galvano got ‘blindsided’ in the higher education preeminence discussion that would have meant millions of dollars to USF. House Speaker Corcoran held Negron’s higher bill hostage until he got the charter school money.

Even though most thought that the tension between Rep. Corcoran and Governor Scott would doom the badly flawed education bill, Governor Scott sided with Corcoran and signed the bill. Scott’s line item vetoes of other bills freed up money to fund the education funding he wanted, and Corcoran was able to keep the funding for charter schools and private schools. Strange bed fellows.