Games CRC Plays: It is dark behind doors, not sunny.

The CRC is making its own rules. According to CRC member Erika Donalds, the CRC operates like the legislature; it does not follow the Sunshine law. If they want to speak together secretly, they do so. Attorney General Pam Bondi, who sits on the CRC, stated that she personally does not engage in one-on-one talks with other commissioners.

Politico has taken an interest in the behind the scenes discussions about Erika Donalds proposals to amend the Florida constitution. Procedural issues continue plague the operation of the CRC which can invalidate the CRC proposals. Her proposals would end school board salaries, impose term limits, require appointed superintendents, and promote funding for private schools, and strip charter school authorization authority from local school boards.

Donalds is the Collier County School Board member who helped organize her own school board association, separate from the Florida School Boards Association. The membership of this alternative group has ties to a charter school chain operated by a private religious college in Michigan. She and her husband, Representative Byron Donalds, were founding board members of Mason Classical Academy charter in Collier County. Donalds has filed for a second charter. Shawn Frost, who is part of this group, has announced he will not seek reelection to the Indian River school board. It seems he expects to be appointed to the Florida State Board of Education.

Skullduggery Afoot With Charter Authorization

The original proposal, P.71, to amend the Florida constitution (by Erika Donalds) was to provide alternative ways to authorize charter schools in addition to local school boards. Now, Donalds has deleted the wording in her proposal P 71 and inserted the following:

The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district…except for those authorized by the state charter school authorizing board, municipalities, charter counties, Florida college system and public universities as provided by law.

What state charter school authorizing board you ask? There is no such thing now. Charter counties?? They do not exist either, but the CRC proposal P. 93 by Martinez would create them.

All of this requires voters to amend article IX of the Florida constitution in November 2018. Our constitution specifies that Florida has a ‘unified system of free public schools’. Donalds, Levesque and Martinez would change that.

It is interesting that Patricia Levesque filed an amendment to P. 71 an hour after Donalds filed one. Levesque’s wording was more subtle. She eliminated the words ‘charter school’ and inserted ‘public schools’ in line 29 of the original proposal to amend the constitution. Basically, Levesque wants nothing to prohibit alternative public school authorization. Since charters are public schools, perhaps Levesque believes that voters will not notice that the amendment would strip local districts’ authority to authorize charter schools. After all, in theory and in law, charters are public schools. They are funded by the public and just happen to be owned and operated by private entities.

Will Miami’s New KIPP Charter Be Different??

KIPP in Jacksonville has not been a success story to brag about. KIPP Jacksonville charters expanded, but the school grades fluctuate up and down. The KIPP national spokesman acknowledged problems there.

Superintendent Carvalho says the Miami KIPP will operate differently. For one thing, it will co locate within a district-run school, Poinciana Park elementary. It will pay $1 in rent. Therefore, KIPP will receive the same funding as traditional schools without the same facility costs. Improvements in the KIPP side of the school are supposed to benefit all students, but nothing in the lease agreement guarantees it. It’s a ‘verbal agreement’. Board members fear it will be a “stark symbol of inequity“.

Poinciana was an ‘F’ school in 2016. Now it is an ‘A’ school even though only about 25% of the students scored at the proficient level on the English FSA exam. So what is to be gained by adding KIPP to the school? In a way, KIPP will operate as a magnet school, but with its own management and instructional methods, within Poinciana. Parents can apply to have children attend.

Absent in the discussion are the consequences of the well documented ‘no nonsense’ strict behavioral and instructional strategies of KIPP schools. For example, studies of KIPP policies indicate that grade 5 attrition is higher than at feeder district schools even though it drops later on. Moreover, KIPP tends not to replace students who leave. When new students are admitted, they have higher achievement scores than those initially admitted.

The net effect is that KIPP schools have fewer free and reduced lunch students, fewer students with exceptionalities, and somewhat higher achievement scores simply because of the selection and attrition policies. Moreover, the attrition rate for KIPP fifth grade students is nearly twice than in district feeder schools, according to a Mathematica study.

The children who remain in KIPP are with others whose parents want them there and will tolerate the highly structured, test driven curriculum. The Atlanta school district reports that KIPP students are in school from 7:30 to 5pm weekdays and select Saturdays. They also have two weeks of instruction in the summer. They tend more often than similar students to start college, but they have trouble completing college.

What is the KIPP difference? Push kids hard, give them more time in schools, and test scores go up. So, will this new school within a school be like a magnet school for struggling children? Kids will be separated into those whose parents aspire for their children to go on to college and those who do not.

The State cannot or will not support additional instructional time for all students. The result is that these ‘no nonsense’ schools pay the cost of providing more instructional time for students by continuously hiring inexperienced teachers. They compensate by reducing teachers to be drill sergeants; it is a business strategy.

Additional resources come out of teacher salaries and benefits. Teachers leave at twice the rate as district schools, but the rigid KIPP instructional method trains new teachers over and over again.

Even if this military style disciplined approach to learning and teaching produces higher test scores for students who survive it, does it produce the creative, problem solving, self regulated people our society requires? Each of us must ask if this is the learning experience we want for our own children, or is it just something to do for ‘other kids’? There are better ideas out there, but are we willing to pay for them?

What are the societal costs when children face double segregation by race and income in their neighborhoods and then face additonal discrimination in their schools? It must be a world that says over and over No Access.

Can’t Bully Kids into Learning

These Achievement First ‘no excuses’ charters are learning; they found out that they are not teaching kids how to learn. Achievement First charters discovered that their students, who learned how to pass state tests or left the school, could not succeed in college. Students have to be able to learn on their own, just as they are expected to do in college and as adults.

Achievement First runs 34 charters enrolling 15,000 students. Their highly structured discipline approach to behavior and learning is not working. The students are not engaged in school. In 2016, students at one school tried to tell them. They staged a walk out demanding fairer discipline and a more diverse staff. In 2015, parents filed a lawsuit claiming the Achievement First used inappropriate discipline and failed to provide needed special education services to children.

After seeing their alumni struggle, Achievement First is trying to make students more independent. They are running a couple of pilot tests in middle schools. Three times a year the students have an online expedition to explore their own interests for two weeks for three hours a day. Better than nothing. They are using something called the Greenfield model.

These no excuses charters can train students to pass tests, but students are not robots. The real key to success is to engage students through group based projects. These don’t have to be in every subject every day. They do, however have to be real-world problems that students can tackle together. This is how learning becomes meaningful.

Judge Denies Injunction Against HB 7069

Palm Beach County requested an injunction against paying $9 million to its charter schools. Charter schools are almost always privately owned facilities which remain with the owner if schools are closed.

The district wanted to wait until its lawsuit was heard in court. The lawsuit against the HB 7069 provision that requires districts to share locally raised revenue from the 1.5 mill property tax they are allowed to assess for school facilities. The Florida constitution reserves the right to allocate this money to local districts. Circuit judge Shelfer denied the injunction, and the district will have a month to pay.

If the district eventually wins the lawsuit, the money likely will all be gone.

Rezoning Schools Interactively. Try it!

Here is a fun and easy way to see if you can desegregate your school district. Really! There is a website where you can interactively see how well your school district zone lines work for all students. I entered Florida and then Alachua County. One map shows what percentage of black students would be enrolled in each school if students attended the closest school to their home. Another shows the minority enrollment in each school’s actual zone. I see why the district drew the lines they did. It also shows why magnet schools are needed.

Go the site. Enter your district. See what the residential pattern by school looks like. Scroll down to see what the district has done to rezone schools to rectify imbalances. How well have they done? It’s very visual and interesting to do.

In case you haven’t heard about Vox, here’s a Wikipedia site. This is an interesting new company. They are experimenting with new ways to present information. I am curious to see what else they have come up with.

Splinters in Florida School Boards Have Sharp Points

This is not just a Florida charter school story. It is one about local politicians, religion, dark money networks, billionaires, and of course, the money trail. It starts simply. Two small splinter groups have formed from the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA). I was curious to see who was behind these groups and why. The political network itself is instructive. The implications for the CRC amendments to the Florida Constitution are part of this picture as well as bills filed in the Florida legislature. Then, the story leads to our nations’ capital.

FSBA has been a force for over 80 years. Its elected members represent the interest of local districts and their children. When they speak, they speak for local communities, but sometimes the legislature does not like what it hears. The FSBA participated in a lawsuit against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. In retaliation, some speculate that the legislature passed a law to allow individual school board members to pay dues to another newly formed association.

A small group of members seceded from the FSBA in 2015 to form the Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM). There appears to be a financial collaboration among some members to build a Florida chain of Classical Academy Charter Schools. Some members also have strong dark money ties to national conservative political advocacy groups. About 14 of the 50 members have been identified, including Rebecca Negron, Martin County. She is the wife of Senator Joe Negron. Senator Negron wrote the initial legislation for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program.

Those school board members for whom outside funding connections are identified are in bold letters.

Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds, Collier County, are founders of Mason Classical Academy Charter school. Mason has had a troubled history including a DCF investigation according to the Naples Daily News. Lichter is reported in Collier County School Board Watch as starting a charter school consulting firm. Naples News reports a recording re her ties to Hilldale College. Donalds has filed for a new firm, the Alpha Classical Academy.

Shawn Frost, Indian River County, is a founding member of FCSBM and has additional ties to Erika Donalds through the Classical Charter Schools. Also, in 2014 Frost received $20,000 campaign contributions from American Federation of Children run by Betsy DeVos. He unseated the FSBA president. https://www.bizapedia.com/people/shawn-frost.html One of these is listed as the Indian River County Leasing Corporation. He is associated with at least 13 businesses, several inactive, and resides in Vero Beach. He maintains a room at his father’s home to establish residence in Indian River.

In addition, the Alpha Classical Academy is registered at 3340 Se Federal Highway #303 Stuart, Florida along with 39 other companies with the same address. It is not clear what the association among these companies may be. Linda Daniels and Shawn Frost are listed as of December 2017 as Directors and Erika Donalds as the Chair of the Alpha Classical Academy.

Classical Academies are sponsored by the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative. The College is located in Michigan and has a long religious/conservative/libertarian tradition. The DeVos immediate family and close business associates have several Hillsdale graduates. The Barney (SmithBarney) and Stanton Foundation fund the initiative. According to Salon, the brothers are also contributors. There are 17 charters nationwide. In Florida, there are four: Mason in Naples, Pineapple Cove in Palm Bay, St. Johns in Fleming Island, and newly formed Pineapple Cove in West Melbourne. Alpha is not listed as a charter but as a non profit organization.

Erika Donalds, wife of Representative Byron Donalds displays the Koch brothers supported Americans for Prosperity logo on her Collier 912 Freedom Council website. This is a tea party group. Erika Donalds is on the Constitutional Revision Commission where she filed, among others, the amendment to have term limits for school boards. She is the Florida sponsor of the U.S. Term Limits group.

Erik Robinson and Bridget Ziegler, Sarasota County have an extensive funding network. Robinson has 50 Political Action Committees to fund the conservative political agenda all across the state. Here are two comprehensive funding and campaign contribution lists reported by the Sarasota Phoenix:
Part I: The Jacksonville Sarasota Connection:
Part II: How Robinson Funnels Pac Money:
Additional articles appeared in the Herald Tribune in 2016 which delineates the names of contributors and the political races they have targeted.
Robinson and Dark Money

Erik Robinson Beyond Dark Money

The money trail is extensive and no doubt needs to be updated. It is not clear whether any of other FCSBM members identified below have a connection to the Classical Charters or dark money. More work needs to be done.

Additional FCSBM members include:

• Tina Descovich and Matthew Susin, Brevard County. Descovich was a parent volunteer at Indialantic school and a writing coach at Viera Charter. She organized OPT OUT Brevard. In 2016, Susin joined three others to form the National Alliance for Innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is a K12 instructional materials company. His Facebook page lists him as a former history teacher and currently as a marketing agent for an insurance company.

• Amy Lockhart, Seminole County has filed to run for the County Commission in 2018.
• Jeff Bergosh, Escambia was a former school board member and elected to the County Commission in 2016.
• Nancy Stacy, Marion County was the only vote for a CSUSA proposal for Marion County in 2017. She is listed as the owner of City Slickers Ranch.

A third School Board Association called the Florida Conservative School Board (FCSBMA) has now been formed by Escambia School Board member, Kevin Adams. He was appointed to fill Jeff Bergosh’s seat and is seeking a full term in 2018. The FCSBMA web page mission statement supports local control of schools, public education and school choice. Its policy to have all public education follow the same state statutes and regulations with oversight by elected school boards differs from many choice groups. The adherence to conservative principles is not clarified, but there is no obvious preference for charter schools.

There may be more to this story.

HB 25 Threatens Florida Teachers Union

Are teachers targeted once again? This fight is not about unions or teachers; it is about the political campaign to privatize public schools. Unions are in the way; they have money to combat the well funded and organized movement to dismantle public education.

Representative Plakon (Longwood) and Senator Steube (Sarasota) are sponsoring bills to decertify unions whose membership does not reach 50% of dues paying members. The proposed law would apply to all public sector unions except for first responders i.e. law enforcement and firefighters.

Since Florida is a right-to-work state, employees are not required to join unions. Teachers, moreover, do not have tenure. After their first year, they have annual contracts. The unions bargain for salaries, benefits and working conditions, but they also support professional development and advocacy.

Most likely it is the union advocacy role that irritates some legislators. The union strongly supports public education, and it becomes a target for legislators who promote charter and private school funding. It is all about politics. The privatization movement has strong financial backing from the Bush Foundation and Americans for Prosperity.. Their publicity campaigns against public education are relentless. Teachers unions are the only well funded organized opposition to the take over of public schools. It is no surprise that unions are under attack. This is a ploy, not a problem.

The attack on teachers is having an impact. Teachers are retiring early and new teachers are in short supply. The notion that online technology offers a cheap alternative which can replace teachers is not a dream; it is a nightmare that some Connecticut parents have revolted against. Their district adopted the Summit Learning program built by Facebook. The district had to drop the program when parents complained that children were spending too much screen time in class. This is a real problem we all recognize.

Voters choose the people who set educational policy in the legislature. They need to question candidates for local and state offices about their views on the privatization of schools. If we want quality education for all children, we need a system that serves all children, not one where schools choose the children they wish to
serve. We certainly do not need a system where online learning dominates the classroom. Technology is a tool, not a teacher. Recognize attacks on teachers for what they are.

New Year’s Resolutions: Things to BE FOR

Here’s a list to frame the choices we will be called upon to make. It comes from several sources.

Lessons to apply re position messaging
1. Don’t just be AGAINST vouchers and charters, community fragmentation and high stakes testing….
2. Be for public education’s strengths:
• Be for the greatest good for the greatest number (vs. to each his own)
• Be for public school as a cornerstone of democracy and pluralism
• Be for school as the mortar of coherent and healthy communities
• Be for school/community collaboration
• Be for student achievement as determined by multiple assessments
• Be for student-centered learning (self-directed learning vs compliance, active vs passive learning, learning-by-doing vs sitting-and-receiving, intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation).
• Be for teacher accountability and professionalism via Peer Assisted Review and teacher leadership
• Be for fiscal responsibility and transparency of and for taxpayers

Politics in Science and Civics Curriculum

SB 966 Baxley. Adopts minimum curriculum standards. This ‘Controversial Theories’ bill allows districts to adopt more rigorous standards. If they do, they must include teaching controversial science theories and concepts in a factual, objective, and balanced manner. While creationism is not specifically mentioned in the bill, it would certainly qualify as a controversial theory.

This bill also specifies that civics education must strictly adhere to the founding values and principles of the United States as in s. 1003.42. See section 2a. It also requires that financial literacy include at least Keynesian and Hayekian economics. These theories differ in part over the role of the central government response to economic hardship i.e. increased spending vs. free market adjustments. This might be quite an intellectual load for seventh graders taking civics.

Senator Baxley, from Marion County, receives an A+ from the Koch Brothers advocacy group “Americans for Prosperity“.