New Bill to Ban For-Profit Charter Management Firms

Newly elected Senator Janet Cruz from Hillsborough has made a statement. She has filed SB 584 to ban for-profit charter school management firms in Florida. California recently passed a similar bill.

SB 584 prohibits for-profit charter management companies from:

  1. Nomination, appointment, or approval of charter board members
  2. Employment, dismissal, or approval of employees
  3. Management of day-to-day operations in the capacity of an administrative manager
  4. Approval, denial, management of the budget
  5. Services provided before any board approval is given
  6. Provision of funding or financing
  7. Development of the school curriculum
  8. Lease, sale or purchase of real estate

What this bill does is to give the responsibility of charter school management to their school boards. Currently, most of these for-profit firms have shadow boards appointed by the for-profit companies like CSUSA and Academica. Their for-profit status allows them to operate out of the public view. The revenue the school spends is public, but the difference between the amount of money generated and the amount spent by the for-profit company is not.

This bill is a welcome addition to the call for transparency in the operation of charter schools.

Too Good to Pass Up

As many of you know, I am immersed in writing a report on Florida’s A + Plan for school reform. Today, I found a great quote about Florida that I had to share. It could not have come at a better time. I have just started the section on Florida’s cronyism and weak ethics laws. Here’s the quote:

Florida suits him because “it was a sunny place for shady people”. (Roger Stone, recently indicted by the Mueller investigation as reported in the New York Times article: Stone Cold Loser.) January 27, 2019

Sometimes sad things are down right funny! Life is full of contradictions. Enough philosophy, I am back to work.

Catch up on Florida Tax Credit Vouchers

Much of what has been happening with these tax credit vouchers has been under the radar. I took a peek, and here is what has happened lately. The cost keeps going up, but are corporations getting fed up?

Changes in the FTC program funding are reflected in the automatic increase in the cap for corporate donations, the expansion in eligible funding sources, changes in family income eligibility guidelines, and the increase in percentage of the per student allocations for public schools allowed for private school scholarships.

Most years, excluding 2016-17, the Florida Tax Credit scholarship program saw a 10,000 student increase in participation. In 2016, the enrollment doubled from the previous year due to legislative changes in eligibility. In 2018-19, however, enrollment dropped by 10,000 due to a decline in corporate donations.

• In 2016-17, the income qualifications based on a family of four were raised to 185% -260% of poverty level or from about $44,123 to approximately $62,000 per year. The proportional amount of the full scholarships are reduced for middle income families.

• FTC scholarships are funded from corporate tax rebates up to a designated funding cap. The program funding sources were expanded to include credits against insurance premium tax for contributions to eligible non-profit SFOs, severance taxes on oil and gas production, sales tax liabilities of direct pay permit holders, and alcoholic beverages taxes.

• There is a 25% automatic increase in the cap as long as enrollment exceeds 90% of the cap.

• The amount of the scholarship was originally set at 72% of the FEFP per student funding for public schools, but an automatic increase was provided up to 82% of FEFP in 2016-17. In 2017, the FEFP percentage was again increased from 82%, depending upon grade level, to 88-96%. The maximum award in 2017-18 was $5,886. Step Up has reported a 10,000 student decrease in 2018-19 FTC enrollment due to a decline in corporate donations.

• In 2017-18, Step Up distributed $689 million of the dollars to 108,000 students in over 1700 private, mostly religious schools. These donations were about 10% below the allowable cap. This year, corporate pledges are $687 million. The largest corporate donors to the FTC scholarships are the beverage industry and United Health Care.

• Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion. Given the projected decrease in corporate funding, the legislature turned to donations from sales taxes for new cars to expand the FTC program. These are called Hope Scholarships and were implemented in 2018-19. The maximum scholarship award for a student ranges from $6519 to $7111 for those whose family income is no more than double the federal poverty level. There were 66 participating students in fall of 2018.

References.
http://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/k-12-scholarship-programs/ftc/ftc-faqs.stml
https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/1314/Analyses/
2017s01314.pre.ed.PDF
https://www.tampabay.com/article/20180815/ARTICLE/308159799

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship enrollment drops


Click to access 14-fsba-issue-brief-on-ftc.pdf

Florida – Hope Scholarship Program

Florida Supreme Court Rules Against Public Schools

My take on Friday’s Supreme Court decision on the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit.

Article IX of Florida’s constitution, ratified voters in 1998, called for the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children to have a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools…. In 2009, the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit began its arduous journey to the Florida Supreme Court. The plaintiffs had argued that Florida’s choice system failed its constitutional mandate. In one example, the plaintiffs cited data showing “one million Florida minority students (1/2 of all students), moreover, do not read at grade level”.

The defense defined educational quality as ‘continuous progress’. Thus, in the state’s view, if test scores go up, the system is working. NAEP was the standard used to show improvement. There has been improvement in Florida’s NAEP scores over the past twenty years. The state claimed that the improvement in achievement was attributed to the quality of teachers and administrators and the pressure from school choice. The plaintiffs argued that improvement is fine, but the achievement is still low. Moreover, a high quality system gives access to all children, not just some.

At its core, the lawsuit was about adequate funding to meet children’s needs. If the plaintiffs had won the lawsuit, they would have asked for a cost study so that requirements would be aligned with resources. In the current choice system, funding to support charter and private schools drains needed resources from public schools. Florida’s per student funding is one of the lowest in the nation.

In January 2019, the Court in a contentious 4/3 split decision, rejected the claims of the plaintiff. The majority opinion of the court was that the terms ‘high quality’ and ‘efficient’ are ambiguous and do not create judiciable standards. Education policy and funding are in the domain of the legislature, not the judicial system. Chief Justice Canady said: the plaintiffs “failed to provide any manageable standard by which to avoid judicial intrusion into other branches of government”. The minority opinions stated that the majority opinion “eviscerates the 1998 opinion…only time will truly reveal the depth of the injury inflicted upon Florida’s children”.

What is the correct basis for the legal argument? is it a rational basis or must the state comply with specific requirements to provide a high quality education? A Wikipedia explanation stated that it is easier to define a rational basis by what it is not. It is not a genuine effort…to inquire whether a statute does in fact further a legitimate end of government. I found a quote attributed to Thurgood Marshall…the constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws. The case may have hinged on the interpretation of the legal basis of the case. It reminds me of a saying I have heard often: Is it close enough for government work or do we have to get it right?

Where do Florida citizens go next to garner support for the education of their children?

Supreme Court Rules Against Citizens for Strong Schools

Chief Justice Canady ruled that the ten year long lawsuit brought by the Citizens for Strong Schools is over. Canady declared in his opinion that the legislature, not the judiciary, is responsible for education policy and funding. In a 4/3 divided opinion, the quality of Florida’s education system is now in the voters’ hands. If changes in the funding and school choice policies are to be made, the voters must send people who favor those changes to Tallahassee.