The defense (Florida) in Citizens for Strong Schools argues that districts have enough money or can get enough through discretionary millage assessment on property taxes. The problem they assert, is mismanagement and a reordering of priorities. Do they have a point? You can check out this claim in your local districts. We are looking into budget priorities in Alachua County. We have also looked at the state audits of the district in past years. The hard choices they suggest are destructive choices. They can rob the programs that the State brags about to help improve conditions for at risk kids. Some choices are just bad choices.
Florida has charter fraud problems and so does Ohio–among other states. Privatization of schools opens up opportunities for profiteering without oversight. The federal government has finally gotten involved in the Ohio charter scandals. It took awhile. They are holding up a $71 million grant to they had awarded to expand charters. This is one of those scandals from which the Governor cannot hide.
This bill creates the Institute for Charter School Innovation, Charter School Collaborative Networks, High Impact Charter Networks and some greater transparency in the backgrounds of charter school service providers.
The Charter High Impact Charter Network is a structure similar to those in other states that are called takeover districts in low income areas whose public schools are turned into charters. These take over districts have been the source of significant community resistance and have a poor academic track record. The bill is sponsored by Representative Bob Cortes from Seminole and Orange Counties. HB 7029 School Choice will be heard in the House Education Appropriation Committee on Monday.
Major components of the bill are listed below. The provisions to revise the calculation of full time equivalence for online learning and credit for End of Course exams are in the bill but not included in this summary.
South Pinellas schools are a civil rights problem said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. The Tampa Bay Times series ‘Failure Factories’ on the five schools seemingly abandoned by the district received national attention. Secretary Duncan, his heir apparent, John King, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor met with parents and district officials yesterday.
Duncan said that the children were not failures, but the adults had failed the children. They praised the efforts of the current superintendent to improve the schools, but much is yet to be done. Duncan acknowledged that there were ‘tremendous unmet needs’ for family services and early childhood education. A parent called for after school services and more experienced, quality teachers.
What happens next remains to be seen. The Florida Department of Education is investigating whether or not their has been misuse of federal Title I funds designated for children from poor families.
Even though some progress has been made under the direction of the current superintendent, the schools cannot solve the impact of their neglect by themselves. The solution to the problems at the schools will require intensive community involvement. Yet, only two school board members attended the event. The Chair of the board said she was not invited. One former parent simply called the event a ‘press conference’. Let’s hope it was more than that.
You can watch the video and read the Tampa Bay article here.
The exploitation by charter school management companies in Ohio makes Florida look not quite so bad. Understanding the problems and the difficulty of correcting them is essential. Ohio citizens got the message and acted. Their legislature finally approved a strongly opposed measure to hold charter management companies more accountable. For one thing, they now have to disclose how they spend all the money that is transferred to them from the charter schools.
Many of use do not realize that school boards transfer money to a charter school non-profit organization. The non-profit is audited, but only on how they spend money. The boards of the non-profit often subcontract (between 90 to 95% of their money) to a for-profit management company to run the school. They run everything including hiring teachers, managing money, building or leasing facilities, and most often providing curriculum materials. The management company is private, so they do not have to reveal where they spend the money or how much profit they earn. For example, the for-profit company may charge the school twenty to thirty percent of its budget for facilities that actually cost much less.
How and why these management arrangements exist is complicated. One of the better explanations I have read lately is one from Jan Resseger’s blog. She explains the change in Ohio law to improve oversight of charter management companies. She also reports the latest school district take over by charters in Youngston, Ohio. Granted Youngston has problems. Equally true is that other take over efforts in inner cities have done little to improve achievement in poverty stricken areas. There is much hype, big investments, and wrenching of control from local communities. The federal government has a target list of these cities. The intention may be good; the implementation is fraught with controversy and devoid of meaningful results. There has to be a better way.
Read Jan’s account here. Do a self test. Can you fill in the names of the corresponding players in Florida?
Who is in trouble in your county? The other day I posted the 2015 Florida Auditor General’s report on charter schools. Today, I happened to look at that report again. I scrolled down to find the list of charter schools in trouble. Goodness, I found 3 of them were located in Alachua County. You might want to see which ones are located in your area.
This is the kind of information that ‘must give us pause’. There is more to know in this report.
Palm Beach has had more than its share of problems with failing charter schools. Citizens there want better management oversight. Carol is the Palm Beach League’s education team chair. She makes a strong argument that the time is now for change. The buck stops with us. We have to insist on better accountability and oversight.
Can you make a cogent argument about which regulations are needed and which inhibit a flexible, innovative school system? It is not an esoteric topic. With the plethora of examples of charter school fraud, waste and abuse, we know something is not working right. What changes should be made?
Ohio’s Auditor of State, Dave Yost, has been doing some serious thinking. He is concerned about which aspects of charter school operations are subject to public entity law and which relate to laws governing private companies. It makes a difference in what information is subject to public disclosure. The criteria for ethical behavior differ as well. Charters are both public and private. Which set of rules apply?
This piece is not a polemic. It is a thoughtful article by a fiscal conservative who believes in small government. He is concerned about preserving the public interest when contracting with private entities for services like schools and prisons. It is a thorny problem we all need to ponder.