Charter Takeover of Jefferson County Schools: Why? 

Jefferson County schools in the Florida Panhandle, will become the State’s first charter district. The takeover by the Florida Department of Education was the result of a decade long struggle to improve the schools that simply made things worse.  This latest move is a disaster for the teachers and staff.  One half will lose their jobs for reasons that have little to do with their competence.

What happened in Jefferson County, Florida to cause the State to turn the district over to Somerset, a privately run school board that is part of the for-profit Academica charter school chain?

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Eagle Arts Charter in Chaos But OPEN in Palm Beach

For over two years, this scandal drags on in one of Palm Beach’s largest charter schools.  Now the school is in complete chaos.  Principals come and go within weeks of each other.  One third of the teachers have left. Books do not arrive.  The owner of the school has legal issues.  He charged the school for preparing the proposal to open the school.  He also has a combative personality.

When parents complained, he attacked.  He called the sheriff claiming a parent hacked into his computer system.  Why?  The parent had organized an online petition to clean up the school’s management problems.  Over two hundred families left the school.  He recruited more with glossy ads emphasizing an arts infused curriculum.  The much heralded dance program had no teacher.  Children wanting to play instruments had to pay extra for after school lessons.

Some children love the carefree atmosphere, but their test scores have plummeted.  The school grade is down to a ‘D’.  Forty percent of the students passed the State’s English Language Arts test and 24% passed the math.  This is not a low income school, yet it is near the bottom in academic achievement.

Who is to blame for this fiasco?  The district is investigating, but the charter school law does not give them authority to clean up the mess until serious criminal charges or total academic failure are evident.  Self dealing is evidently still allowed.

Parents are told they can leave; that is their only recourse.  The State of Florida does not intervene.  After all, even though charters are ‘public schools’, they are run by private businesses.  If a businessman wants to run the school into the ground, he can.

I watched a similar situation occur in Gainesville.  Watching was all I could do.  Half the parents and most teachers left.  The school district shook their heads.  The school is still open.  The only thing public in charter schools is the money funding them.

This is the direction the Florida legislature is headed.  If we want it stopped, they need to know.  Tell them over and over again.

 

 

 

 

Erik Fresen Faces Prison Time

Remember Representative Fresen, whose sister Magdalena Fresen is Vice President of Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter management company?  He term limited out of the legislature this year.  His next  step is to go to jail?

Ethics Florida Style: Go Directly to Jail

The buzz about Florida is that there is more self-interest than public interest than in any other state.  Are such allegations warranted?  Information is not difficult to find. The Center for Public Integrity ranked states on a corruption index in 2012.  Florida was rated an ‘F’ on ethics enforcement agencies.  It appears there are rules that are easy to bend and break.

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Massive Last Minute Education Bill Emerges

A new mega bill HB 7069 for education was released last night–278 pages long.   It combined provisions from other bills.  The funding is dismal; for most districts there will be less money next year.  Local district capital outlay funds do not increase and must be shared with charters which seriously harms districts.

Other provisions impact teacher bonuses and scholarships and expansion of charter schools by taking over schools in low income areas without requiring district oversight.

Testing and accountability have minor changes–Algebra II EOC is no longer required and the testing window is pushed back by allowing paper and pencil test for grades 3-6.  Districts may determine data for teacher evaluations.

Schools of Excellence and Schools of Hope are created.  It seems as though current state regulations now apply only to schools earning a grade of ‘B’ or ‘C’.  The others are granted flexibility.   The logic is flawed there.  The needs for the middle (or most students) are ignored.

For more detail, continue reading.

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New and Improved?? Testing Bill

SB 926 may be dead!  Arising from the ashes is a new version of HB 549.  Senators Stargel and Flores filed a strike all and insert 72 page amendment last night.  Will it be heard today??

K-5 recess is still there as are a number of other ideas being floated to support visits to and expansion of charter schools, shared use of school playgrounds and wearing sunscreen etc.  Some of the bill actually relates to testing reform.

 

 

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Action Alert Today

It is time to to swing into action!

CONTACT YOUR SENATORS

Support SB 1552.  This bill helps to recruit highly qualified teachers and to fund districts to provide community support services for struggling public schools.  It maintains local district responsibility for our schools and requires accountability.

Oppose SB 796.  This is the High Impact Charter Organization bill.  It would turn public schools over to private corporations to run turn around schools.  These charters have high student attrition rates in other states.  The bill is basically the same as the House bill for Schools of Hope.  The bill exempts teachers and administrators from certification, requires districts to share space in under enrolled or closed district schools with private companies, gives five year contract to private, non profit charter management firms, and designs a performance measure rather than school grades for accountability.

 

 

 

California Charters Are A Poor Investment

April 14, 2017; Salon

There are cracks in the charter school system in California.  I grew up there.  We used to be arrogant enough to think we got everything right.  The charter school explosion, however, has caused cracks in the system.

California has twice the numbers of charters than Florida.  They have enough to see the serious consequences when there is unregulated growth and little accountability.

Meredith Machen sent this Salon article.  It spells out the quandary in which California finds itself.  Florida and others states are going down this road.  Read it and don’t weep, tell people!

 

 

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A Step in the Right Direction

Have you ever been in a maze and had trouble finding the exit?  Tracking bills through the legislative process is like that.  Well, it is even worse because some bills get lost and others change their identity.  I tried to check on the Best and Brightest bills.   SB 1552 is no longer just about teacher recruitment bonuses.  It is also about school improvement.  But, school improvement used to be about Schools of Hope.  Forget all the old bill numbers; it is time to start anew.  Here’s what happened:

Senator Simmons filed an amendment to his Best and Brightest teacher recruitment bill SB 1552.  The bill incorporates many of the provisions in House bill 796 and broadens eligibility for scholarships.  It adds college level tests and grade point averages etc. to those high school SAT and ACT scores that seemed such a bizarre way to select and reward teachers.  The new bills are not perfect but are an improvement.  They could help make teaching a more attractive option in this time of teacher shortages.  At least the bill provides multiple and diverse ways to qualify for salary bonuses.

Yesterday, SB 1552 changed again.  Senator Simmons filed another amendment to insert some School Improvement language from HB 5105.   The League was unhappy with HB 5105 last week.  It promoted Schools of Hope that took control of struggling schools away from districts.  Pulling students out of the district simply weakens all schools.

Senator Simmons’ amendment not only eliminates Schools of Hope funding, it maintains district control.  It provides support and flexibility that has long been needed.  Schools receiving grades below a “C” will have turn around support that includes:

  • An additional  hour of instruction.
  • Wrap around community support services provided by a non-profit entity that includes health services, after school programs, drug prevention, college and career readiness and food and clothing banks.
  • Principal autonomy mostly in the curriculum.

Traditional public schools that fail to improve after three years of intensive support still face a choice to either reassign students, close the school and reopen as a charter, or contract either as a conversion charter school or with an outside agency to run the school.

 SB 1552 addresses two crucial needs.  The first is to attract more teachers to Florida’s schools who are beginning to feel the teacher shortage.  The second is to help districts receive the resources and support to make a difference in schools that are struggling.
We can all wish that more could be done, but this bill is the beginning of a break through.  The Senate is addressing the problems that districts face and providing support rather than wresting away control.  It does not assume that the private sector can somehow ‘do it better’ when the evidence has repeatedly shown it does not.
 Sometimes there simply is not a straight line to the exit.  Hopefully, the exit leads to a better place.
 

 

 

Horse Trading Time

The House and the Senate are at the horse trading part of the session.  The Senate bills by and large are supportive of public schools (except for SB 796).  The House bills support charter school expansion.   Both chambers are concerned with struggling schools.  The House wants to shift these schools to the private sector.  Senate bills focus on making it possible for public schools to improve.

Remember our Action Alert on 5101, 5103 and 5105? Everything is now different.   Some things are better, at least for now.  Here’s the latest:

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Happy Today

Last night, SB 376 (Simmons) replaced HB 5103.  The amended version of SB 376 by Senator Farmer had all we hoped for.  It inserted language that gave districts’ discretion on whether to share local facility capital outlay with charters.  It controlled the mismanagement and self enrichment due to charter real estate practices.

Now the bill goes to the conference committee to negotiate with the House.  Will SB 376 survive?  Who knows.  Be happy today.