NPE: Charter Management Exposed

The Network for Public Education summarized the dangers inherent in charter school practices that hurt children and communities. They give detailed examples. Here’s a quick list of problems and an important list of recommendations to manage the chaos that the choice system has created. Adherence to a free-market, no regulation philosophy is not necessary to have reasonable choices for children. Unregulated school choice is creating a monstrous problem with:

Charters that are not free public schools.
Charter students who need not attend school to graduate.
Charters for the wealthy..
Charters with secret profits
Seedy charters in storefronts.
Charters paying kids.
Religious charters.
Charters for political parties.
Charters faking achievement data.
Charters shedding students.
Shady charter business practices.
Charters that exacerbate segregation.
Charters that exclude students with disabilities.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE. The NPE list of recommendations represent a growing consensus:

Impose a moratorium on charter expansion.
Ban for-profit charters and charter chains.

Make charter management companies’ accounting systems transparent.
Ensure students’ due process rights in admission and dismissals.
Ensure enrollments are representative of community demographics.
Require openly disclosed bidding processes.
Review property leases and bond issues for appropriate costs.
Revert ownership of closed charter facilities to districts.
Strengthen local district authorization and oversight of charters.

With little or no oversight, abuse is given free rein. Which is the greater evil, reasonable rules or exploiting students and families for personal gain?

Class Size Manipulation: Voters May Decide

Editorials decry the latest assault on the class size amendment. How large classes are matters to children. How many small classes there are matters to politicians. Small classes cost more money. When the class size amendment was first passed by voters in 2002, districts had to meet limits of 18 students in preschool through grade 3, 22 students in grades 4-8, and 25 students for high school core courses by 2010.

There’s a very revealing chart on the Florida DOE website about the real issue. Small classes mean more teachers and more classrooms. The funding list from 2002 shows no facilities funding after 2007-8. This was the same time that the legislature cut the local millage for property tax support for school facilities by 25%. Funding for class size dropped significantly. It has never caught up to the 2007-8 level.

Patricia Levesque, head of the Jeb Bush Foundation for Florida’s Future joined with another member of the Constitutional Revision Commission Roberto Martinez, to file yet another assault on class size. Levesque and the Bush foundation have long been champions of school choice.

This latest amendment legalizes the preference charter schools already enjoy. Individual core classes could be smaller or larger as long as the school average by grade group met the required limits. Charter schools already have this option. In 2013, the legislature allowed district managed magnet schools or other choice programs to average class sizes, but not other schools.

The implementation of the class size requirement has become too complicated and unfair. District managed schools have been struggling for years to meet class size limits, but funding levels just do not cover costs. Some districts preferred to pay fines for not meeting class sizes; it was less expensive than meeting the requirements.

The implementation of the class size requirement has become too complicated and unfair. The solution? The legislature cuts corners. The voters will have their say if this latest constitutional amendment is on the November 2018 ballot.

FTC Scholarship Program Under Review?

Today’s Sun Sentinel ran an article outlining needed improvements in the FTC program that provides tuition scholarships to private schools. There are about a billion dollars of corporate tax credits that the State of Florida diverts to this program. According the Sun Sentinel, a legislative committee is holding a hearing. Here’s why:

  1. Some school operators continue to receive scholarship money even though they have filed for bankruptcy.
  2. Eight schools hired staff with criminal records, and some people with criminal records start schools.
  3. Some schools falsify fire and health inspection records.
  4. Teachers without college degrees are employed.
  5. Students with disabilities are promised services that do not exist.
  6. Schools receive funding for students who are not enrolled.
  7. School facilities can be so substandard that they may be unsafe and in strip malls with unsavory neighbors.

The point of school choice is to limit regulation. Parents are supposed to ‘vote with their feet’ if a school is not what it seems. Unfortunately, these parents are in a ‘buyers beware’ market. Are there responsible, well-run private schools? Of course there are. Do parents know which are which?

Are rules and regulations only for schools with elected school boards and other charter and private schools are free to mismanage with few or no consequences? Who benefits in this system…children do not seem to. Districts are called bureaucratic as if standards and fairness in how they are implemented are the enemy. At the same time, however, the legislature heaps on more controls for public schools while they give more money and autonomy to private schools they support with public money.

There is just something fundamentally wrong with this divided educational system. There is a need to free our schools from so much top down management by the state while holding districts responsible for running schools well. What we don’t need is a system of extremes…no regulation vs. too much. There is one member of the Constitutional Revision Commission who is thinking along these lines. Watch for tomorrow’s post on district-run charter systems. It is the start of a better conversation.

Segregation: Is the federal government to blame?

Did the federal government end segregation of schools while at the same time promote segregation? How could this be?

In this Education Votes article, Sabrina Holcomb presents Rothstein’s arguments that federal housing policy created the current educational policy crisis. In ‘The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America’, Richard Rothstein is provocative. It is worth a minute to read the Education Votes summary. It focuses our attention on what needs to change to reduce the inequities that our schools are supposed to overcome.

It is clear that attempts to overcome the housing segregation that occurred due to federal housing loan policies dominate our school systems. School choice is one of the most dramatic examples. Charters that siphon off and divide minority neighborhoods are a direct result of trying to find an inexpensive alternative for families to ‘escape’ the low income, educationally disadvantaged schools that federal policy created. They are also a way for some higher income parents in other neighborhoods to maintain their advantage. The emphasis on magnet programs to fill under enrolled schools is also related. Wholesale tracking of students into advanced and gifted programs is another unintended consequence. So, what can be done?

You can’t pick up and move homes. Moving children around is sometimes so time consuming and expensive that it creates as many problems as it solves. Some localities are experimenting with incentives to promote more economically diverse housing options. Others suggest that schools must solve the inequities that communities produce. Online education advocates promote packaged instruction that does not create the student engaged, project based interdisciplinary instruction that motivates students. We do need some sort of learning networks, however. What could these be like both within and across schools and community partners? How can entire communities pull together to support a positive learning environment for all kids? How can real estate developers, local governments, education and social service systems work toward common goals?

Isn’t this what we should be talking about? The first learning network that comes to my mind is one where those communities that are working toward a collaborative vision can learn from one another. Hmmmm, the Integrative Communities blog. Know of one? Surely some exist in the city planning world.

Facilities and Fresen: What a cozy arrangement

You know that former Florida Representative Erik Fresen is going to jail. In this Palm Beach Post article, some other facts about this champion of for-profit charter schools are revealed. Not only did he fail to file his income tax returns for his eight years in office, he:

  1. was a lobbyist for Academica, the for-profit charter chain that his sister and brother-in-law run.
  2. earned $150,000 a year as a consultant for Civica which is the land use company that builds charter schools for
    Academica.
  3. fast tracked the bill to force local districts to share the tax money they received with charters and then capped
    the amount of funding districts could raise.

The education crisis Florida faces that has resulted in a major lawsuit filed against State and is a direct result of the influence peddled by a man who now is going to jail. What remains to be seen is how the current legislature responds.

There’s a war going on.

I gave a talk at our Education Forum this morning. It’s a different slant than I sometimes take. I talk about cheerios and TV channels. We have more of each than we need, but we continue to pay for them. What does this have to do with school policy? A lot actually. See what you think.

There’s a war going on, and the ammunition is fake news. Take for example, the charge that educators resist change. Recent history tells a different story. After WWII, everyone was expected to go to high school; most did not before. When I was in high school, the space race put pressure on schools to teach more mathematics. My grandchildren are now taking math courses in middle school that I took in high school. Consider also the upheaval in the 70s, when schools were desegregated. Now globalization and the loss of jobs due to technology require schools to educate children to create their own jobs.

In Florida, most people believe that public schools do the best job of preparing students for the diverse and complicated world in which they will live. School reform policy, however, assumes that consumer based competition with charter and private schools will make schools even better. In fact, competition in the private consumer sector does make many choices e.g. there are 13 types of cheerios and 189 TV channels most of which none of us has eaten or watched.

Educational choice has been around for nearly twenty years. There are 4,000 public schools, nearly 2,000 private schools, and 652 charters all drawing on the same pot of money. In Florida, we have more choices and less money than most states. Florida is in the bottom tier, 44th in state funding for education, and the State continues to cut funding. Competition is creating a crisis.
Businesses find ways to cut corners and shift costs. Sometimes a pound of coffee has only 12 ounces. While some charters find innovative ways to help kids, most replicate what already exists; it is less expensive. District schools are asked to do more with less, and they have reached a tipping point.

At least fourteen districts have joined together to sue the State over HB 7069, the education bill passed in last legislative session. The conflict, however, is about more than money. It’s also about local control, equity and quality. These are the issues:

Local Control. Who decides how our local taxes are spent?
Florida’s constitution gives the authority to levy taxes for schools to the elected school boards. A majority in the legislature, however, wants to control all funding even though it only supplies half of what is needed. Local property taxes provide the rest. The legislature now requires districts to share their property tax revenue with privately owned charter school buildings. It makes it impossible for districts to maintain their own facilities, and charters must cut corners as well. No sector, public, charter or private, can provide quality facilities.

HB 7069 also removes the federal authority given to local districts to determine how best to allocate money to help low income students. The State, not the district, now determines how federal money is allocated. This restricts districts’ ability to concentrate support where it is most needed, and it appears to violate federal law.

Equity: Is separate equal?

  1. Charter that screen and dismiss students increase economic and racial segregation even within low income areas. It becomes a have and have not system.
  2. Struggling district schools now can be closed after a year below a ‘C’ grade, but charters that take them over can stay open for five even though the school grade does not improve.
  3. Most of the state funding to help struggling schools goes to charters, not district schools. Yet, charters tend to have less experienced teachers and higher teacher turnover.

Quality: More is not better. For example,

  1. The failure to curb self-dealing corporate charter school business practices allows an excessive amount of money to go to charter real estate firms. Yes, they have their own real estate companies. To pay these leases, money is taken from teacher salaries and benefits and charged to parents for supplies.
  2. More teachers are leaving and fewer are entering the profession. The response by the legislature in HB 7069 is to reduce teacher certification requirements.
  3. There is a loss of instructional time and subject matter in order to support test prep strategies. Civics, for example is now taught one half hour per week.
  4. Choice alone does not raise achievement levels, and one-third of charters close. The money invested in is lost. Private schools do not even have to meet the public curriculum, testing or teaching standards.

    BOTTOM LINE: School choice that offers nothing new just repackages but does not improve our schools. It is not cost efficient or effective. In a system in which all choices become mediocre, everyone loses. It is time to rethink. How much choice of which types do we need? How can we redirect the conversation about school quality?

  5. Demonstrate what education should be to engage students: Passion to Teach.

  6. Support collaborative efforts to help teachers not just improve but want to join the profession.
  7. Make schools and communities mutually supportive. Find ways to better integrate pre school, after school, extra instructional time, and community activities into the schools. This is the goal of community schools like the one we are implementing at Howard Bishop.
  8. Recognize that the quality of schools and communities are intertwined. Ask: How can the community improve the schools and how can the schools improve the community? It matters where new schools are built, where and how students learn, what opportunities students have to interact with the world outside their schools.
  9. Learn about the tradeoffs of choice policies. Choice has a nice ring, and some choices truly are better for some children. But remember, more choice does not always create better choices. Ask how much is enough?

We have an example of a choice we must make right now…a mega CSUSA for-profit charter school has drafted a proposal for an 1124 student school in Gainesville. It would pull another $600,000 out of our facility budget in addition to the approximately $600,00 that will go to our local charters. It will impact every school as students shift around and take funding with them. It brings nothing new or innovative. It can discourage any child who is in any ‘different’ from enrolling and can dismiss any they find expensive or difficult to educate. In their proposal, they state they cannot compete academically with similar schools for at least five years.

Why should this ‘choice’ be imposed on our community? Wouldn’t we be better off to build our own schools and have a voice in how they are run?

Some of us have formed a PACT to help our community understand the choices that lie ahead. You can join the PACT; volunteer in schools, encourage less test prep and more activity based learning. Join the PTA and find ways to bring our schools into the community and our community into the schools.
Be aware; get involved.

School has started, but not this charter! Parents Ask: Now what?

The Hillsborough School District is bending over backwards to help the new Avant Garde Academy charter school open. It has gotten to the point that parents are wondering just when, if ever, their children can enroll.

There is also the question of why this charter schools should open. There is room in nearby public schools. Parents feel helpless; in these charter operations, they often are.

Read the letter some parents have written. They tell the story all parents need to hear. There is no rhyme nor reason to the expansion of charters and everyone gets hurt when there is no planning and no transparency. It does not have to be this way.

Positive Advocacy for Public Schools

There are many ways to support public schools. We are asking our county and city governments to support September: Public Schools Awareness Month. We hope to generate a public discussion about what is happening with our public schools. Here’s what we have planned. Let us know what you are doing.

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SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH

Our schools are hanging in the balance. The League is trying to tip the balance toward our public schools and away from privatization. Here’s how. We have formed a coalition with the Alachua County Council of PTAs, the Alachua County Education Association, the U.F. College of Education Council and the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce to promote: September: Public School Awareness Month.

Events include:

• A Proclamation submitted to the Gainesville City and County Commissions

• “From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television,” by Dr. Mary Dalton. UF’s “Schools on Screen”
Symposium—September 20 at 6pm in Pugh Hall

• Florida Premier of ‘Passion To Teach’ and discussion led by the film producer, Bart Nourse.
September 24, 3:30 pm at Lincoln Middle School
September 26, 6:00 pm at Buchholz High School

• “Bad Teacher” by Kevin Kumishiro a book to read on school reform. Watch the interview.

COME TO A COMMUNITY FORUM TO HEAR FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT ON: What is Happening with OUR Schools?
September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 a.m.

• Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Rennovating Old Schools”
• Sue Legg, Florida League of Women Voters Education Chair “Impact of Choice Legislation”
• Anne Wolfe, Education Specialist and Valerie Freeman, Director of Educational Equity and Outreach on “CulturallyResponsive Classrooms”

Public Education, Our Children, and the American Dream

Here’s a letter from the Florida League about our children’s future under HB 7069. Take the time to feel the impact. It has been submitted to the Miami Herald.

HB 7069, which passed the Florida Legislature has been described as “harsh, severe, and promises to undermine not only the economic viability of our school system, but the long-term stability of public education in our community and across the state,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

While the bill has some good aspects, especially recess for K-5 students, there are many parts which negatively impact our public schools, and children and families in our Florida communities.

We all agree that our children deserve a public funded (no cost) education so they can achieve their full potential. That is what distinguishes our country from countries around the world. This is a core American value; the foundation of the American Dream.  HB7069 does exactly the opposite. It was crafted in the middle of night, behind closed doors, with little public input, or access to the language of the bill; it was presented as take-it-or-leave-it.

The League of Women Voters of Florida believe that HB7069 needs serious revisions: public schools must have access to tax dollars to maintain and construct our schools; fiscal and academic accountability should be the same for all schools receiving public funds; state standardized testing should continue to be reduced; funds for parental involvement activities should be restored; the role of our communities and parents in local schools be reinforced and not diminished or eliminated; that free play recess be guaranteed to all K-5 students in all schools, public and charter; that school choice by parents be strengthened by providing teacher and student attrition data to school performance information for all schools (public and charters equally); that because charters receive our tax dollars, parents should have access to charter management company profits and guidelines for lease and management fees; and that school authority reside with locally-elected school boards who are accountable to local communities, to us, the taxpayers and voters.

We believe that with access to a public education, our children, especially of working families, or from poor homes, or with disabilities, or with other challenges, can become the very best they can be and grow up to contribute to our communities, as future working adults, paying taxes, and making our communities across Florida better places to live.  Any child can enroll in our schools and get a public education, no matter our child’s economic status, or race, or religion, or any other category. When my family arrived from Russia, or my friends came from Cuba or Haiti, or from name the country, our families’ children were welcomed by the neighborhood public school. That is America and Florida and Miami.

With HB7069, all that we believe is at risk. While charter schools provide parents a choice, let’s remember that the source of charter schools’ funding is our local tax dollars. The very first line of your County 2017-18 Proposed Tax Bill is for school taxes; the taxes that support our core value, a public education.

When it comes to allocating our hard earned tax dollars to public schools, we expect that this money will be spent responsibly to meet the needs of our children.  Indeed, that is at the heart of any elected official’s responsibility – to make sound spending decisions regarding our public dollars, with accountability and transparency.

This is what we must strive for in our school system for Miami and across Florida, for all our children and the very future of our communities.  “The word that comes to mind is courage,” said Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, School Board Member, “We’ve got to have the courage to do what is right.”

Pamela S. Goodman, President
League of Women Voters Florida