Clearing the Cobwebs: What’s Wrong and What’s Right?

Jeff Bryant, in Educational Opportunity Network, reports on charters across the nation. Sure some do well. Some do not. I picked up on one of his examples…Oakland, California where I was born. It’s a community where high in the hills wealthy people live. It’s beautiful up there looking over San Francisco Bay. Down below I think of the mud flats of the bay. People used to make weirdly beautiful scrap wood sculptures. People in Oakland have a very different sense of place depending upon where they live. Yet, I remember a phrase that was oft heard: Out of the mud grows a lotus.

In Jeff’s article, I found references to two reports on Oakland charters that are among the best I have read. One is an Alameda Grand Jury report on charters. The other is cited in EdSource.

Oakland schools authorize 36 charters and one is authorized by Alameda County. This is at least one fourth of the county public schools. According to the 2015-16 Alameda Grand Jury report, charters were intended to be educational laboratories where new methods could be tested. The focus shifted when the State of California took over the school system in the 90s, and schools with sub par test results were identified. Charters proliferated, not as much as in Florida, but in a more concentrated way.

The Grand Jury report found that some charters have as many as 55 more days than the public schools. The other advantage was that skills not seniority were the basis of hiring teachers. Teachers earned the same salaries in district and in charters, but many in charters worked more days.

There are costs, however, for this flexibility. The lack of oversight is one. Charters there (as elsewhere) serve fewer students with disabilities, and those they do serve have less severe and less expensive problems. There is also no reporting or tracking to monitor potential wrongful expulsion or dismissal of ‘less desirable’ students who are counseled out for misbehavior of low achievement. There is no mechanism for district oversight of charters, no planning for charter growth, no ensuring of safety standards.

In Oakland as elsewhere, charters have an impact on communities. They attract students which makes some public schools under enrolled. Charters are privately owned, and facilities cost money. So they want the space in public schools they created. In Oakland, they would pay $4.73 per square foot of space. It means very different schools in the same building with the district picking up most of the cost. How are these schools different?

About one half of charter students score below the district average on state assessments. But according to these reports, even these charters ‘cream’ their students which makes them look better but does not make them academically better. Moreover, higher performing students tend to transition from district run schools to charters and lower performing students transition from charters to district run schools.

In the other half of charter students, according to the EdSource, about 40% of charter students have higher achievement levels before they enter the charter school; thus higher test scores reflect not what was learned in the charter school but the achievement levels of the students who enrolled initially. Charters are also more segregated into silos than are district schools. Is choice just making a bad situation worse for struggling students?

There is one take away from all of this that is not addressed and should be. In Oakland, there is an independent committee that reports to the citizens of the city on the district and charter schools. They cover the issues and the consequences of the choices people are making in their own city. They have a Grand Jury investigation of equity. They are pointing out that charters just formalize what is occurring in communities when lower achieving children are segregated from those children who have ‘learned how to learn’. Segregation takes many forms, none of them are cost free.

We are all asking: What Do We Do? First of all, challenge the myth that choice has no bad consequences. It is about money and comes down to who owns the real estate; it does not improve academic achievement, and it does increase all forms of segregation. It tells us, however, to look at how much time our schools spend on instruction and what kind of instruction children receive. Are we as citizens asking the right questions about our schools? Therein always lies the rub.

Moody Warns HB 7069 Could Downgrade District Credit Ratings

It is no surprise that taking money away from district public schools and giving it to privately owned charters is a credit negative. Moody Corporation has long reported credit ratings for many companies. Now it warns that district financial ratings will decrease because they will have less money to pay for loans to support school facilities. This is serious. It means that the loans districts do receive will cost more. Interest rates will be higher. What is our legislature doing to our tax payers and our public schools.

You can find the rating by doing a Google Search for the News4Jax article on June 22, 2017

HB 7069: It’s not over!! There’s movement afoot.

When HB 7069 was signed into law, many hoped for an outcry from the citizens of the State. It’s been eerily quiet, and makes me think of what we used to call ‘earthquake weather’ in California when I was a child. Just before an earthquake, everything was so quiet that even the leaves on the trees did not move.

Today’s Florida’s Politics reports a rumble starting. Senator Simmons who worked so hard with Senator Farmer and others to craft a reasonable educational policy said, “We’re not done yet with HB 7069”. Senator Farmer is considering a lawsuit because the conference committee members swept up so many provisions and, in secret and at the last minute, created a bill that violates the single subject provision for bills.

Governor Scott could have vetoed HB 7069 but did not. The most destructive provisions include:

  1. Automatic charter school take over of low-performing schools. High performing charters don’t want these schools. Other charters take only the students they want and leave the others to fend for themselves.
  2. House members deleted Senator Simmons’ provisions to control charter school self dealing and corruption.
  3. Sharing local capital outlay that public schools badly need for facility maintenance puts money in privately owned charter facilities. Big charter chains make their money through their real estate companies.
  4. Teacher bonuses based on test scores do not address teacher shortages.
  5. Proposed reduction in testing is meaningless.

Thousands of people urged Governor Scott to veto this bill. He did not. Many more thousands need to be heard. Make a noise; turn the rumble into a roar to end the move to privatize our schools. It does not work; they make false promises. We can solve our own problems. Say so! Don’t let corporations take over our schools; they belong to us.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Governor Scott’s decision to sign HB 7069 was no surprise.  What needs to surprise our Governor and our legislature is our response.  We must focus like a laser on the November 2018 election.

We have to arm ourselves not only with the facts, but also with specific examples of what we want and do not want.  The local LWVF study process must go into a higher gear.

Here are some suggestions to build a story about your school district:

 

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csusa

Rod Jurado of CSUSA did not like my article in the Gainesville Sun: Consequences of School Choice.  I described what is happening to local schools and neighborhoods as choices proliferate and funding decreases.  I also mentioned that CSUSA, a for-profit charter management company has submitted a proposal to Alachua County Schools.

Mr. Jurado argued, ineffectively, that charters out perform public schools.  I disagreed.  Here’s the response I submitted as a Letter to the Editor.

 

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Have you told Governor Scott to Veto HB 7069?

The revisions Governor Scott proposed to the 2017 budget fall short.  Our public schools have to maintain their air conditioning, roofs and science labs.  We cannot divert money to privately owned charter facilities.  As Governor Scott has said in his other veto messages this year,

 “The following is vetoed because there is not a clear statewide return on investment for the renovation (or construction) of a facility not owned by the state.”

Charter schools are not owned by the state.  Ask Governor Scott to veto sharing local property taxes for public schools with privately owned charters.  Dividing the same amount of money among more schools only ensures no school is adequately funded.

SEND YOUR MESSAGE TO:  Rick.Scott@eog.myflorida.com

 

 

Scott Facing Increasing Pressure: Have you called yet?

The Florida News Service reports the mounting pressure on Governor Scott to veto HB 7069 and part of the State budget. We need to keep the pressure up.  Call his office and send a message:

  • (850) 488-7146

  • Email http://www.flgov.com/contact-gov-scott/email-the-governor/  (Note that emails become public record.)

Tell the Governor that:

  • The budget results in a net loss for many school districts.
  • Sharing capital outlay funds with charters is not cost effective.  Many small schools increase facility costs and decrease needed maintenance.
  • Charter take over of public schools solves nothing.  Charter students in five of seven Florida cities do worse than similar students in public schools.

The Senate proposal for education was a practical, reasonable approach to education funding.  Ask the Governor to reconvene the legislature and do what is needed.

 

Poll: Most Americans Feel Fine about Choice? Not True

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research says that 58% of people don’t know much about charter schools.  Even more, 66%, know little or nothing about private school vouchers.  Nevertheless, 47% favor expanding charters and 43% would expand vouchers.  Media headlines say most Americans support choice, but this is misleading.  Most Americans either are opposed or have no opinion.  The report found that four in ten believed that the country in general would benefit from more choice.

The poll has value. It made me think.  See what you think!

 

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The Worst of a Bad Budget

The League is adding its voice to calls for a veto of HB 7069.  Share with everyone.  We need a blitz.

The WORST of a BAD BUDGET

Florida revenue is up, but education funding has been cut.  The legislature sent a message that our schools, teachers, and students are not valued.  What’s the evidence?

House bill HB 7069:

 

 

 

 

  • Substitutes a teacher bonus system for a few rather than give all teachers a needed raise in spite of a looming teacher shortage. Teachers in most charters have lower salaries and no benefits which seems to be the attraction to many politicians even if quality is compromised.
  • Takes desperately needed local school facility funding and gives it to privately owned charters. Miami-Dade schools alone estimate an $81 million dollar loss.
  • Strips local control of low performing schools from districts and turns them over to charter chains. Then, it provides $140 million in State funds to these privately owned chains.
  • Creates High Impact Charter Systems that are independent of locally elected school boards. If things go wrong, parents must complain to Tallahassee.

The Florida House promotes school choice instead of supporting schools governed by elected school boards.  The consequences are becoming clear.  The U.S. Department of Civil Rights cited Florida for increasing segregation through its charter system.  Charters also select fewer students with disabilities and language learners.

It is time to recognize that, in the charter system, parents do not choose schools; schools choose students.  If the choice does not work, the students are ‘counseled out’.

Charters have high teacher turnover, real estate debt, and according to the national CREDO Urban Cities study, lower student achievement than comparable public school students.  After three years, Florida public school students, initially matched on test scores, clearly out performed charter students in five of seven of our cities.

Parents do have a choice to make.  Will they ask Governor Scott to veto this attempt to take over our schools?  Will they tell the legislature that our children deserve better?

HB 7069 Education Train Bill Needs to be Vetoed

Legislation

The Senate narrowly passed SB7069 with a 20-18 vote.  There are reasons for concern.  The best  course now is to urge Governor Scott to veto the bill.  Here’s why:

  1. 1) For local districts to share local capital outlay with charter schools is untenable.  It will cost districts already struggling with aging facilities, millions of dollars.
  2. 2) The Schools of Hope proposal allocates $140 million for charter school takeovers of low performing public schools.  Yet, the CREDO Urban Cities report just published a devastating account of poor charter school academic performance in Florida cities.

3) Creating High Impact Charter Systems that control groups of charters surely must stress the Florida constitutional requirement for a ‘uniform system of high quality schools’.  These charter systems become their own local education agencies.  This is a legal term that is now allocated for elected school boards.  The charter systems would be able to receive funding directly with no oversight from districts.

4) Allocating Title I funds to individual students in many schools will spread funding  too thinly to support extra reading, tutoring and other services many children need.

5) Without funds in the State budget for teacher raises, the looming teacher shortage will increase.

Why would Florida want to advertise itself as anti education to a world where academic achievement attracts the kind of business and industry we seek?  This bill is the result of destructive behind closed door power politics, not rational public interest.