POW! The League Says It Like It Is

money-40603_1280by Pat Hall

One of the most insidious parts of the charter movement is self dealing.  Many people are not aware of the millions of dollars charter management companies rake off the top in fees and real estate.  The Hillsborough League of Women Voters has been gathering data on Charter School USA profits.  The League is incensed.  Some states regulate profiteering; Florida does not.

Read Pat Hall’s article that appeared today in the Tampa Bay Times.  When I read it, I said:  POW!

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Florida SBE Delays Vote on Charter School Facility Funding Rules

dollar-726881_1280For some reason, not published, the State Board of Education will not review the proposed rules for allocating capital outlay money to charter schools, according to the Tampa Bay Times.  The rule was to be considered at the June 22nd meeting at Palm Beach State College.

Provisions included in the proposed rule were:

 

 

 

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A Charter School Sues Itself?

money-40603_1280Have you ever known something did not smell right, but you could not find the source?  A court in Missouri found it.

In Renaissance Academy for Math and Science vs. Imagine Schools, the court ruled there was hidden self dealing.  The judge fined Imagine Schools one million dollars.  This was just one school in trouble in St. Louis,  Missouri at the time.  Thirty-five hundred children had to be relocated when all Imagine charters were forced to close in St. Louis.

We all need to know how this can happen.  It is not unusual.

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Spectacular Charter Fraud in Michigan

Diane Ravitch posted a story from Michigan.  It could have happened in Florida.  I am reposting it here.  When Senator Gaetz said it was time to end the private enrichment schemes in Florida’s charters, he was right.  Unfortunately, his version of the choice bill did not make it through the 2016 legislature.  It would have tied public money to public ownership of school facilities.

Michigan has a greater percentage of for-profit charters than does Florida.  They have little oversight.  The same is true here.  We really do not want to play the ‘who has the greatest scandal’ game.  We need to push our legislators to curb the exploitation of public funds.

The Education Train HB 7029: Car by Car

 

locomotive-60539_1280The final version of SB 7029, the charter school bill, took awhile to locate.  Here it is!  There is along list of provisions, some minor and some major.  The highlights follow.  They are easy to scan.  Most do little damage.  Some good things happened.  Considering what could have been, we can put our energies toward making good things happen next year.

 

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SLC Trial Update: Duval Superintendent Testimony

justiceSuperintendent Vitti’s testimony was a straight forward account of the demographic makeup of the county schools.  The district is 44% African American and 36% white and 11% Hispanic. Nearly half of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch (FRL).  About 56% of FRL students were below grade level, and their graduation rate was 67%.

How the needs of students are met was the subject of his testimony.  Are districts funded adequately to meet these needs?

 

 

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Senate Session has overlapping Education Bills

legislation1SB 524 has the same improved charter school management provisions embedded in HB 7029.  See line 1447 in HB 7029.

HB 7043  relates to performance standards for higher education, and it includes the Best and Brightest program.

The Senate is meeting this morning.  7029 was put on temporary postponement at about 11am.

The LWVF supports the improvement in charter school management in these bills.

Suspense Builds Over Governor’s Veto Pen

dollar-726881_1280The one plus billion dollar surplus Florida was expecting in 2016 is dwindling.  The latest estimate of new revenue is down by $400 million.  Governor Scott wanted to give the surplus away in corporate tax reduction.  He would also authorize more money for education, but it was supposed to come from local property taxes, not state revenue.   The legislature has other ideas.

The legislature wants part of the new state revenue for education.  The budget agreement that will go to the Governor increases the per student funding by about $50.

To complicate everything even more, money for school buildings comes from two other sources.  Districts can raise some from local property taxes.  Charter schools want access to that fund, but currently districts do not have to share the money.  Since charter schools are privately owned, the district would not own those facilities even if they were to close.  As a result, the legislature has been giving most of the state tax revenue on utilities to charters and public universities.  This fund, called PECO is drying up.

How then is the state to support school facilities without making property taxes so high that voters complain?  The latest idea reported in the News Service of Florida is for the state to issue bonds.  This means the state would take on the debt to pay off the bonds while the Governor pursues his quest to minimize corporate taxes and use surplus revenue for his pet projects.

The Governor may veto issuing bonds for school facilities.  Will he also veto the K12 per student funding increase?  A high quality educational system is key for attracting the new business the Governor seeks.  Yet, it is as if he wants something for nothing.

Volusia Claims Bait and Switch in Legislature

dollar-163473_1280Volusia citizens approved a 5 cent sales tax hike for school construction.  The legislature wants to take it away.  Why?  Cutting taxes, even those citizens want is the theme of this year’s legislature.  To justify the cuts, some legislatures claim that too many school facility projects exceeded state caps on spending.  They failed to mention that the cost basis for facilities is very out of date.  Moreover, some communities want an auditorium or similar feature that is not covered in the facility cost cap.  If they exceed the cap, the district is penalized financially.

To add to the problem, the current bill would require districts to share facility funding with charter schools.  In Volusia, there are only two charters, but the loss to the district is $300,000.  It is no surprise charters want the money.  They were supposed to be less expensive than traditional schools, but the lure of more money is always there.

At some point, the legislature will have to face the reality that competition is not saving money.  It is just going in different directions.  Public schools have many older buildings that need renovation.  Shifting money to charters makes a bad problem worse.  Think about it, if you have 600 students who could all fit in one school, and you take 300 of them and enroll them in another, you have two buildings to pay for instead of one.  Why are we doing this and calling it a good choice?