Lake County Rejects New CSUSA Charter

curriculum plate-413157_1280NOTE: FROM KAREN WEST:  I served on the charter review committee as the “community member” for the second year.  Our strategy was to highlight all the weaknesses in the CSUSA proposal when we presented it to the Lake Cty. School Board in a workshop Sept. 19.  However, we did recommend approval of the application – with strong reservations – knowing that a rejection would then be handled by the appeals committee in Tallahassee which is heavily populated with friends of charter schools.

This vote by 4 of the 5 school board members was a surprise and delight to me!  It may have an impact of the selection of the new superintendent of schools, which will take place after the election of two new school board members.  As a representative of LWVTRI, I serve on that advisory board as well.

Many thanks to Sue M. Legg – chair of the LWVFL Education Committee for providing strong factual information about charter school companies and their financial dealings.

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Charters: Deregulation has gone too far!

business-257880_1280In a new brief, William Mathis, head of the National Education Policy Center, argues that market based accountability for charter schools just does not work.  At first glance, Florida’s policies are better than in some states.  There are, however, some fatal flaws.

He makes the case for better oversight and regulation.  His recommendations take a national perspective and include these general process requirements:

authorizers, those who approve charter contracts, control the criteria for granting charters and the length of time charters are in effect.  Authorizers (in Florida, are the local school boards) must also specify the accountability mechanism for charters, and the state should fund oversight. 

The basic difference between Florida’s policy and this recommendation is that in Florida, districts are the authorizer of charters, but they have little control over the criteria charters must meet and little access to information about charter fiscal policies and practices.  The State legislature defines criteria for granting charters which are so broad that districts are not able to designate which charters are needed and actually are innovative.

The Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education hold the reins of power.  Thus, oversight is by design, minimal.  No one ‘close to the store’ is watching what is going on behind the scenes.  Even many charter school oversight boards have little knowledge of school practices.  The press and whistleblowers ferret out problems that fester.

The brief also addresses operational policies i.e.:

Governance including budget, admissions procedures, discipline practices, and civil rights protection should be transparent.  Annual reports and audits must be publically available and facilities must meet building codes and inspections.  Staff background checks should be required.

Again, these recommendations, on the surface, are mostly met in Florida’s charter school policies.  Annual audits are  required.  Admission lotteries for vacant seats are mandated.  Monthly budget reports are available.  What is missing?  Basically two loopholes, aa mile wide, exist.  The first problem is that there is no corrective action for fiscal mismanagement that does not reach a crisis level or for lapses in operations that impact which students enroll, retention of teachers, or suspension or dismissal of students.

The second problem is the lack of transparency that for-profit charter management firms enjoy.  Budgets of their charter schools lack the detail of where and how money is spent.  These companies control the entire budget, but financial records of for-profit privately run companies are shielded from public view.  Thus, the public has access to charter school facility costs, for example, but no access to how these costs are generated.  In some cases, it is like giving a blank check that may be nearly half of the budget without explanation of where the money ended up.

The one consolation in all of the exposure of charter mismanagement is that it is now becoming part of the public discussion about school choice.  Privitizing schools may give the appearance of facilitating innovation, but the reality is too often that it results in the loss of public trust.

Leaky Roofs: Time to Pay the Piper?

hands-982121_1280When the roof leaks, you patch it until you can’t anymore.  When the air conditioning goes out, the kids go home.  This is not really about school choice and who gets the money: charters or regular schools. This time there is no choice.  Since the millage for school maintenance was cut in 2008, districts have been making do.  Eight years later, buildings are in disrepair, and a crisis is looming across the state.   Counties have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in facility maintenance money.  The time has come for a reckoning according to this report.  How can we pay for this?

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Charters are Lopsided in Whom They Serve

directory-281476_1280Hernando and Hillsborough charters have the lowest ratios of low income and minority students.  In Pasco county, 58.2% of students in traditional public schools qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch while only 36.2% of charter students qualify.  Charters in high income areas do well academically, charters with higher percentages of low income students receive lower school grades.  This is not a surprise.  Income and academic achievement are known to go together.  What is of concern John Romano columnist for the Tampa Bay Times article is:

 

 

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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.