Florida Must Take A Closer Look At Charter Schools

In today’s Sun Sentinel, see the League’s opinion piece on Gulen for-profit charter schools. This is a unique chain. The profits go to support an international religious movement. The article explains how profits are generated in an example from River City Science Academy in Jacksonville.

Gulen is a Turkish Imam who had a falling-out with the Turkish President Erdogan. He moved to Pennsylvania and is the head of a movement that has 170 charter schools in the U.S., twelve in Florida. The leaders bring in Turkish nationals under ‘specialty occupation’ visas for positions that are questioned as a violation of the intent of the visa program. In Florida, 195 visas were given for Turkish men to work in Gulen schools, even if their mastery of English was very limited. Their business practices in Georgia resulted in their expulsion.

The for-profit charter industry has a complex web of real estate dealings that make millions for the management company at the expense of tax payers. The Gulen schools, managed in Florida as Charter Educational Services and Resources, have cover names. In Jacksonville, they are River City schools. In other areas they are often tied to names like math and science academies. Gainesville had two Gulen schools–Sweetwater Branch–that closed for poor academic performance and low enrollment. Their teacher salaries on average were lower than the beginning salary for new teachers in the district. I happened to speak, the other day, with a former teacher at a local Gulen school. She was dismayed at the way the school had been operated. They never knew from day to day which teachers would show up; the leadership was disorganized and disinterested. At least it closed, but not before it became profitable.

The League has long recognized Florida’s lax oversight of charter school management practices. The legislature must respond.

FTC Scholarships: Who Benefits? Who knows!

Yes, there is yet another study about Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for private schools. This one is funded in part by the Walton and Bush foundations. Don’t bother to read it you say? Not so fast. I found some useful tidbits.

The study looks for evidence that students who stay in the FTC program benefit by enrolling in college (community college) at a higher rate than similar students from public schools. Depending upon how you count, about five percent of the FTC program students are more likely to attend, but not graduate from, a community college. We can all celebrate students who succeed. We can also predict who they are likely to be.

What the report admits is that this study is not about student achievement. Florida private schools do not administer state tests, so comparisons cannot be made with public schools. In fact, Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio studies demonstrated that participating in their FTC programs reduced student achievement on state tests. So, the researchers asked different questions.

Who enrolls in Florida FTC private schools? What happens to them?
1. The study supposedly matched public school and FTC private school students by income and race. The match had problems. The public school group included 4% more children from families below the poverty level. Data on FTC students in the reduced lunch category, which is about a $10,00 higher income level, was even more starkly different. Only 11% of the FTC students were in the reduced lunch group compared to 31% of public school students. This fact alone may explain the difference in the rate of college enrollment between the two groups.
2. The Florida DOE data show that 83% of FTC students attend a religious private school. FTC students who enrolled in a Catholic or a non Christian religious school were more likely to enroll in college, but few FTC students enroll in these schools.

Who benefited from the FTC program?
1. FTC students who are most likely to attend college are Hispanic students who were born outside the U.S.
2. FTC students enrolled in private schools that were in existence before the program began in 2003 are more likely to go to college.
3. As more FTC students enrolled in a school, the less likely the students enrolled in community college.

No matter how the numbers are manipulated, private schools are no answer to improving student achievement. The students who succeed attend selective, well established private schools that will only enroll a few scholarship students. No doubt these children were carefully screened for admission.

The State can no longer even say that the tax credit scholarships save money. The legislature increased the stipend for tuition. The legislature must turn its attention to improving the quality of schools. Simply moving children around from place to place harms kids. Even this study mentions this disruption.

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.

Flawed School Bill: What is wrong?

Here’s a good synopsis of the legal flaws in HB 7069. These constitutional issues need to be at our fingertips:

The bill:

  1. Strips the authority of local school boards to review charter school applications and enforce minimum quality standards e.g. earn a school grade of at least a ‘C’ and participate in the Florida Standards Assessment program.

  2. Violates the constitutional authority of school boards to levy property taxes to support schools by requiring revenue to be shared with privately owned charter schools.

  3. Allows some charters to hire uncertified teachers.

The courts may have to decide whether or not to throw out these provisions. Citizens need to decide whether politicians should have made these decisions in the first place. There is more at stake than money, which is a huge issue for the maintenance of public school buildings. The control of local schools by a few politicians who manipulated the legislative process by holding meetings in secret and launching legislation at the last minute is a practice that robs everyone of the right to know what is happening.

HB 7069 Lawsuit Growing

The lawsuit against HB 7069 has a law firm to represent the 11 school districts that have now joined the complaint about the Florida legislature’s attack on local public school board authority. The Florida Constitution states that local elected school boards govern our schools. The legislature believes it does. More districts are considering the suit. Thus far, only Sarasota has decided not to participate.

Bay
Broward
Hamilton
Lee
Martin
Miami-Dade
Orange
Palm Beach
Polk
St Lucie
Volusia

Sarasota voted not to join

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

HB 7069: Collateral Damage Hits Home

Imagine finding out that the State of Florida fired you, but you work for a local school. Imagine finding out you were fired because your students did not do well on the state assessments when 23 of your 39 students had left your school. Imagine being the Teacher of the Year when that happened. This is HB 7069 in action.

Imagine finding out you had to prove the State was wrong. Read this teacher’s story. She is not alone. It happened to teachers across the state.

Judge rules CSUSA does not have to be innovative or anything really

Palm Beach Schools filed a suit over the CSUSA, for-profit charter school chain, proposals to open four new charters. They are not innovative. They are located where not needed. They do not have to have local governing boards for their schools. In other words, anyone can open a school anywhere for any reason.

It does not take a genius to understand that this is a road to ruin for everyone. The legislature has enabled unregulated and unreasonable charter school expansion. It is time to change the laws. Only you can do this by either changing the legislatures’ minds or changing the legislators themselves.

Join the PACT. Let’s get moving. Go to: parentsagainstcorporatetakeovers.com

See: Sun Sentinel July 14, 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.

Florida For-profit Charter Chain Racketeering Charge

How often do we need to hear the same thing before the legislature will act. For profit charter management is an open invitation to fraud. These charter management companies have hidden affiliated companies that do what they want out of public view.

Tbo News reports that racketeering charges have been filed against Marcus May and his associate who run 15 Newpoint charter schools in Florida (Bay County, Jacksonville, Hillsborough, Pinellas). The story underscores the League’s constant refrain: The Legislature must enact measures to correct charter school fraud and abuse. For the past two years, the legislature has rejected first Senator Gaetz’s call for reform legislation and then Senator Simmon’s measures to correct charter mismanagement. What does it take to get action?

These Newpoint related companies are a maze of legal entities that are banded together to make it impossible for local citizens to know where their tax payer dollars are going. Newpoint’s affiliated companies include School Warehouse and Red Ignition. They overcharged for computers, filed fake enrollment reports, extracted large fees, and used money to pay for expensive vacations, personal home, and on and on.

Fifty-seven million dollars of public money was given to this group. Millions were stolen. Initially they were under investigation for giving fake grades to students. Now they face charges of grand theft, money laundering, and white collar crime along with their racketeering charges. They recognize no limits.