Newpoint Charter Owner Goes to Jail

Marcus May, founder of the Newpoint charter chain was sentenced to twenty years in jail and fined $5 million. During the trial, prosecuting attorney, Russell Edgars, provided evidence that Marcus May’s personal worth increased from $200,000 in 2010 to nearly $9 million in 2015, yet May owned no other business except the charter schools. According to the testimony during the trial, May set up shell companies to launder purchases from legitimate companies and then resold furniture, computers and other supplies to the charter schools at inflated prices. May was convicted of organized fraud and racketeering.

Newpoint operated fifteen charter schools across Florida. Newpoint has a history of problems revealed in 2015 in a story run by nbcmiami. Four of its schools received ‘F’ grades and others had closed.

The lack of state regulation on charter school management makes it impossible for school districts to adequately supervise charter school management practices.

Florida Twenty Years Later: Social Impact of Privatization

The fourth piece “Twenty Years Later: The SociaI Impact of Privatizaton” covers resegregation and the result of the ‘separate but equal’ philosophy governing school choice. Separate is not equal. You can read it here.

For your convenience, I have included the links to the first three articles below.

The third piece: “Twenty years later: Who Benefits, Not Schools!” covers the impact of choice policies on civil rights, funding, local vs. state control, and accountability. One might ask: Who benefits in a system that generates so much conflict? Politicians and profiteers, but not the public may well be the answer. Read it here.

Here is Part 2 of the series I did for Diane Ravitch on where the lack of common rules governing charter and private schools leads. The simple answer is profiteering, corruption and charter school closures.

The first post “Florida Twenty Years Later: Undermining Public Schools” covers the false assumptions behind the choice movement i.e. choice saves money and spurs innovation. What really has happened the last twenty years to school facilities, teachers, and the learning process that demonstrate Florida schools are nearing a crisis? You can read it here.

Florida Twenty Years Later: Profits, Corruption, Closure

Here is Part 2 of the series I did for Diane Ravitch on where the lack of common rules governing charter and private schools leads. The simple answer is profiteering, corruption and charter school closures.

The first post “Florida Twenty Years Later: Undermining Public Schools” covers the false assumptions behind the choice movement i.e. choice saves money and spurs innovation. What really has happened the last twenty years to school facilities, teachers, and the learning process that demonstrate Florida schools are nearing a crisis? You can read it here.

Florida Twenty Years Later: Undermining Public Schools

Diane Ravitch asked me to do a series on my reflections about the impact of school choice in Florida. I did four articles that will appear daily in her blog.

The first post “Florida Twenty Years Later: Undermining Public Schools” appeared in her blog today. It covers the false assumptions behind the choice movement i.e. choice saves money and spurs innovation. What really has happened the last twenty years to school facilities, teachers, and the learning process that demonstrate Florida schools are nearing a crisis? You can read it here.

The second piece: “Twenty Years Later: Impact of Charter and Private Sector Schools” summarizes where the lack of common rules governing schools leads. The simple answer is profiteering, corruption and charter school closures.

The third piece: “Twenty years later: Who Benefits, Not Schools!” covers the impact of choice policies on civil rights, funding, local vs. state control, and accountability. One might ask: Who benefits in a system that generates so much conflict? Politicians and profiteers, but not the public may well be the answer.

The fourth piece “Twenty Years Later: The SociaI Impact of Privatizaton” covers resegregation and the result of the ‘separate but equal’ philosophy governing school choice. Separate is not equal.

Want to hear Diane Ravitch and Me on Louisville Radio?

Prior to the Louisville, Kentucky Save Our Schools forum on Thursday, Diane and I were interviewed by the local radio. Diane is on the first seven minutes. I follow her. We cover privatization of schools and testing. We also covered social issues such as racial and economic segregation, charter vs. public school achievement, tax credit scholarships, teacher turnover Then, we cover for-profit charter profiteering. We close with the funding drain from public schools and describe the consequences for public school facilities and programs. We even mentioned the PACT campaign against for-profit charters. We closed with some signs of hope.

If you would like to listen, click here. The link is for October 11th and appears at the bottom of the screen.

Separation of Church and State Scorecard

ACLU keeps a scorecard on how Florida’s legislators votes on civil rights and civil liberties legislation. Here is a link to the records for four measures of interest: immigration, LBGTQ Rights, criminal justice reform, free speech, and church and state, . You can look up how each member of your legislative delegation voted on bills from the 2018 session. ACLU positions are listed. These may or may not be the same as LWVF positions. Click here.

The Time is Ripe for Charter Reform

What should the Florida legislative education agenda be for the upcoming session? How about charter school reform? New Jersey’s governor has just declared a moratorium on charter school expansion. They need to step back and review the management oversight and expansion policies.

California’s governor has just signed into law a ban on for-profit charters.

The U.S. Office of Inspector General has issued a new report stating that federal dollars disappear on charters that fail. They conducted an audit in Arizona, California, and Louisiana. It is no better in Florida.

Even Erika and Byron Donalds, co-founders and board members of Mason Classical Academy discovered first hand that they could not correct questionable management practices at their school. They pulled their children out. This is the only option charter parents have.

Their is at least one caveat about charter reform. There are those, like Donalds, who want to create a separate state school system for charters. Somehow this is supposed to improve oversight.

Dividing public dollars into two education systems opens a Pandora’s box. Which system gets how much money? What happens to the building when charter schools, that are privately owned, close. What happens now is that the charter management firms’ real estate companies can repurpose the buildings and reap the profits.

Yes, we need reform. We need, however, to vet the reformers. Be sure to question legislative candidates. Help them understand the consequences of charter mismanagement.

Classical Academy in Trouble Again

Collier County’s Classical Academy is facing financial mismanagement charges by its former treasurer. He claims that the principal has created an environment “where fraud can occur without detection”. This is just one more crisis at this charter school founded by Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds. Donalds was the sponsor for Amendment 8 to create a separate charter system.

The treasurer and Erika Donalds have pulled their children from the school. Donalds has filed paper work to open her own Classical Academy. Her husband, Representative Byron Donalds is reportedly ‘mulling’ legislation to increase charter school accountability. According to the Naples Daily News, Donalds is considering requirements that charters post student and teacher turnover rates as well as a minimum of five board members. Erika and Byron Donalds were former board members of this charter school.

Parents are finding out the hard way that they have no voice in charter school management. The charter boards are hand picked. Elected public school boards can do nothing until the charter can no longer pay its bills or students are in danger. Representative Donalds says that reform of the charter system depends upon the November election. Be sure you know where your representatives stand on charter school management reform.

Here are stories of other complaints about this charter school. It is quite a history. Yet, the school remains open.

Story 1. Inflated loans
Story 2. Underware searches
Story 3. Sexual Assault

Bridging the Gap in Pinellas

In 2016, Pinellas County schools were in a crisis they made themselves. Five schools were labeled “Failure Factories”. They were the result of a 2007 school board decision to end busing and allow the resegregation of schools. Prior to 2007, Pinellas was under a federal school integration plan. When busing ended, south Pinellas schools became very segregated. In theory, these mostly minority schools were promised district support; in practice little support was given. As a result, they could not keep teachers or students and achievement levels plummeted. Of the 187 Florida schools whose students were from families as poor or poorer, only seven had lower achievement scores than the ‘Failure Factories’. The pattern of the increase in the achievement gap as schools became more segregated is a national problem.

In 2016, Pinellas school district launched a massive effort to turn around these five schools and to eliminate the achievement gap in all schools, by infusing data driven instruction, faculty training to change expectations for their students, teacher bonuses, and a host of other support programs for students and families. The report is out for the first year. Schools improved slightly on five measures: graduation rate, advanced coursework enrollment, ESE identification, minority hiring, and student discipline. On the sixth measure, closing the achievement gap between white and black students, there was no change. Approximately one-third of the black students earned a level 3 score, indicating proficiency or near proficiency levels in math and English language skills.

Pinellas set a ten-year goal to end the achievement gap. It is too early to predict how well students will fare. Some schools made more progress than others. Gains may be uneven from year-to-year. Why this is so matters. Is it a difference in attitude of students and the school community, a meaningful difference in the implementation of the plan in particular schools, or changes in socio-economic differences in student backgrounds within schools? Student enrollment within a school can change dramatically from year-to-year as families move around or enroll and then withdraw children in charters and tax credit supported private schools. These are the questions the district must address to give meaning to the data. Numbers do not tell the real story; they just shine a light on a problem.

It is short sighted to put fingers of blame on the districts alone. Elected school boards reflect community values. The entire community must be committed to providing equal access to a high quality education for all students. Finding ways to create equal access within and across schools is a challenge thwarted by the more segregated housing patterns that have evolved in the last twenty years.