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.

Governor Scott Makes a Bad Choice

Governor Scott to sign HB 7069 today.  In a symbolic act, Governor Scott is set to sign HB 7069 at Morning Star Catholic Church in Orlando today.  Is private school what we want for our children?  We know that Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran wants to start a steam roller to privatize our schools.  He has said so publically.  The time has come for citizens to stand up for equal access for a high quality public education.

HB 7069 uses charter school expansion to fuel that initiative.  Charter schools are privately owned and managed but funded with our tax dollars.  Now, our local districts will have to give up some of their local facility funding to charters so they can pay whatever lease and bond payments private charter management firms require.

This is a serious blow to public schools whose facility funding has been sharply cut for thee past ten years.

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A Lesson in Advocacy from California: Money and People Power

Money and people power in California are shifting the balance of influence in the California legislature. For years, the legislature listened closely to the public school interests.  Teachers, parents and unions wielded great power.  Now the charter sector is gaining ground.  In 2016, a bill to regulate charter enrollment and how they discipline students was assured of passing; it did not.  In this account, the advocacy strategies explain the defeat.

 

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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.

Erik Fresen Faces Prison Time

Remember Representative Fresen, whose sister Magdalena Fresen is Vice President of Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter management company?  He term limited out of the legislature this year.  His next  step is to go to jail?

Ethics Florida Style: Go Directly to Jail

The buzz about Florida is that there is more self-interest than public interest than in any other state.  Are such allegations warranted?  Information is not difficult to find. The Center for Public Integrity ranked states on a corruption index in 2012.  Florida was rated an ‘F’ on ethics enforcement agencies.  It appears there are rules that are easy to bend and break.

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Tax Credit Vouchers to Increase

SB 1314 and HB 15 increase the amount of money for tax credit scholarships to private schools from 80% of the per student funding to 88% for elementary, 92% for middle, and 96% for high schools.  While the legislation tightens up the problem of private schools collecting funds for students not enrolled, it now allows funds to be transferred by debit cards.  These scholarships are funded by personal or corporate tax credits in order to avoid the constitutional restriction on direct payments from the legislature to private schools.

This program is no gift to students.  The program provides over $418 million dollars to 1602 private schools.  There are over 78,000 FTC children enrolled in primarily religious schools.  About one-half return to public  schools.  They have no requirements for teacher certifications or state assessments.  They do not perform better academically than do public school students.  Many do less well.

The program is advertised to give options to low income students, but low income is defined as less than $63,000 income for a family of four.  Based on Florida Department of Education evaluation reports:

Students do not come primarily low achieving schools.  They are not primarily students who struggle academically. They do not achieve at a higher rate than public school students.  In fact, many do less well. 

  • FTC students sit a nationally normed achievement test.  In the most recent DOE evaluation, ten percent of the students gained about twenty percentage points and thirteen percent lost twenty percentile points.
  • Only 25% of FTC students came from public schools with a ‘D’ or ‘F’ school grade.
  • Only 23% of FTC students were in the bottom fifth of their prior public school reading distribution.

Why is the State of Florida investing in this program?  It surely is not to help children.  Let your legislative delegation know these facts.

Massive Last Minute Education Bill Emerges

A new mega bill HB 7069 for education was released last night–278 pages long.   It combined provisions from other bills.  The funding is dismal; for most districts there will be less money next year.  Local district capital outlay funds do not increase and must be shared with charters which seriously harms districts.

Other provisions impact teacher bonuses and scholarships and expansion of charter schools by taking over schools in low income areas without requiring district oversight.

Testing and accountability have minor changes–Algebra II EOC is no longer required and the testing window is pushed back by allowing paper and pencil test for grades 3-6.  Districts may determine data for teacher evaluations.

Schools of Excellence and Schools of Hope are created.  It seems as though current state regulations now apply only to schools earning a grade of ‘B’ or ‘C’.  The others are granted flexibility.   The logic is flawed there.  The needs for the middle (or most students) are ignored.

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New and Improved?? Testing Bill

SB 926 may be dead!  Arising from the ashes is a new version of HB 549.  Senators Stargel and Flores filed a strike all and insert 72 page amendment last night.  Will it be heard today??

K-5 recess is still there as are a number of other ideas being floated to support visits to and expansion of charter schools, shared use of school playgrounds and wearing sunscreen etc.  Some of the bill actually relates to testing reform.

 

 

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