Skullduggery Afoot With Charter Authorization

The original proposal, P.71, to amend the Florida constitution (by Erika Donalds) was to provide alternative ways to authorize charter schools in addition to local school boards. Now, Donalds has deleted the wording in her proposal P 71 and inserted the following:

The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district…except for those authorized by the state charter school authorizing board, municipalities, charter counties, Florida college system and public universities as provided by law.

What state charter school authorizing board you ask? There is no such thing now. Charter counties?? They do not exist either, but the CRC proposal P. 93 by Martinez would create them.

All of this requires voters to amend article IX of the Florida constitution in November 2018. Our constitution specifies that Florida has a ‘unified system of free public schools’. Donalds, Levesque and Martinez would change that.

It is interesting that Patricia Levesque filed an amendment to P. 71 an hour after Donalds filed one. Levesque’s wording was more subtle. She eliminated the words ‘charter school’ and inserted ‘public schools’ in line 29 of the original proposal to amend the constitution. Basically, Levesque wants nothing to prohibit alternative public school authorization. Since charters are public schools, perhaps Levesque believes that voters will not notice that the amendment would strip local districts’ authority to authorize charter schools. After all, in theory and in law, charters are public schools. They are funded by the public and just happen to be owned and operated by private entities.

Can’t Bully Kids into Learning

These Achievement First ‘no excuses’ charters are learning; they found out that they are not teaching kids how to learn. Achievement First charters discovered that their students, who learned how to pass state tests or left the school, could not succeed in college. Students have to be able to learn on their own, just as they are expected to do in college and as adults.

Achievement First runs 34 charters enrolling 15,000 students. Their highly structured discipline approach to behavior and learning is not working. The students are not engaged in school. In 2016, students at one school tried to tell them. They staged a walk out demanding fairer discipline and a more diverse staff. In 2015, parents filed a lawsuit claiming the Achievement First used inappropriate discipline and failed to provide needed special education services to children.

After seeing their alumni struggle, Achievement First is trying to make students more independent. They are running a couple of pilot tests in middle schools. Three times a year the students have an online expedition to explore their own interests for two weeks for three hours a day. Better than nothing. They are using something called the Greenfield model.

These no excuses charters can train students to pass tests, but students are not robots. The real key to success is to engage students through group based projects. These don’t have to be in every subject every day. They do, however have to be real-world problems that students can tackle together. This is how learning becomes meaningful.

Judge Denies Injunction Against HB 7069

Palm Beach County requested an injunction against paying $9 million to its charter schools. Charter schools are almost always privately owned facilities which remain with the owner if schools are closed.

The district wanted to wait until its lawsuit was heard in court. The lawsuit against the HB 7069 provision that requires districts to share locally raised revenue from the 1.5 mill property tax they are allowed to assess for school facilities. The Florida constitution reserves the right to allocate this money to local districts. Circuit judge Shelfer denied the injunction, and the district will have a month to pay.

If the district eventually wins the lawsuit, the money likely will all be gone.

How many HB 7069 lawsuits are there?

There are three. All cases are yet to be decided.

Single Subject Case. Alachua et al vs. Corcoran. In a 4 to 3 decision, the Florida Supreme Court, citing the time sensitive nature of the case, referred the case back to the Leon County Circuit Court. This is the case that nine districts file that claimed HB 7069 violated the single subject rule. There is no way that HB 7069 pertains to a single subject. It was framed just before the end of the legislative session by rolling as many different bills into one as possible. It’s another one of those mega bills that had no committee hearings and public input. Even though the issue is time sensitive, the Court did not mandate, it suggested, that the case be heard quickly.

Local District Control. Palm Beach school district lawsuit over the constitutionality of the HB 7069 requirement to share low district facility revenue with charters will be heard in circuit court.

Multi Issue Lawsuit. Alachua et al v. Fl. DOE. This complaint, which is yet to be heard, includes 1) sharing local discretionary capital outlay funds with charters 2) Schools of Hope that operate outside of local district control 3) charter systems as their own LEA 4) standard charter contract with no local input 5) restrict district authority to allocate Title I funds and 6) restricts district authority to allocate funds to meet needs of certain schools with low performing students.

Judge Supports HB 7069 Legal Challenge

Circuit Judge Shelfer declined to dismiss the Palm Beach school board lawsuit against HB 7069. This suit targeted the provision that requires districts to share locally derived facility funding with privately owned charter schools. The Florida constitution reserves the right to allocate local millage for facilities to district school boards. The complaint will be heard in court. Millions of dollars in tax revenue that would go to charter schools are at stake. Palm Beach alone would lose over $230 million dollars from its capital budget. The district also loses its constitutional right to control and supervise the use of these funds, most of which go to for-profit charter schools.

A second broader challenge to HB 7069 has yet to be heard.

Who Owns Our Schools: Turkish and Chinese Companies?

Florida Prep Academy in Melbourne has been sold to NewOpen USA, a subsidiary of the Chinese company, Chongquin. The company has made a ‘significant’ investment in the private school. The operation of the school will remain under its President, James Dwight.

Florida Prep will be the first investment by a Chinese company in a U.S. school, but it will not be the last. They plan to expand. The investment may not ordinarily be noteworthy. Chinese companies buy properties in the U.S. all the time. Florida Prep, however, accepts FTC scholarships. These are funded by tax rebates to Florida companies.

Florida already has a number of Gulen owned schools run by the Turkish foundation. These schools are charter schools that take funding directly from Florida tax payers.

Interesting issue, who should own our schools? Privatization of our schools has consequences far beyond our legislature’s awareness.

Parents Fight Back over Voucher Expansion

Save Our Schools in Arizona is doing exactly that. They have filed 111,540 petitions to put Arizona Proposition 305 on the ballot. P 305 will let voters decide whether to use state funds for vouchers called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. The legislature’s plan for vouchers is on hold. Note that these accounts are simply expansion of similar accounts now designated for students with disabilities. Florida has such a program called Personal Learning Accounts.

The big money behind the expansion of vouchers is no secret. The Center for Media and Democracy describes the funders: Koch, Americans for Prosperity; DeVos American Federation for Children; Jeb Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education; Arizona Free Enterprise Club; advocates for religious schools and members of the Bradley Foundation.

Voucher advocates have formed a coalition targeting Hispanics called the Libre Institute They have filed suits and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into their pro voucher ad campaigns.
Libre is active in Florida. The expansion of vouchers in Florida is projected to be the focus of Florida’s November 2018 election campaign.

Quick fix solutions are merely demons in disguise

Do term limits get rid of a bureaucratic establishment and allow new people with great ideas to enter the scene? This is the argument put forth by CRC member Erika Donalds from Collier County’s school board. Her proposal to limit school board members to two terms passed the CRC education panel yesterday. She also argued for appointed superintendents. This is a term limit too in a sense. Appointed superintendents tend to last about three years and move on. An account of the arguments was reported by the News Service today. It made me go searching for an answer to the question: What really happens to the legislative process when term limits are introduced. The answer? Power shifts to consultants who wave the possibilities for future jobs at legislators.

I found a story about how power shifts told by a promoter of term limits, Gina Loudon, who had a front row seat in its impact. Here are her observations:

  1. Absolute power does not dissipate, it transfers…not to the young legislators but to those not elected i.e. the staff, consultants, and lobbyists.
  2. Knowledge is power. Knowledge of the political process is critical for effective legislating. Term limits eradicate that knowledge.
  3. Freshmen legislators now trade their votes for jobs they were promised when they were elected.
  4. Leadership in the legislature is controlled by lobbyists. Even individual staff members may be assigned to legislators by the leadership. Legislators spend their time jockeying for positions not on advocating for their constituents. Legislators are smart; they know where their bread is buttered.

The corruption is now more insidious, greedier, and more controlling, and there is nothing the voters can do about it. She says “You can’t defeat lobbyists, consultants and staffers in an election”. The answer to political corruption is not term limits. The answer is voter involvement. She concludes that citizen engagement matters more now than ever in American history.

How will this play out at the local school board level? Take a look at Los Angeles where pro charter forces banded together to promote candidates favorable to privatization. There’s a lot of money connected to education, and privatizers want access to it. School board races set a record for expenditures. The three candidates raised over $2 million and outside money reached $14.3 million.

The adversaries were The California Charter School Association Advocates and the Los Angeles teacher’s union. We know who the teachers are. Who backs the CCSAA is not so clear, but one investigator uncovered large donations from Doris Fisher of The Gap, Alice Walton from Walmart, Lauren Jobs from Apple, and Michael Bloomberg from Wall Street. Should they be controlling Los Angeles school board races?

We the voters will decide in November 2018 which amendments to the Florida constitution will pass. Remember that term limits, however appealing on the surface, shifts power from the voters to the corporate sector where money is king and the voters lose.

Federal Tax Bills Allow Vouchers

The tax bills in the U.S. House and Senate have curious twists. According to the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools, 529 college savings accounts could be used for K12 private school tuition. Send your child to private school and get a tax break.

The U.S. Senate’s tax plan allows a tax deduction as a charitable contribution for private school tuition. A second provision creates tax credits for corporate and individual contributions to state non profits that offer tuition payments for low and middle income families.

The drive to get something passed in Congress, anything really, has resulted in a hodge podge of special interests that are certainly not in the public interest.

Irreversible Damage to Public Schools

Nine school districts filed a constitutional challenge to the Florida Supreme Court over HB 7069. The suit claims ‘log rolling’ by the Florida legislature when it compiled multiple bills into a single bill the weekend before the last session of the legislature ended. The Florida constitution requires laws to be ‘single subjects’.

A quick decision by the Court is needed because districts are required to enter into contracts for charter school take overs of district schools in the Schools of Hope program included in the legislation. The bill also included a provision to share facility funding derived from local property taxes with privately owned charter schools. There were other provisions, including the allocation of federal Title I funds for disadvantaged children, that this bill changed.

Even more districts have filed lawsuits with circuit courts. The Palm Beach case claims that the HB 7069 requirement to share local capital outlay with charter schools is unconstitutional. Thirteen districts have

http://sunshinestatenews.com/story/school-boards-ask-high-court-block-last-sessions-controversial-education-law