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


An Attorney Who Knows, Speaks on Bullying

I have represented quite a few students who have been victims of bullying. The largest target group for bullying is students with disabilities. While it is true that schools are rarely effective in addressing the bullying, making parents often desire to move their children to protect them, that ineffectiveness applies across the board to traditional public, charter and private schools. In Florida, public school students at least have a bullying law requiring that school districts create and follow an anti-bullying policy or risk losing funding. There is no legal protection for private school students (other than using tort law if there is substantial injury, and few personal injury attorneys are willing to take these cases because of statutory limits on liability). Charter school compliance is rarely enforced by districts, who find it easier to invite the student back to public schools than to get the charter schools to do something.

Also, simply moving students to new schools does not always stop the bullying. Students are often targeted for their differences, and I see a disproportionate number of students with weak social skills (due to Asperger’s, ADHD, or mental health conditions) get bullied over and over in different settings until someone looks at them and gets them the supports they need to interact more effectively with their peers. My son was one of those kids. Public schools have the resources and knowledge to evaluate and provide these supports; the privately-run schools usually do not.

What we need is to strengthen the existing law and to expand coverage to all schools. The current law does not give families a direct right to pursue action if the bullying investigation and follow-up are ineffective, so long as the district has a policy and follows the steps in the policy. Without this leverage, schools will not be fully invested in completely eliminating the problem. Additionally, Palm Beach County is working on creating academic standards for social competencies so that all kids (bullies and victims) learn better ways of interacting. We need to advocate to make this statewide.

I am happy to speak about my family’s experience with bullying and my clients’ struggles with bullying in charter and private schools. I can also ask some of the families to speak out. I know several who would love to help change the system.

Kimberley Spire-Oh is an attorney in Palm Beach and a member of the League of Women Voters.

Oh Goodness! Nothing is as it seems at Academica

Frank Biden, Joe Biden’s brother, was president and CEO of Mavericks, a for profit charter chain with multiple schools in Florida. They did not fare well. There were scandals. Frank Biden has turned up at Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter chain. Yes, this is the charter management firm that Erik Fresen’s sister and brother in law run. Fresen is going to jail now that he is no longer in the Florida House.

Biden and Academica attorney Moskowitz gave presentations about a proposed new charter, Parkland, in Broward. Except it wasn’t for Parkland. Broward had no proposal for it. It did have one from Academica for Somerset Beach Academy charter school. Confused? The parents in Broward also were confused. One school was being described to parents while the proposal was for a very different school. This story is just plain strange. You should read it.

Hope Vouchers Move On in the Florida House

Anne Hartley, SPEAK for Collier County posted this report on HB 1 the “bullying bill”. House Innovation sub committee brief notes on each member’s comments and their votes follow. HB 1 is the ‘anti bullying’ bill that would send any child who felt harassed to a private school at tax payers’ expense. Yes, this is the bill that sales taxes on new cars would fund.

The League spoke at the meeting. You can listen on the Florida Channel. Go to: 1:28:30

The Hope Scholarship bills will move forward through the House. Vote followed the party line 9 up to 5 down, decided at this afternoon’s PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee meeting.

Speakers against (public school allies):
Rosanne Wood, past alternative school teacher and Leon County school board member 1:17:45
Hannah Willard, Equality Florida
Scott McCoy of SPLC
Mary Claire Leman of Common Ground
League of Women Voters 1:28:30
Lisa Robertson, principal of FL’s largest HS, public school advocate 1:35:50, Florida Education Association 1:37:43

Speakers for (school choice backers):
Cesar Grijales, Coalitions Director of the Libre Initiative spoke for the bill, affiliated with Americans for Prosperity. Cited 2011 FDH stats: 256,000 FL public HS students subjected to “experienced some form of bullying, teasing or name-calling,” 31% hispanics. Andrew Hossick, Americans for Prosperity, Foundation for Florida’s Future, Florida Virtual School waved in support.

Debate Notes 1:47:00

Santiago advocates for school choice – wants private schools held accountable. Voted yes.

Killigrew has many concerns, but if the bill doesn’t change, he’ll vote against. Voted yes.

Lee – sometimes when you go along, the real issue isn’t addressed. Don’t just deal with a part of this bill. What about 10,000s kids who won’t be able to get out? Need to fix situation. Situation will only get worse. Was victim of bullying. Need to find funds to stop bullying. Voted no.

Asencio – worked in public schools, concerned about unintended consequences of this bill. Transferring kids to go into another school that aren’t regulated, not accountable to legislature. Operate by own means. Can’t guarantee their safety. Liability too high. Voted no.

Sullivan – there are measures to prevent bullying on books, Russell knows bullying exists everything, but this bill gives victims the choice with transportation voucher. Don’t lose signt of victims. Voted yes.

**Abruzzo – major policy shift. Tax dollars of every Floridian could go into this program. This will not end here. Vouchers are the problem. Now corporations can contribute through the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. This bill shifts it to auto fees, hitting every Floridian. 1:56:35 Voted no.

Massullo – Parents need to be in charge of their children’s education. He thinks it addresses the bullies as well. Will see bullies treated differently because they won’t want to lose students. Giving parents a choice. Voted yes.

Williams – have to move the bully, not the victim; not good to send public funds to private schools. Voted no.

Ponder – yes
Fischer – yes
Spano – yes
Russell – no
Latvala – yes
Leek – yes

Reward and Punish Gone Amok?

Where you and with whom you eat is one school’s answer to improving its graduation rate. Florida’s top down, test driven education policy rewards those who succeed and punishes those who fail. Bonuses go to schools with high grades and teachers whose students have high test scores. If you are stuck in a low income neighborhood, the state provides a charter school so you can get away from ‘those’ kids who are struggling. Or, parents can send their children to a magnet school so they be in a program with kids ‘like’ them. It all sounds so logical. Children most definitely need to be challenged and have positive feedback for their accomplishments.

Hudson High School in Pasco County has taken this policy to extremes. Children who are not on track to graduate must eat in the school cafeteria. Children who are successful get wrist bands that allow them to leave campus during lunch. Take a picture in your mind of the two groups..one mostly poor and minority, with many children with disabilities, and the other the opposite.

Policies at the extremes have extreme consequences. We need a better balance.