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DeVos Report Confirms Loss of Federal Dollars for Charters

The Network for Public Education’s (NPE) two reports…Asleep at the Wheel…claimed that over a billion dollars in federal funds were lost due to charters that never opened or quickly closed. The charter industry was enraged, scoffed, and claimed that the reports were inaccurate. NPE’s Carol Burris replied in this story published by the Washington Post. Carol underestimated the amount lost! It seems that DeVos reported to Congress that two billion dollars were actually lost.

Time periods in the compared reports varied somewhat, but the problem is actually worse than NPE’s report indicated. Carol explains the differences. What cannot be explained is where the money went. Both the Congress and the U.S. Department of Education were Asleep at the Wheel.

Florida Legislators at Work….For Themselves

Remember when the three Jefferson County schools were closed and taken over by Academica, the largest for-profit charter management company in the state?  The story makes your hair curl.  Here is a report by WLRN news that details where the money came from and where it went. Find out how Academica works and how the students fared.

New funding included a $2.5 million special appropriation from the Florida Legislature, $2 million from federal startup grant funds, and a $1.9 million interest free loan from Academica’s Somerset division.  This was funding denied unless it became a charter district. Academica received $327,000 in fees in 2017-18 to manage the fewer than 800 student K12 school.  The per student cost rose to $16,600 which school leaders recognize cannot be sustained.  The state pays much less.

The behind the scenes orchestrators for the takeover were Senators Manny Diaz and Anitere Flores, both of whom have close ties to Academica. Diaz is an administrator at Doral College and is Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  Flores is deputy Majority Leader for the Florida Senate and moved from being the head of Doral College to the Academica foundation.  The current Doral College president, Rodriquez,  was named to supervise the transition of the Jefferson County schools to Academica.

In previous posts, I reported on a series of misdeeds associated with Diaz and Flores related to their association with Doral College.  The college was bankrupt and had no students or faculty when Academica took it on.  It now offers online courses to Academica students.  The credit was worthless because the college had no accreditation.  Diaz worked to get a private school accreditation agency to recognize the college.  Diaz’s personal interest is noted here.  

What is the result of the takeover?  Behavioral specialists were hired to help students, teacher salaries increased, and the physical facilities were improved. Initially, the school grades rose to a ‘C’, but the elementary school has now reverted to a ‘D’.  The increase in the percentage of students passing the FSA state examinations in order to raise the school grades may have had as much to do with discipline policies as with learning strategies.  The charter school policy created a 45 day suspension policy in which students were given a laptop and sent home.  They were to take online classes from Doral College.  Many students never returned.  It is one way to raise school grades…just limit which students take the tests.

There is no question that the years of neglect in Jefferson County created the abysmal schools.  Parents who could, mostly white, had left for private schools or for schools in nearby Leon County.  Those few students who remained had the greatest needs and the fewest resources.  No doubt some students and their families were grateful for the influx of new funding for the charter district, but it cannot last.    

This is the result of a choice system in which racial and economic segregation flourishes as described in ‘Tough Choices‘, a report sponsored by the Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University.  It has happened in other Florida cities.  It is the dark side of a choice system that favors some at the expense of others.

 

Miami: Is This Really Our Future?

Miami is the school choice capital!  According to this EducationNext article, 20% of Miami’s public schools are charters.  Another 20% of students are in private schools, and approximately half of those are paid for with vouchers and tax credit scholarships.  It does not stop there.  District-run choice programs now enroll 61% of public school children.  Is this a school choice dream or a nightmare?

Dade County schools tout high academic achievement.  The district receives an ‘A’ grade from the state and no failing school grades.  Of course, there are only 15 schools in the state that have an ‘F’ rating, so Miami is not unique there.  An ‘A’ school only has to earn 62% of the possible points based on state assessment test scores etc.  Over one-half of all Florida’s schools earn an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade.

Miami’s  fourth grade students rank above the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test, but there is no statistically significant difference between Duval, Hillsborough and Dade Counties’ scores.  Could it be that third grade retention pushes Florida scores up because so many fourth graders were retained?

The Dade County eighth grade NAEP scores also seem to be higher in comparison to other cities.  Yet, the average Miami-Dade score is right at the national average.  Miami’s high school graduation rate is just below the national average.  It would seem that Miami-Dade is good at hype.  The reality is quite different on the ground.

According to the report ‘Tough Choices‘, Miami is the second most segregated district in the state.  Of 460 schools in Miami, 214 are considered isolated.  They are more than 85% single race.   Miami’s lowest performing schools are overwhelmingly black.  Hispanic students also tend to be enrolled in segregated schools.

Is this what Florida is striving for?  Our schools are driven by grades which are easy to manipulate.  Yet, Florida, the third largest state in the nation, is just average in student achievement and children are increasingly separated by race and economic status.

Choice has had an impact in Miami-Dade, but it is on the lives of families and funding for school facilities.  One wonders how families manage the challenges presented by so many choices, many of which are not good choices.

*What happens when parents chose a school, but the school does not chose their child?  How do parents manage when their child’s school is located an hour’s drive away?

*What happens when children are told  that their school is not a ‘good fit’ for them.

*What happens when a parent realizes that the teachers at their charter or private school are not well qualified and tend to leave quickly?

*How does a parent console a child whose test scores do not qualify for a magnet program but his friend’s score does.  The score difference may be minimal, but the impact is not.  This is the world that broad-based choice creates.  A feeling of anxiety permeates these schools defeating a child’s willingness to learn.

Florida will expand its career and technical programs in the next legislative session. adding another level of complexity,.Finding competent teachers for these skills will be a challenge.  Even more difficult, Florida closure rate for charters is exceptionally high.

Disappearing Dollars in Florida: Still Asleep at the Wheel

The Network for Public Education’s (NPE) latest report Still Asleep at the Wheel gives a state by state listing of charters that received federal dollars and pocketed the money. These charters either never opened or shortly closed after opening. In Florida, $33,896,485 in federal start up money for 187 charters was lost between 2006-2014. This amounts to 37% of all federal funding to start charters in Florida. You can see Florida’s list of charters that received funds but did not open or quickly closed here.

During this same period, approximately $500 million was lost nationwide. Curiously, nationwide between 1995-2005, an additional $500 million cannot be accounted for at all. No records exist for which charters received this funding. It is a lot of money to just disappear.

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