League of Women Voters Launches Education Blog

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Mass Turnout at Hillsborough School Board Meeting

Imagine a thousand people turning out for a school board meeting. People are stirred up. They have reason to be. Read League member Pat Hall’s testimony at the November 14th meeting.

by Pat Hall

Thirteen hundred teachers, children and others attended this meeting, more than ever in the history of Hillsborough County! Salary negotiations have broken down, promises made and not kept, the budget is strained and nerves are frayed. I spoke because four more charter schools were on the agenda for school board approval adding 4404 students in the next 5 years. We’ve asked for an estimate of FTE (full time equivalent) dollars; approximately $7,178 per student per school year that will fly to these four charters as well as PECO (public education capital outlay) dollars lost to traditional schools by the addition of four more charters.

My goal in this statement was to wake up parents and the public to this boondoggle. “The management company for SLAM (Sports Leadership Management Academy) – proposed to teach 2750 children in two buildings is Academica. Academica is under multiple year federal investigation the last I checked. Eric Fresen was Chair of the Education Committee of the Florida Legislature for 8 years. Fresen is the brother-in-law of Academica owner Fernando Zulueta. Fresen is now in jail for fraud and tax evasion. He did not file returns the 8 years he was in the Legislature. Newpoint Company (for-profit management charter co.) has been indicted in Escambia County on fraud charges including Pinellas, Duval and the closing of Newpoint High in Hillsborough County in 2013.

The charter friendly atmosphere here changed immediately after the firing of Mrs. Elia. Tom Gonzales and Jenna Hodgens (H.C. Director of Charter Schools) had a strong case against Kids Community Charter school in Brandon and it was dropped at the request of Mr. Eakins and the Board (chaired by Susan Valdes in 2015).

Statewide 2.7 million traditional students attend public schools. Hillsborough County has 215,000 students including 22,500 in charters. Charter schools represent 10 to 11 % of school aged children in Florida but have grabbed the lion’s share of PECO funds for years. Most for profit charters have been built in the last seven years. The average age of individual schools in Hillsborough County is fifty years. The dramatic shift to charter schools was orchestrated in the legislature by convicted felon Eric Fresen and his very wealthy pals –Jon Hage, owner Charter Schools USA and F. Zulueta, owner of Academica. Research done by Noah Pransky of WTSP, CBS Channel 10 in August, 2014 proved millions of dollars had been stuffed in the pockets of legislators to influence their votes. Governor Scott took $50,000 in 2014 from Hage. In 2014 and 2016 in election contributions we documented, at least three current school board members have taken money from numerous for profit charter school owners, developers and real estate affiliated companies.

One board member took a five day long trip to Miami to visit SLAM there at taxpayer expense of over $1,200. Why 5 days? Why no limits on school board travel when the budget is so tight? This board member collected $13,000 from charter school operators.

Large for profit managed charters receive millions of FTE dollars as do traditional schools based on enrollment. While 86% of traditional school money is spent on instruction, our investigation has proven that large for profit managed charters spend 45 to 48% of FTE on classroom instruction and teachers. The owners take 42-50% of our taxpayer dollars for management fees and real estate leases and rent fees.

When these schools close or go out of business –these buildings we have paid for remain the property of the charter school owners! In Hillsborough County we have authorized 123 schools since 1997 (under Jeb Bush, Governor). We now have 51 open-7 consolidated like Pepin Academy- but 65 never opened or have closed. What are taxpayers choices?

Popping the Balloon: D.C. Reform Fiasco

There is a lot of hot air about the impact of school choice on student achievement. Washington D.C. is often the example touted by unwitting journalists. John Merrow, retired PBS education reports on the ten year reign of Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson. The achievement gap has widened under their ‘test and punish’ administration. Merrow states: “The education establishment wants everyone to believe that D.C. is a success story. It is not. To the contrary, it is a story of wide spread failure and untold damage to human potential.”

NAEP eighth grade reading scores improved by one point, 232 to 233. Non low-income student scores climbed 31 points from 250 to 281. Similar small gains were observed for fourth grade low income students. The achievement gap widened from 26 to 62 percentage points.

A National Research Council report in 2015 said that most of the achievement gain in D.C. was most likely due to the influx of white affluent families moving into D.C. and sending their children to public schools.

How do D.C.’s charter schools fare in this report? They include 40% of the city’s schools. D.C. schools are intensely segregated by race and class in both the district and charter run schools. In 2012, over two-thirds of charters were classified as ‘apartheid’ schools (less than 1% white). Voucher schools heightened the segregation.

So what are the recommended solutions? Orfield, one of the authors of the NRC report indicated that magnet schools learned something charters had not. You need recruitment across racial and ethnic lines, free transportation, strongly appealing and distinctive curriculum, admission to all groups of students, integrated faculties etc.

Federal housing policies have exacerbated residential segregation. Neighborhoods that are already diverse or all white support their local schools. Offering choice to everyone else has created a propaganda campaign but no significant improvement in schools. The challenge is to create a sense of opportunity for all students. To do this, housing patterns must become more diverse. Economic opportunity must be real for all racial/ethnic and income groups. Schools must symbolize this opportunity.

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

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