Charter School Teacher Unions Strike

Some charter school teachers in Chicago have gone on strike. Part of the allure for management companies to open charter schools is that they are not part of the teacher unions…or are they? In Louisiana, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that charters are not a subdivision of the state. Therefore, they are subject to the National Labor Relations Act. The court declared that even though New Orleans was a charter dominated system, it was the public school system. It was not, however, a politically accountable entity. Basically, the court argued that since the state could not control the charter board membership, the charter was independent. Independently run charters must allow employees to unionize. Teachers can then bargain to be covered in health insurance and retirement programs or increase salaries.

In Chicago, the teachers, both public and charter, are fighting for their profession. Some charter teachers have organized their own union, and/or join the public school system unions. It gets complicated! Nevertheless, in 2016, the union bargained with the mayor to put a moratorium on charter school expansion. Teaching conditions have not improved. Now, 500 charter school teachers who did unionize, have gone out on strike.

The issues for Chicago charter school teachers are real. They work longer days and have a longer school year…about 20% longer. Their class sizes are larger and their salaries are smaller than for public school teachers.

Florida has a strong teacher’s union, but it is hampered by an agreement to ban strikes. Back in 1968, Florida teachers launched the nation’s first statewide teacher strike. The settlement included a ban on future strikes. So, teachers like parents must choose to accept what is offered or leave. Many are. It is one way to raise awareness that when some groups are treated unfairly, everyone suffers. Surely, there must be a better way!

An interesting question comes to mind. Are Florida charter teachers public employees? They are hired by private companies, not school districts. Can they organize and strike?

Reformers Say: Testing Does Not Work!

Speaker after speaker at a conference held by the Center for Reinventing Education (a pro-choice think tank) lamented that current testing and accountability programs are not working. Large scale standardized testing does not improve achievement or close achievement gaps. This is no surprise. Tests take the temperature; they don’t improve teachers, instruction, or the motivation to learn. They do not build up neighborhoods; they more likely tear them apart. Everyone wants the ‘A’ school and tries to escape the bottom rung. Only in Lake Woebegone, however, are all children above average.

One wonders if the current wave of criticism of testing is simply manufactured by companies who have invested heavily in data driven online learning. To make room for the new, business practice destroys the old. Picture students who sit in front of a computer much of the day learning in a ‘new way’. They read an excerpt, answer a few questions, take a quiz, and generate lots and lots of data. Companies build data bases, build evaluation tools, and create pictures of what a student knows every day. Hmmm, I see the image of a gold mine where students don’t profit from all that data mining but companies do. No wonder this movement is sponsored by the Gates Foundation.

Don’t get me wrong! The current test and punish philosophy is destructive. A system rigged against most kids is destined to fail everybody. The focus has to shift to teaching and learning. To make meaningful changes in what and how children learn, we need skilled teachers and a school climate where all children feel valued, not just measured and found wanting. Getting there will take a careful look at the consequences of how test scores are currently used….school grades, teacher evaluations, selection into academic programs, and monetary rewards. These scores emphasize who does not measure up and who will be left out. No one needs to be hit with bad and often fake news everyday.

When we rediscover ways to make teaching an attractive profession and learning a joy, we can test every few years to get a sense of how things are going. Right now we have the cart before the horse.

Florida Twenty Years Later: Social Impact of Privatization

The fourth piece “Twenty Years Later: The SociaI Impact of Privatizaton” covers resegregation and the result of the ‘separate but equal’ philosophy governing school choice. Separate is not equal. You can read it here.

For your convenience, I have included the links to the first three articles below.

The third piece: “Twenty years later: Who Benefits, Not Schools!” covers the impact of choice policies on civil rights, funding, local vs. state control, and accountability. One might ask: Who benefits in a system that generates so much conflict? Politicians and profiteers, but not the public may well be the answer. Read it here.

Here is Part 2 of the series I did for Diane Ravitch on where the lack of common rules governing charter and private schools leads. The simple answer is profiteering, corruption and charter school closures.

The first post “Florida Twenty Years Later: Undermining Public Schools” covers the false assumptions behind the choice movement i.e. choice saves money and spurs innovation. What really has happened the last twenty years to school facilities, teachers, and the learning process that demonstrate Florida schools are nearing a crisis? You can read it here.

Identify Committees Funding Campaigns!

Individuals who fund campaigns are easy to identify. Who supports the committees that fund campaigns is more difficult. Here is a step by step process to unmask committee contributors.

There are different types of political committees:

PCs: Political Action Committee
CCE: Committee of Continuous Existence
PTY: Party Executive Committee
PAP: Affiliated Party Committee
ECO: Electioneering Communication Organizations
ECI: Electioneering Communication Individual
IXO: Independent Expenditure Organization

The rules governing these committees may differ. Sometimes one committee transfers money to another. You have to follow the money trail to know who or which organizations are behind a candidate. Here is one comparison of
PC and CCE rules by state. There is an overview of rules here. Watch for large donations that may exceed required limits or that are spent in ways that are not within the rules. I also do a Google search on the names of the organizations.

We have already had a complaint filed in our local state Senate race. If something does not look right, contact your Supervisor of Elections.

Public Schools Matter Because…..

We have been asking our local leaders why public schools matter to them. We post them on the League’s and the Alachua County PTA Council websites. Here are a few of them. You can see more on the League of Women Voters Alachua/Gainesville website.

Jodi Siegel will be leading the case for Citizens for Strong Schools on November 8th at the Florida Supreme Court hearing.

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Chris Doering is one of our ‘famous Gators’ who likes living in Gainesville.

Reverend Karl Andersen is president of the Alachua County Christian Pastors Association.

Integrity Florida Nails the For-Profit Charter Industry

A newly released report by Integrity Florida underscores the Florida League of Women Voters concerns about charter school policy and its negative impact on public schools. Remember that charters are funded by public tax dollars but run by private companies. The report focuses on the abuse and negative impact of for-profit charters in Florida.

It’s all here.

KEY EXCERPTS

  1. Page 17-18. For-profit charters like Academica, CSUSA, Imagine and S.M.A.R.T. perform less well than similar students in traditional public schools.
  2. Page 19: For-profit charters hurt public schools…substantial share of public expenditure…extracted for personal or business financial gain.
  3. Page 21: Lease and management fees are largest income source of for-profit charters.
  4. Page 22: 373 charters have closed.
  5. Page 24: Corruption continues even after 2016 legislative reforms.
  6. Page 25: Charters cherry pick students to reduce costs and services for struggling students.
  7. Page 26: Charters use money and influence to affect policy outcomes. $2,651,639 was spent on committee and campaign contributions in 2016 alone. John Kirtley, who heads many of these committees also is chair of Step Up for Students which distributes a billion dollars in corporate tax credit scholarships to private schools. All Children Matters, run by Betsy DeVos, gave over $4 million to Florida political committees between 2004 and 2010. The Walton family gave over $7 million between 2008 and 2016 to Florida’s All Children Matter. Large contributions by the Waltons, John Kirtley, CSUSA, Academica, Gary Chartrand, and others were also made to the Florida Federation for Children. For profit charters have spent over $8 million in lobbying in Tallahassee.
  8. Page 35: Conflict of interest claims in the Florida legislature have been made against current and former legislators including Richard Corcoran, Manny Diaz, Anitere Flores, Michael Bileca, Eric Fresen, John Legg, Seth McKeel, Kelli Stargel, Ralph Arza, and Will Weatherford.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

There are a number of management practices recommended including the publication of charter contracts, prohibition of advertising for students, and increasing local school district oversight authority. Other specific recommendations include:

  1. Limit charter expansion.
  2. Report for-profit charter expenditures and profits by school.
  3. Fund public schools sufficiently to remove competition.
  4. Limit the amount of public funds for leases.
  5. Report number of charter student drop outs, withdrawals, and expulsions.

California has gone a step further. Last week the governor signed a bill to prohibit further expansion of for-profit charters.

Will Money Decide Jacksonville School Board Races?

All three Jacksonville school board races are in runoffs on the November ballot. The Jacksonville Times Union followed the money. Three ‘reformers’ have raised buckets of money compared to the other candidates. The largest fund raiser was lawyer David Chauncey who raised over $75,000. His wife is a KIPP recruiter. The head of Teach for America, Darryl Willie, is a candidate. Duval County cut the TFA program due to its expense and high teacher turnover rate. Wait!! Is there a potential conflict of interest here? Nick Howland, a prominent businessman, also raised over $55,000 Read the article.

Money doesn’t decide everything. As one candidate said, “He (my opponent) may outspend me, but he won’t outwork me.”

Amendment 8 Behind the Scenes: Political ideology, religion, dark money, billionaires, and of course, the money trail

Florida’s 652 charters run the gamut from small ‘mom and pop’ charters to large chains organized by for-profit management companies. Some serve children and districts well. Many others tell different stories. They involve not only political ideology but also religion, dark money networks, billionaires, and of course, self-interest.

The Erika Donalds version of the charter story starts simply. A small group of members seceded from the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) in 2015 to form the Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM). Erika Donalds, a member of the Collier County school board and wife of Florida Representative Byron Donalds, fronts this coalition, but the political network behind it is extensive. It goes all the way to our nation’s capital.
About 14 of the 50 alternative school board association members have been publicly identified, including:

• Rebecca Negron, who has just been defeated for a seat on the Martin County school board even though her supporters raised over $250,000 to unsuccessfully attack her opponent. She is the wife of Senate President Joe Negron. Senator Negron wrote the initial legislation for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program to give corporate taxes to private schools.
Some FCSBM members also have strong dark money ties to national conservative political advocacy groups.
• Erika Donalds openly displays the Americans for Prosperity logo on her Collier 912 Freedom Council website. This is a tea party group supported by the Koch brothers and others.
• In the March 29, 2018 article in the Tampa Bay Times, Speaker of the Florida House Richard Corcoran’s wife Ann, who operates her own charter school, is identified.
• Shawn Frost, who is Chair of the Indian River school board, is part of this coalition. He announced in the Indian River Guardian that he expects to be appointed to the Florida State Board of Education. Frost reported campaign contributions from Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Education. In 2014, Frost received $20,000 in campaign contributions from the American Federation of Children run by Betsy DeVos. Frost lives in Vero Beach, but maintains a room in his father’s house in Indian River to meet the residence requirements for being on the school board. He is also the head of MVP Strategy and Policy which specializes in consulting for school board races.
• A Duval School Board member Scott Shine has reportedly joined the FCSBM. He withdrew from his 2018 reelection campaign due to ‘personal attacks’.
• Sarasota school board members Erik Robinson, a former Republican Party Chairman and Bridgit Ziegler are listed members. Ziegler’s campaign reported $45,000 in donations from the out of state Phoenix Media LLC. According to the Herald Tribune, the money was funneled through a PAC run by fellow board member Erik Robinson, who is often called ‘The Prince of Dark Money’.

Some FCSBM members are collaborating to build a Florida chain of Classical Academy Charters. This isn’t just any group of charter schools. They are sponsored by the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative. The College, located in Michigan, has a long religious/conservative/libertarian agenda. The DeVos immediate family and close business associates have several Hillsdale graduates. The Barney (SmithBarney) and Stanton Foundations fund the initiative. There are 17 of these charters nationwide. In Florida, there are four: Mason in Naples, Pineapple Cove in Palm Bay, St. Johns in Fleming Island, and the newly formed Pineapple Cove in West Melbourne. Donalds and her husband have been active with the Mason Classical Academy in Collier County. Donalds is currently seeking to add a Classical Academy in Martin County where Rebecca Negron was running for school board.
Erika Donalds has more than running a charter school on her mind. She was appointed by the governor to the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) which is convened every twenty years to consider proposals to amend the constitution. Donalds is a strategist to divide the Florida public schools into two separate systems, one for ‘independent schools’ and one for public schools established by locally elected school boards. Essentially, it would allow one system for charters and private schools receiving tax credit scholarships and one for traditional public schools.

This year the CRC was plagued with ‘log rolling’. It is a technique to bundle dissimilar proposals into one law. There is a spate of these ‘logs’ projected to be on the November ballot. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against them, and the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the League of Women Voters was correct in its opposition to at least one. This proposed Amendment 8 to the Florida constitution must be withdrawn from the November ballot. How this amendment came to be is a story in itself.

Amendment 8 combines three separate proposals: school board term limits, civics literacy and a clause stating that school boards are only responsible for schools they create. This third proposal is the heart of the amendment. The title for the amendment, however, is: “School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools”. Voters might be in favor of one part of the combined proposals but opposed to another. It was a ‘take it or leave it’ strategy. The wording, even the title was intended to confuse voters. Term limits and civics education may seem innocuous, but they are not.

Erika Donalds is also the Florida sponsor for the US Term Limits organization. This group has a well-documented conservative political agenda that targets school boards to create more opportunities to influence policy. The Koch brothers founded the US Term Limits group. The civics course requirement proposed by CRC member Gaetz, the former President of the Florida Senate, made no sense. Civics was already required by the Florida Department of Education. Former Governor Bob Graham, long a champion of civics education, stated that not only is Amendment 8 a hodge podge, it is not even good for civics education. The CATO Institute has a major focus on civics education and provides free civics material to k12 schools. Its message is clear. According to the Huffington Post, the CATO group states: “The minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Government assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty”.

The third component of Amendment 8 was to remove local school board control over the authorization of new charter schools. This too represented the national move to privatize our schools by creating charters and funding vouchers to private schools. In the proposed Amendment 8, however, the schools were called ‘independent’, not charter schools. Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart stated that removing local school board control over the establishment of charter schools goes too far. CRC member Patricia Levesque, CEO of Jeb Bush’s education foundation however, supported the amendment as did Marva Johnson, the President of the State Board of Education.

Erika Donalds formed a Political Action Committee called ‘8 is Great’ to sway voters to support Amendment 8. According to the Vero Communique, Howard Rich, a wealthy New York real estate investor, invested $100,000 in the ‘8 is Great’ PAC. Rich serves on the Board of the CATO institute which was founded by the Koch brothers. David Koch ran for Vice President of the U.S. in 1980 on a platform opposing social security, the FBI, the CIA and pubic schools. The billionaire Koch brothers have a long and intensive interest in promoting school choice through their Americans for Prosperity organization. They are concentrating on Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Their presence takes many forms. Watch for everything from donations to school board races, charter and voucher expansion efforts and state election campaigns. John Kirtley, the founder of Step Up for Children was a major donor. Step Up is the agency that administers a billion dollars for the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships for private schools. Indian River School Board member Shawn Frost and Duval School Board member Scott Shine have joined the PAC according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Recognizing that term limits and civics education are popular among many voters, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Wells submitted a brief to the Florida League of Women Voters in which he stated: “This change from local county school board control…is hidden by packaging the change with what are thought to be attractive proposals for term limits and civics education.” These schools were planned to be charter schools but the word ‘independent’ was substituted for the word ‘charter’.

There is a watchdog coalition of about 20 public interest groups, headed by the League, to follow and evaluate CRC proposed amendments. Amendment 8 was identified early by the coalition as part of a package of amendments intended to seize local control from city and county governments. The League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center joined forces to file a lawsuit against Amendment 8 asking that Amendment 8 be removed from the November ballot. The suit claimed that the amendment was deliberately vague and intended to confuse the public. The circuit court in Tallahassee agreed. The State filed an appeal.

The Appellate Court immediately referred the case to the Florida Supreme Court saying, “The case involves a question of great public importance and requires immediate resolution by the Supreme Court”. The vagueness of the amendment language and its misleading title: “School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools” was the basis for the justices’ 4 to 3 ruling. The decision puts a roadblock in the effort to create an alternative charter school system. Some legislators will no doubt continue to push proposals to remove any local school board control of charter schools. In reality, local public schools have very limited responsibility to oversee charters, but they and the local press can shine a spotlight on what is at stake.

After sixteen years of choice, it is clear that choice divides communities, segregates children, and dissipates funding without making any appreciable improvement in student achievement. The Supreme Court has another case before it now ‘Citizens for Strong Schools’ that contends that Florida’s choice policy has failed to support the quality education for all children that the Florida constitution requires. The hearing is set. The future of our public school system will depend on the ruling from the bench.

Florida Supreme Court Tosses Amendment 8

The League of Women Voters case against Amendment 8 wins in the Florida Supreme Court. It will be removed from the November 6th ballot. The vagueness of the amendment language and its misleading title: “School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools” was the basis for the justices’ 3 to 4 ruling. This is significant in many ways.

The decision puts a roadblock in the effort to create an alternative charter school system. This is a basic goal of the school privatization effort. No doubt some legislators will continue to push proposals to remove any local school board control of charter schools. In reality, local public schools have little ability now to oversee these charters, but they must authorize new charters. Removing this power to authorize charters is seen as limiting the expansion of charters.

The amendment included three unrelated proposals. In addition to the proposed removal of local school board authority to authorize charter schools were two additional proposals. The first one was to impose term limits on school board members. The second proposal was to require civics in K12 curriculum. Civics is already required in the Florida curriculum; it just was not in the constitution. All three proposals are now removed from the ballot.

This is just another step in the long journey to reaffirm the importance of our public school system.

Who Is Behind School Board Candidate Funding?

Here is a primer on how to follow the money. AccountBaloney tracked the money behind Rebeca Negron’s failed campaign for the Martin County School Board. Rebeca Negron is part of the Erika Donald’s group that formed its own school board association. Remember Donalds is behind Amendment 8 that would set up a separate state association for charter schools. She is also seeking approval for a charter school in Martin County, Florida that is affiliated with a Christian college in Michigan.

This post shows you exactly how to track campaign funding. Officially Negron raised less money than her opponent. If you look at the Political Action Committee (PAC) funding behind her, however, approximately $250,000 was spent on attack ads against her opponent. The PACs include one run by John Kirtley, the founder of Step Up for Children. Step Up is the agency that administers the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships for private schools. This fund has grown to nearly one billion dollars that corporations donate instead of paying their state taxes.

With so much dark money circulating these days, understanding how to track where the money comes from is critical. Check out the process here. It takes some digging, but it is worth the effort.