Florida State School Board Overturns Leon County’s Vote on Classical Academy

The expansion of Classical Academies in Florida is part of the push by Senator Negron, Representative Corcoran and the pro Amendment 8 coalition. These are the charters sponsored by Hillsdale College, the conservative Christian college backed by the DeVos family. They do not call their curriculum religious. They call it the development of ‘moral character and civic virtue’. This is the same group behind the Classical Academies with which Erika Donalds is associated.

It is no surprise that Leon County’s rejection of this new charter school was overturned. At times school districts have had to resort to the courts when the State Board refused to support local school district decisions. In 2017, the Court of Appeals rejected the SBE decision to overturn the Indian River school board’s decision to block two for-profit charters that had shaky a financial management plan.

The Governor appoints State Board of Education members. There is no mechanism to balance its membership. School policy simply becomes political.

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.”

California Bans For-Profit Charter Schools

Governor Brown signed legislation banning for-profit charters. A few states, e.g. New York, banned for-profits long ago. The impetus for the legislation was the manipulation of student enrollment by K12 online management company. The suit was settled for a $168.5 million claim.

California has relatively few for-profit charters compared to Florida. Over forty percent of Florida charters are run by for-profit management companies like Academica and CSUSA and Newpoint. Florida law requires charters to be non-profit, but the law is circumvented. The management companies create a separate limited liability company (llc) with its own governing board which they appoint. This llc contracts with local school boards to open a charter. Then, the llc company subcontracts almost 100% of its public funding from the state to the for-profit management firm. These management companies are protected from public scrutiny.

Banning for-profit charter management does not stop all financial abuse at the expense of the public. It does, however, help to limit the excessive corruption and exploitation that plagues the charter industry.

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.

Supreme Court Hearing on Amendment 8

It is anticipated that the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments about Amendment 8 today at 2p.m. This is the bucket education amendment that combines school board term limits, civics education and an independent authority to run public schools not created by public school boards….i.e. charters. The League filed suit claiming the amendment combined unrelated proposals and intended to confuse voters. The circuit court ruled that the Amendment 8 be removed from the ballot. The State appealed, and the case was referred to the Florida Supreme Court.

The Florida Channel broadcasts these hearings. Here is the link to the schedule.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Amendment 8 Case

Amendment 8 was ruled off the ballot on Monday but the State appealed the decision. 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”. Briefs are to be filed next week. Read the background here. This is the Florida League of Women Voters lawsuit.

Did You Watch the News Hour Tonight?

PBS interviewed some young people in Chicago about the high rate of shootings this past weekend. When asked why the high rate of violence, a black professor from Northeastern University and a young woman who works in the neighborhood replied. The area was turned into charter schools. Students were expected to leave the neighborhood to find schools across the city. They rebelled. As a result, high school students dropped out of school. They were unemployed and turned to gangs. This is the deteriorating neighborhood consequence of charter school expansion that we have heard many times before. Englewood neighborhood was down to only one public school. It’s the first time I have heard it unrehearsed directly from someone who lives it. You can watch it here Check the tape at 38 minutes into the broadcast.

Amendment 8 Funding Revealed

Want to know where the money comes from for the sponsors of Amendment 8? Charter school related companies provide most of it. Red Apple is the real estate company associated with CSUSA charter management company. They gave $10,000. GreenAccess gave $15,000. Florida Overseas Investment company from Sarasota donated another $15,000. This group arranges EB-5 visas which have been associated with the Gulen Schools that bring in Turks to teach in their charters.

The money goes to the 8isGreat political action committee associated with Erika Donalds. Donalds is the Constitutional Revision Commission member from Collier County who organized the proposals to limit school board terms, require civics which is already taught, and remove charters from local school board oversight.

Remember: Amendment 8: Don’t Take the Bait!