Citizens for Strong Schools Hearing Set

On November 8,2018 the Florida Supreme Court will be asked to decide whether Florida is meeting its “paramount duty” to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.” The constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters in 1998 assigned this responsibility to the state. Has Florida met its obligation to the children of Florida?

Two lower courts have ruled in Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education that the question is not one for the courts to decide, and that it is instead up to the Florida Legislature. The plaintiffs disagree.

“At the heart of this case is really whether the Florida Constitution has any meaning at all in the eyes of our courts,” said Jodi Siegel, the executive director of Southern Legal Counsel, a Gainesville-based, statewide nonprofit law firm representing the parents and advocacy groups that filed original case and have appealed it to the state’s highest court.

“The lower courts have basically said that only two of the three branches of our government have any responsibility for enforcing an amendment that clearly expresses the will of the people when it comes to one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government – educating the state’s children,” Siegel said. “We believe the Florida Supreme Court will recognize that the courts not only have that authority, but in fact that it is their sworn duty to uphold the Florida Constitution – and not just select parts of it, but all of it.”

Southern Legal Counsel filed the case in 2009, and it has been working its way through the courts until now. If successful, the parents and advocacy groups are requesting that the Court remand the case back to the trial court with instructions on how to interpret and apply the education clause. They contend that, when viewed under the proper legal standards, the evidence presented at trial shows clear disparities in the opportunity provided to children to receive a high quality education. For example, the evidence presented showed that more than 40 percent of Florida students are not passing statewide assessments in reading and math.

The Florida League of Women Voters strongly supports the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

Florida Gets an ‘F’ on Support for Public Education

Public education is about the value and necessity of providing equal access to high quality education. As public funds get diverted to private schools and entrepreneurs, the public school system gets more and more fractured. There is less money as cost inefficiencies mount. More communities are fractured by race, income, and academic programs. In areas where privatization is dominant, parents must search for a school to accept their children. If transportation is a problem, as it often is, they may not have good choices because available schools may be segregated racially, economically and/or by achievement levels. They may not even have a way to evaluate the quality of the available options.

By design, no one really knows much about where the money is spent and what is happening in privately operated schools. Parents who question are invited to withdraw their children. Children who do not ‘fit in’ are invited to leave. There are people in leadership positions for whom children can be ploys in policies to implement a political and/or religious agenda. Proponents celebrate their successes without regard for the children they exclude, dismiss or serve poorly. Parents learn this the hard way.

Most private schools are openly religious. Many charters are covertly supporting particular religious orientations e.g. those housed in religious facilities or that espouse a particular set of ‘Christian or other values’.

Many charters and private schools do not support children with special needs or who are learning English as a second language.

The Schott Foundation and the Network for Public Education analyzed data to assess support for public education in each state. Overall, Florida received an ‘F’. You can see state-by-state results here.
The criteria include:
1. Types and extent of school privatization
2. Civil rights protection of students in private school voucher and charter programs
3. Accountability, regulations and oversight
4. Transparency of voucher and charter programs
5. Other charter school accountability issues

Florida’s low grade is due several factors:
1. It has the most school privatization of all states.
2. Students receiving vouchers and tax-credit scholarships are not required to participate in the state testing or teacher certification programs. Private schools are not required to be accredited. Thus, most are small religious schools of unknown quality. Private schools are also exempt from federal civil rights protection. Children can be denied admission or expelled for any reason.

What would improve accountability?
1. Comparable pubic and private school student achievement measures.
2. Transparency in how money is spent for charter and voucher ESE students by individual schools.
3. Comparable attrition and discipline measures for public, charter and private schools.
4. Public accountability of spending by charter management firms.
5. Stronger provisions to avoid conflict of interest between charter board members and management companies.
6. Return school facilities to the public if charters close.

District-Charter Compacts

This is worth more than a glance.  You can see the impact or lack thereof, of a Gates Foundation program to improve collaboration between districts and charters.  The evaluation of this effort gives specific examples based on 23 District charter collaborations  formed across the nation since 2011.  The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) report cited what was and was not accomplished and why.

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Death by a Thousand Cuts

Valerie Strauss, in the Washington Post, shares an article outlining the history of school privatization….and why it matters.

The history, written by Joanne Barkan, is well documented. It centers on the backlash from desegregation, and ties it to the increasing role of the federal government in education. For example, the first federal charter school legislation was signed by President Bill Clinton. Yet nearly twenty-five years later, support for charters and vouchers is waning. The reasons are spelled out in the discussion of the following topics:

*Sowing the seeds of market based reform
*Building a movement from the top down
*Anatomy of vouchers and charter schools
*Charter school performance
*A closer look at vouchers
*Corruption and segregation
*Shifting landscape

Even in a world where facts matter less, it is possible to help people become aware of what they can lose in the ‘world of choice’.

Hiring Felons to Teach Children

Why doesn’t the Florida Department of Education uncover abuses in private schools accepting tax credit private schools? Basically, there is no local oversight of the nearly 2,000 private schools. The Orlando Sentinel reporters uncovered three area private schools who violated regulations preventing hiring convicted felons. These cases should make any parent wary. See the article here.

Too Funny! Charters Sue State Over School Grades

HB 7069 took PECO facility funding away from charters with two school grades below a ‘C’ in a row. Their argument? School grades are not a measure of quality! Districts have made a similar argument regarding the requirement to turn over low performing schools to charters.

An administrative judge upheld the facility funding regulation last year, and on June 5th, the appeal will be heard before a panel of three judges. There are some other concerns as well. Chief among them is the argument that the regulation should not count grades earned before the law was enacted. A lot of public money is at stake, and the DOE is scrambling to amend its regulation.

Here’s the latest story:

Charter school appeal of construction money rules set for June hearing
By Daniel Ducassi
04/23/2018 05:05 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE — A state appellate court on Monday set a June hearing date for an appeal challenging the state’s rules for determining whether charter schools are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in public construction funding.

Lawyers for Aspira Raul Arnaldo Martinez Charter School, Miami Community Charter Middle School and the Florida Association of Independent Charter Schools originally brought an administrative legal challenge to the Florida Department of Education’s changes to the eligibility rules soon after they were adopted in March 2017.
An administrative law judge last year upheld the validity of the rule, leading the charter schools to appeal.
Now the schools will get to make their case the morning of June 5 in front of a panel of three appellate judges: T. Kent Wetherell II, Lori S. Rowe and Thomas D. Winokur.
The crux of the schools’ arguments is that the new rule’s use of school grades to determine eligibility for the first time “changes the statutory definition of ‘satisfactory student achievement’ and bases it solely on the grade of the school.”

They argue that because the “satisfactory student achievement” requirement in the law should be based on individual student performance, rather than the 11 components used to determine school grades — a process they say is governed largely by the Florida Department of Education.
One of the schools received “D” grades for 2016 and 2017, while the other feared it may also earn consecutive “D” grades when it brought the challenge. Lawyers for the charter school litigants argue that the rule, which makes ineligible schools that have received an “F” grade or two consecutive “D” grades, unfairly excludes them from the funding.

But DOE lawyers argue that school grades are an aggregate measure of student achievement and “schools with consistent poor performance are in danger of closing, and it is logical for the state to restrict the use of taxpayer funds to these schools.” They also note that much of the process for how school grades are determined is laid out in state statute.

The interpretation of the rule that schools with consecutive “D” grades are ineligible is itself the subject of another administrative legal challenge. An unrelated central Florida charter school that DOE determined was ineligible for the construction money argues that a plain reading of the rule indicates education officials should be looking only at school grades going forward, and not counting previous-year performance. A hearing in that case is scheduled for next week by video teleconference in Tampa and Tallahassee.
Meanwhile, state education officials are looking to amend those very rule provisions at subject in both cases. The department is holding a workshop on Thursday about their proposed changes.

To view online:

Leon County: Latest Charter Battleground

Some things are just inane. Leon County schools are over enrolled, but the State will not approve a new school. It is all about how space is now counted by the legislature. Should a gym count as a classroom??

What is so disgusting is that the State would allow two new charter schools in the area that the Leon County schools do not want. The reason is clear. Charters syphon off funding and hurt existing schools. Read Roseanne Wood’s op ed here. It is time to stop this. There is not enough money to support private, charter, and public schools. Our constitution says “a unified system of free public schools’. This is anything but unified and for many, not even free.

CRC Home Stretch on Education Amendment Proposals: Beware!

It looks like there will be two constitutional amendments affecting K12 education. Three previous proposals are grouped into one amendment and another proposal stands alone. Both amendments expand charter schools and lead to greater state control of local schools.

  1. One amendment ties P10 civics education to P 71 the expansion of the authorization of charter schools, and P43 limits of terms of school board members. Schools already require civics education in statute. Expanding the authorization of charter schools beyond school districts is a fight that has been going on in the legislature for several years. This is a local control issue that if successful, would allow a state agency or other designee to authorize charters anywhere. Limiting terms for school board members to eight years would allow more turnover, but it could also lower the level of expertise of boards.

  2. A second amendment P93 would stand on its own on the ballot. This amendment allows innovative or high performing districts to turn themselves into charter districts. They would be exempt from the facility and personnel regulations in the K12 school code that other public schools must follow. The consequences for the creation of charter districts for ‘high performing’ school districts are a mixed blessing. Yes, districts would have flexibility, but issues of funding equity, staffing, and quality of facilities all could become more contentious. Of course there is the irony that most high performing districts are ‘high performing’ because they have more schools whose populations are more affluent. Thus, rural and lower income areas would have more regulation and more expensive facilities etc.

Hillsborough Charter Expose

For years, the Hillsborough League has studied the inner workings of charters in their county. Here is an opportunity to hear first hand of their findings. Pat Hall has chaired the education committee for years and is relentless in her research and documentation of how for-profit charters work…for themselves. Listen to the podcast by Teacher Voice.

Newpoint Charter Owner Guilty

An Ohio businessman, Steven Kunkemoeller, and the owner of Florida’s Newpoint charter school chain conspired to get kick backs and were accused of organized fraud in the management of 15 Florida charters. Kunkemoeller was found guilty today and faces up to 60 years in prison. Marcus May, the Newpoint charter owner, will face trial soon. You can read the story here.

This type of criminal activity is not unusual in the charter sector. It is a function, in part, of the privatization movement in which oversight and regulation are viewed as stifling innovation. Clearly, these innovative business practices can lead to jail time. The Florida legislature failed once again this year to pass proposed legislation to curb charter profiteering. The Senate had inserted a measure in SB7055 to control real estate and other purchasing self interest machinations, but the House deleted it. How bad does it have to get before the children’s interest replaces charter management self interest?