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.