Will Florida’s Education Leadership Be A ‘One Trick Pony’?

Pam Stewart has resigned as of the date Governor DeSantis is inaugurated. Rumors abound that DeSantis has fingered former House Speaker and school privatization advocate Richard Corcoran for the job. Do you hire someone to run Florida’s public schools who wants to end public schools? Corcoran’s bio tells a lot about him. He graduated from St. Leo and earned his law degree from Regents University (RU). RU was founded by Pat Robertson as the Christian Broadcasting Network University whose goal is to foster Christian leaders. While Corcoran was a bankruptcy attorney, he soon became career politician. He first ran for office in 2008. He has now term limited out of the House and is job hunting.

The law states that the State Board of Education (SBE) appoints the State Superintendent, not the Governor The SBE typically does national searches. Florida needs qualified education leaders who have training and experience. Who we have so far is Rep. Jennifer Sullivan as House Education Chair.  Sullivan wrote the curriculum for TeenPact on the proper role of government.  TeenPact is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.  She was home schooled and a college drop out from a private Christian college. She says her ignorance could be an asset.

Senate Education Committee Chair, Manny Diaz, graduated from St. Thomas and earned a masters degree from Nova which may account for his support for online education. He does have experience in public schools. He also has joined the for-profit Academica charter management firm as Chief Operating Officer of Doral College, an online non accreditated school created to offer dual enrollment to high school students taught by their teachers. The credit does not transfer to any other college, but it does provide a six figure salary to Diaz.

Now are Floridians to be offered Richard Corcoran, career politician and school privatization advocate to implement legislative policy? Granted the Governomr appoints members to the State Board of Education, but are they simply to rubber stamp the Governor’s agenda? Is there any room in the policy leadership for the interests of the 80% of children who attend Florida’s traditional public schools? Will anyone have an interest in curbing the abuses of the unregulated charter and private tax credit scholarship schools? See the Tampa Bay Times’ take on the issue.

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.

Florida Twenty Years Later: Profits, Corruption, Closure

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.

Want to hear Diane Ravitch and Me on Louisville Radio?

Prior to the Louisville, Kentucky Save Our Schools forum on Thursday, Diane and I were interviewed by the local radio. Diane is on the first seven minutes. I follow her. We cover privatization of schools and testing. We also covered social issues such as racial and economic segregation, charter vs. public school achievement, tax credit scholarships, teacher turnover Then, we cover for-profit charter profiteering. We close with the funding drain from public schools and describe the consequences for public school facilities and programs. We even mentioned the PACT campaign against for-profit charters. We closed with some signs of hope.

If you would like to listen, click here. The link is for October 11th and appears at the bottom of the screen.

Civics vs. Politics: Amendment 8 won’t go away

Amendment 8 is off the ballot. Using civics education to promote teaching creationism or to justify any other aspect of the ultra conservative ideology is still in play. The Tampa Tribune highlights civics education as a political issue in the Florida campaign for governor. It is not a surprise. Civics education was part of Amendment 8. It was not just a cover for the proposal to create a separate educational system for charter schools. It was part of a larger strategy to build support for privatizing our public schools.

Below find earlier posts on the civics issue in Florida. You can also get a preview of what to expect in the next legislative session by watching the video of the views of the two candidates for Florida’s governor.

https://lwveducation.com/politics-in-science-and-civics-curriculum/ What would be taught in a ‘new’ civics curriculum?

https://lwveducation.com/governor-graham-on-crc-education-amendment/ Civics education is a political ploy.

https://lwveducation.com/whats-going-on-with-civics-education/ College level civics test stalemate over how to define what will be covered in a new test.

Would you like to see and hear how the two Florida candidates for governor differ on education policy? Watch the video here.

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.

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.

What are Parents’ Real Choices with Schools?

Do Floridians want one school system that is equitable or several, each with its own rules? In today’s Gainesville Sun, the League asks three critical questions to help parents decide which choice to make for their schools: Who pays?, Who is in control?, and What does it matter? In an expanded system of choice, local voters are asked to pay more than the State to compensate for less funding and cost inefficiency due to expanded choices. Go to a charter and pay more in hidden fees and transportation. Go private and select a cheap school or pay the difference in tuition. Go public and worry the funding may not fix the air conditioning.

The State and private education management companies take control away from locally elected school boards. Parents lose their voices in how choice schools are owned and managed. “Don’t like it, then leave” is the response to complaints.

All of this matters. Schools are becoming more segregated by income and student ability while our nation is becoming more diverse. Student achievement stays flat in our choice system. The reason is clear; students learn better when they learn together. Isolate poor children, and they feel they have no stake in the system. Isolate high income children, they don’t learn the real world skills needed to be successful. The kids in the middle disappear; no one is thinking about them.

Students who learn only in like minded groups will be ill prepared for the diverse world in which they will work. Learning to live together starts in schools. The real choice is whether we value the diverse world in which we live or try to escape it by creating mini school clusters of like minded people. You can read the article here. It comes out under our local president’s name.

New House Give Away Program

Everything up to now in the Florida House has been a distraction. The real battle is money–where does it come from and where does it go. HB7087 creates a Sales Tax Credit Scholarship Program for private schools. Sales taxes are the real source of state money. The House wants to spend it to privatize our public schools. This is supposed to be unconstitutional, but tax credits are a work a round.

Of course, Florida already uses corporate tax credit rebates to fund scholarships to private schools. Corporations pay a flat 5.5% income tax to the State. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program is estimated to cost about a billion dollars this coming year. It comes from that pot of money. Now, the House wants to add a sales tax credit program on top.

There is another major demand on school funding due to the Douglas High School shooting. The legislative response was estimated to cost about $400 million for school safety and mental health measures being proposed. This is funding not included in current budget estimates. It comes on top of reduced revenue estimates from corporate taxes of $167 million dollars.

The Governor’s long term strategy has been to eliminate the corporate tax on income. The legislature has resisted. Is shifting private school funding to sales taxes a ploy to win the Governor’s approval? It is all speculation at this point.

Where will the money come from and where will it go? It will be decided by March 9th when the session is scheduled to close.

Florida’s constitution prohibits state funding to private schools. These tax credit programs are work a rounds. The Constitutional Revision Commission has filed proposals to amend the constitution to allow direct voucher payments so the hypocrisy of tax credits is eliminated. The voters will have their say on changes to the constitution, but if they allow more tax credits, private schools will get their billion dollars or more.

The legislative train is going down hill. Will it gather speed and crush our schools? Who will stop the train?

Sales Taxes for Private Schools Proposed

Another $154 million, funded by sales taxes, would go to private school with this bill. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program already sends $873 million in corporate tax credits to schools that simply churn students in and out of public schools.

A few facts to memorize:

  1. 37% of FTC students are gone in one year and 61% in two years.
  2. Students who leave FTC schools are those who struggle the most.
  3. FTC schools are becoming more racially and economically segregated.

The House representative sponsoring the bill is Paul Renner from Palm Coast.