Jeff Bryant has written an excellent in-depth investigative report on Jeb Bush’s boasts about the “Florida miracle.”
The alleged miracle is pure hogwash. The biggest beneficiaries are the profiteers and entrepreneurs who have opened 600 charter schools across the state.
As Jeff writes, Jeb got into the charter business to polish up his image after losing the 1994 race for governor. A defining moment occurred when asked in a debate what he would do for blacks, if he were elected. He answered, “Probably nothing.” When he learned about charter schools, he found the perfect vehicle to burnish his credentials in education and civil rights.
He worked hard to pass charter legislation, then opened the state’s first charter school in impoverished Liberty City in 1996. He still boasts about the school but forgets to add that it closed in 2008.
Bryant interviewed Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, who represents the section of Miami that includes Liberty City.
Bullard denounced Bush’s A-F grading law “that perpetually traps schools serving the most struggling students with an “F” label, and opening up communities to unproven charter schools that compete with neighborhood schools for funding….
“According to Bullard, charter school expansion did more harm than good in Liberty City. As charter schools chipped away student population from the neighborhood schools, the local elementary school struggled to keep its enrollment up, and the middle school eventually closed as lower student populations drained the schools’ resources.
“In Bullard’s view, charter schools also help create an unhealthy revolving door, where kids cycle from public schools to charters, and then back into the public schools when charters close down. As schools open and close, the better-prepared students tend to find spots in other new charters, while the lowest performing kids get kicked back into struggling, underfunded public schools.”
Today, major charter chains dominate the Florida landscape, and most operate for profit.
“One person who has paid close attention to the spread of charter schools in Florida is Sue Legg. As a public school teacher, college professor and an administrator of state school assessment contracts at the University of Florida for over 30 years, Legg has had a ringside seat to the Florida charter school circus. In a series of reports produced for the Florida chapter of the League of Women Voters, Legg revealed the many ways charter schools in Florida spread political corruption and financial opportunism while doing little to improve the academic performance of their students.
“Her year-long 2014 study, conducted in 28 Florida counties, found a 20 percent closure rate for charters due to financial problems or poor academic performance — a closure rate that has now increased to over 40 percent. The charter schools studied generally did not perform better than public schools, and tended to be more racially segregated. A significant number of these charters operated for-profit and operated in church related facilities.
“In a phone conversation with Legg, she described how charter school expansions are being driven by a state legislature with numerous connections to the charter school industry. “States get around local control by using a statewide contract for charters,” she explained. And whenever a local board rejects a new charter school or threatens a charter school with closure, the school can appeal to the state. “The appeals process overturns about half of district denials of charter operation,” Legg contends.
“The conflicts of interest among charter schools and Florida state legislators was raised to national prominence by an article in Esquire written by Charlie Pierce. Pierce quoted from a 2013 Florida newspaper article:
“A growing number of lawmakers have personal ties to charter schools. Sen. John Legg [no relation to Sue Legg], who chairs the Senate Education Committee, is co-founder and business administrator of Dayspring Academy in Port Richey. Anne Corcoran, wife of future House Speaker Richard Corcoran, plans to open a classics-themed charter school in Pasco County. House Budget Chairman Seth McKeel is on the board of the McKeel Academy Schools in Polk County. In addition, the brother-in-law of House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen runs the state’s largest charter management firm, Academica Corp. And Sen. Anitere Flores, also of Miami, is the president of an Academica-managed charter college in Doral.”
Florida mainstream media have paid attention to the financial scandals and corruption in the charter sector. The Miami Herald’s Kathleen McGrory wrote an excellent series called “Cashing in on Kids.”
The Sun Sentinel has exposed scandal after scandal.
“In a more recent series of investigative articles, from 2014, the Sun Sentinel found, “Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down … virtually anyone can open or run a charter school and spend public education money with near impunity.”
“Examples cited in the series include a man who received $450,000 in tax dollars to open two new charter schools just months after his first one collapsed. The schools closed in seven weeks. Another example: A man with “a history of foreclosures, court-ordered payments, and bankruptcy received $100,000 to start a charter school.” It closed in two months.”
The charter industry in Florida is a textbook example of the squandering of taxpayer dollars to undermine public schools and satisfy private greed. It’s not about kids.
It is about privatization and profit. Don’t be hoaxed.