Betsy DeVos often says that Florida is a national model of choice. You will understand why she says this when you read the report from a government watchdog agency called Integrity Florida. This group, which is not focused on education but on government ethics, reveals in detail what happens when government money is handed out freely to entrepreneurs without any oversight or accountability.

Corruption and malfeasance run rampant.

The biggest money to finance the privatization of Florida’s schools came from Betsy DeVos and the Walton Family and a gaggle of rightwing out-of-state elites.

Betsy and the Waltons and their rightwing allies bought the privatization of Florida’s schools.

Here is the executive summary:

Underfunding, coupled with the continual adoption of tax cuts that make adequate public-school spending harder and harder to attain, prompts a look into the future. How much further growth in the number of charter schools is likely? How will that growth affect traditional schools and the public education system?

The answer to the first question appears to be that growth will continue unabated as long as private charter companies consider public schools a profit-making opportunity and they find receptive audiences in the legislature. If current trends continue, a 2015 national report concluded, “Charter schools will educate 20-40 percent of all U.S. public-school students by 2035.”1 Reaching those percentages in Florida would require doubling to quadrupling charters’ current 10 percent share of all public school students.

Some charter and school choice advocates are clear about their goal. Charters already have “created an entire new sector of public education” and they ultimately may “become the predominant system of schools,” the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has said.2 And the ultimate hope of many, as Milton Friedman wrote (see Page 8), is to bring about a transfer of government to private enterprise, in part by “enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop” in education.

Continued growth in the charter sector will exacerbate a problem that seemingly runs against the Florida Constitution’s decree that the state must provide “a uniform system” of high-quality education. As the number of charters has grown, with different rules than in traditional schools, some question whether a uniform system actually exists today. If Amendment 8 had remained on the November ballot and passed, a state charter authorizer could have approved new charter schools without the consent of the school district. In that case, the school district would not “operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district,” as another provision of the Constitution requires.

As the Miami Herald has said during a charter school investigation,
“Charter schools have become a parallel school system unto themselves, a system controlled largely by for-profit management companies and private landlords – one and the same, in many cases – and rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”

Key Findings

• Charter school enrollment continues to grow in Florida and nationwide, although at a slower rate than in previous years.

• The number of charter schools managed by for-profit companies in Florida continues to grow at a rapid pace and now makes up nearly half of all charter schools in the state.

• Although many charter schools in Florida are high performing, research has found no significant difference in academic performance between charter schools and traditional public schools.

• Numerous studies have found that charter schools strain traditional schools and school districts financially.

• Charter schools were originally proposed as teacher-run schools that would use innovative techniques to be shared with traditional schools. Over time, the concept changed to set up a competitive relationship between charters and traditional schools rather than a cooperative one.

• Charter schools have largely failed to deliver the education innovation that was originally promised and envisioned.

• Some charter advocates have explicitly said their goal is to privatize education by encouraging a for-profit K-12 industry. Today some charter proponents see charter schools, rather than traditional ones, as the “predominant system of schools.”

• Since 1998, at least 373 charter schools have closed their doors in Florida.

• Local school boards have seen reduced ability to manage charter schools in their

• The Florida Supreme Court removed Constitutional Amendment 8 from the November 2018 ballot that would have created a statewide charter school authorizer. However, future attempts by the legislature to establish a statewide charter authorizer may occur and should be opposed. A state charter authorizer would preempt voters’ rights to local control of education through their elected school boards, even though local tax dollars would pay for charter expansion.

• The charter school industry has spent more than $13 million since 1998 to influence state education policy through contributions to political campaigns.

• The charter school industry has spent more than $8 million in legislative lobbying expenditures since 2007 to influence education policy.

• The legislature has modified the original Florida charter school law significantly over the years to encourage creation of new charters, increase the number of students in charter schools and enhance funding of charters, sometimes at the expense of traditional schools.

• Some public officials who decide education policy and their families are profiting personally from ownership and employment with the charter school industry, creating the appearance of a conflict of interest.

• Lax regulation of charter schools has created opportunities for financial mismanagement and criminal corruption.

Policy Options to Consider

• Inasmuch as charter schools can be an inefficient and wasteful option for “school choice,” the legislature should evaluate the appropriate amount of funding the state can afford to offer in educational choices to parents and students.

• Require for-profit companies associated with charter schools to report their expenditures and profits for each school they operate.

• Require charter schools to post on their website their original application and charter contract along with their annual report, audit and school grade.

• Charter school websites should include lease agreements, including terms and conditions and who profits from the lease payments.

• Companies managing charter schools in more than one school district should have annual audits ensuring local tax revenue is being spent locally.

• Add additional criteria for school boards to consider when reviewing and deciding on a charter school application.

• Give local school boards more tools to manage the charter schools in their districts, including greater contractual oversight and the ability to negotiate charter contracts.

• Increase education funding to sufficiently fund all public schools to eliminate competition between traditional schools and charter schools for inadequate public education dollars.

• Prohibit charter schools from using public education funds for advertising to attract new students.

• Limit the amount of public funds that can be used for charter school facility leases to a certain percentage of the school’s operating budget.

• Require charter schools to report annually the number of dropouts, the number of withdrawals and the number of expulsions.

Go to pages 26-30 to see where the money came from to finance this plunder and privatization of Florida’s public schools. You will see familiar names.