Archives for category: Accountability

Billy Townsend was a school board member in Polk County, Florida. He saw up close and personal how charters were sucking the high-scoring students out of public schools and excluding the students with disabilities. He saw up close and personal how the state’s voucher program was serving as a refuge from high-stakes testing and enabling the restoration of racial segregation. Billy believes, as I do, that if the day ever comes when so-called reformers see the harm they are doing to kids and to our democratic institution of public education, they might repent. Will shame move them more than the pursuit of profit and power? Perhaps we are naive to think it might. But hope springs eternal that even the profiteers and entrepreneurs and shady fly-by-night grifters might someday see the light.

Billy has written a powerful series about the Jeb Crow school industry and how its sole purpose is to destroy public education without helping kids. All of the articles are referenced in this post, the last of the series. He has demonstrated how the voucher schools are highly segregated and low-quality. He refers to the choice schools as “failure factories” but now calls them “Jeb Crow” schools to credit former Governor Jeb Bush for creating the Big Lie that school choice saves children. It doesn’t.

Townsend throws out a challenge to reformers who are sincere, if there are any, about equity and helping kids:

Serious “reformers” — those who actually mean it when they use the moral, racialized language of equity in justifying punitive policies that destroy public education capacity — know today that their entire life’s work is bullshit that failed on its own terms. 

They know it. Every single one of them. Some of them will cry about America’s super awesome graduation rate; but they know that’s manipulated data bullshit, too. Mostly, they’ve just gone silent while think tanks beg to keep getting useless test data and grifters use the language and weaponry “reformers” provided them to demolish public education capacity for everyone. 

The question now: if, when, and how will “reformers” ever break their shamed silence about their failures and decide to help us fix them?

Jeb Crow means wealthier, whiter kids get high capital charters; more vulnerable, less white kids get no capital vouchers; and we kill/privatize public schools altogether.

The grifting and cheating by state education officials is breath-taking. They know that school choice is a cynical ploy to shift money from taxpayers to private corporations. They know that the corporation that handles the voucher funding now has assets of nearly $700 million. They know where power lies in Florida. They know how corrupt the Legislature is. But everyone goes along to get along.

If you read one thing today, read Billy Townsend’s reports on Florida’s massive crime against children and the state’s own future.

You may recall that the Oklahoma State Board of Education recently voted 4-3 to allow charter schools to share in local tax revenues, over the opposition of State Commissioner Joy Hofmeister, who said that the decision might violate state law. You may also recall that the virtual charter school in Oklahoma called EPIC has been embroiled in scandal after scandal (just google “Oklahoma EPIC scandal” and you will get lots of references to allegations of theft, embezzlement, ghost students, etc.). For example, in fall 2020, the state auditor reported that EPIC owes the state $8.9 million for inaccurate reporting, improper transfer of funds, and a multitude of other egregious (you might say “epic”) calculations. That $8.9 million was the tip of a very large iceberg. The state auditor said that about 1 of every 4 dollars that the state paid to EPIC (a total of $458 million) was deposited as profit by the school’s owners. The story is breathtaking.

The Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee (PLAC) posted this on its Facebook page:


Oklahoma PLAC
  Facebook post:

TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY??? 🔎 Where art thou?

We’re wondering why State Board of Education member Jennifer Monies did not recuse herself during last week’s vote to settle a lawsuit that directly benefited another entity of which she serves as board member. She is both plaintiff and defendant in this case yet she still cast a vote. 

“On numerous occasions in the board’s public meetings, Monies has mentioned her service on the board of her son’s school, John Rex Charter Elementary in Oklahoma City, which would stand to benefit from the settlement and which is listed as a member of the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association on the organizations’ website.”

And another tragic Farce

EPIC Charter Schools named Charter School of the Year by Choice Matters

This editorial was written by the editorial board of the Washington Post. It expresses my views.

THE FIRST witness the prosecution called in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd was a 911 dispatcher who watched the arrest unfold in real time on a surveillance camera. So long did the restraint go on that she wondered if the camera feed had frozen. “My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong,” she testified, explaining why she took the unusual step of reporting the officers’ use of force.


Her instincts — as the world knows from its own viewing of video footage of the May 25 events at that Minneapolis street corner — proved to be terrifyingly and tragically accurate. Something is clearly wrong when an arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill ends up with a 46-year-old Black man gasping for air, pleading for help — and dying. Floyd’s death triggered nationwide protests and questioning about race, policing and social justice. A jury in Minnesota now faces one specific question: whether to hold Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd under his knee for more than nine minutes — nine minutes and 29 seconds, to be exact — criminally responsible. He is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and he faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.


“You’ll be the judge of the facts, and I’ll be the judge of the law,” Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill told the 12-member, racially diverse jury Monday at the start of a trial that is expected to be one of the most closely watched in years. Court TV is providing live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the proceedings. It is fitting that a public that watched Floyd’s death can now witness whether there is a reckoning.


Jerry W. Blackwell, one of the prosecutors, played the video during his opening arguments to drive home how Mr. Chauvin did not “let up” or “get up.” Floyd said 27 times he couldn’t breathe, and a crowd that formed called repeatedly on police to get up because it was clear Floyd was in distress. “While he’s crying out, Mr. Chauvin never moves,” the prosecutor told the jury. “You can believe your eyes, that it’s homicide, it’s murder.”




Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer argued there is more to the case than the video, contending that Floyd’s death was caused by his underlying heart disease and drug use; he even blamed the crowd for posing a threat and diverting officers’ attention from Floyd. “You will learn,” said Eric J. Nelson, “that Derek Chauvin was doing exactly what he had been trained to do during the course of his 19-year career.”
We hope no jury can accept that a police officer would be trained to be so willing to cause harm and so indifferent to human suffering.

The Ossining, New York, school district has a creative response to the federal mandate to administer tests at a time when children’s lives have been disrupted by the pandemic. The superintendent has asked parents to write a letter asking for their child to be tested, that is, to “opt in” to testing.

Gary Stern of the Lower Hudson news (Lohud) reports:

At a time when many school districts are peeved that they are being forced by Washington to administer standardized tests, the Ossining district is taking the provocative step of only giving the tests to students whose parents request it.

This “opting in” approach may mean that few students will take the state-run tests for grades 3-8, which are scheduled for April, May and June. But that’s fine with Ossining officials, who say the tests will be unacceptably disruptive during the pandemic and will yield little meaningful data.

“We’re in a pandemic, and there is a lot our students are going through right now, and our staff,” Ossining Superintendent Ray Sanchez said. “We’re fulfilling the requirements to administer the assessments, and we’re giving parents a voice in the process.”

Kudos to Superintendent Sanchez for recognizing that children belong to their parents, not the state, and that parents should make the decision about the tests, not politicians.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has yet to come up with a plausible reason for administering the state tests this year. The tests were suspended last year; there is no baseline data. The tests will not measure “learning loss.” If the Department wanted state and national data, it should not have canceled the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which gathers that data and has a 50-year timeline.

The Florida League of Women Voters has long been wary about the state’s rush to privatize public school funding through charters and vouchers. It has previously published reports on the conflicts of interests, the politics, and the money in the charter sector. In this report, it investigates the organization created to hand out money for vouchers, called “Step Up for Students.” I am posting only the introduction. To read the body of the report, please open the attached PDF file.

Step Up for Students

 Preliminary Investigative Report

League of Women Voters Education Task Force

Contact: Dr. Sarah (Sally) Butzin

President, League of Women Voters of Tallahassee

sally.butzin@gmail.com

850-728-1097

March 2021

Introduction

For the past 20 years, a private organization has been growing exponentially using direct and indirect public funds largely out of public view. This organization is the conduit for an unregulated school system without standards being created by the Florida Legislature.

The organization is called Step Up for Students (StepUpForStudents.org), an SFO (Scholarship Funding Organization) that awards and manages tax credit scholarships for the state of Florida, as well as in Alabama.  According to Forbes, Step Up is the 21st largest charity in the United States. To put that in perspective, the American Cancer Society is 18th. In 2019 Step Up and Subsidiaries had $697,363,075 in total assets. 

Step Up began with a mission to award vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools. It has grown to include vouchers, now known as scholarships, for students with special needs, students who have been bullied, students who are homeschooled, and students with reading difficulties. The income threshold has been raised through the years to at least 300% of the poverty level, with no income threshold for homeschool or special needs students.

Step Up receives donations from corporations who receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on corporate and certain sales taxes owed to the state of Florida. Billions of dollars have been diverted to Step Up instead of having been deposited into General Revenue to operate state government, including public schools. These tax diversions have been cleverly labeled as “donations”.

This report is the work of a team of volunteer members of the League of Women Voters of Florida. The League’s mission is to Empower Voters and Defend Democracy. Voters become empowered through information, while democracy requires transparency. An equitable and high-quality public education system is also essential for a vibrant democracy.

We hope to bring the shadowy operations of Step Up for Students into the sunshine through this report. The growing and unaccountable privately-controlled school system, while ostensibly under the Dept. of Education, should concern every Florida taxpayer. We hope that what we have learned will encourage an investigative reporter or organization to uncover more of what is unknown by the public. It’s a matter of fairness and justice. There’s more to the story.

A money management/marketing firm operating as a charity

Step Up for Students was created by venture capitalist John Kirtley in 2002, one year after then Governor Jeb Bush’s administration established the first (FTC) Florida Tax Credit voucher program, now called a “scholarship.” By 2020, Step Up had total net assets of over a half billion dollars. It is headquartered in Jacksonville at 4655 Salisbury Road. There is an affiliate office in Clearwater.

Step Up has approximately 265 employees with an $18 million payroll. The current President is Doug Tuthill, with a salary of $286,847. Eleven key employees have six-figure salaries with a total of $1.2 million in compensation. 

Founder John Kirtley remains the unpaid Chairman of Step Up. He, and his wife, have numerous board affiliations. Kirtley is co-chairman of the Florida Federation for Children, a PAC (Political Action Committee) that donated $1.4M during the 2020 election cycle.

The Board consists of 8 members, many with corporate ties. John Legg is a former state legislator and chairman of the Senate Ed Committee, and Al Lawson is a United States Congressman. Step Up also works for the state of Alabama through its subsidiary ASOF (Alabama Scholarship Opportunity Fund). Four of the Step Up board members are also on the ASOF board.

Step Up is one of two SFO’s authorized to administer five school choice scholarship programs in Florida. Step Up administers 99% of the contributions, while AAA Scholarship Foundation handles the remaining 1%. Step Up takes an administration fee of 2.5-3% of contributions. The cap on corporate contributions in 2020 was $874M, which means a 2.5% fee would be nearly $21M for Step Up.

This leaves plenty of funds for Step Up to promote the tax credit scholarship programs to corporations and car dealers, as well as to market the program to parents. Step Up offers webinars and support systems to recruit parents and assist them in applying for scholarships. Through the years, Step Up has organized large rallies in Tallahassee to bring thousands of students and parents to Tallahassee to lobby legislators to expand the program.

The fox guarding the henhouse

The Florida Department of Education’s Office of School Choice cannot supervise a program of this magnitude.  The task of supervising over 1,800 private schools and tracking individual vouchers given to parents is huge and varied.  Where students enroll must be verified.  Some schools report vouchers for students who are not enrolled. Some vouchers are awarded to students who do not meet the family income requirement for their voucher.  In addition, some vouchers allow parents to purchase supplies and services for students.  These individual purchases must be tracked.  

This is where Step Up has stepped in. The DOE (Department of Education) has outsourced oversight functions to the same private agency that also awards the scholarships. Since its inception, Step Up has awarded over one million scholarships.

What Step Up financials tell us about their size and growth

Income – Form 990 – 2018 & 2019:

$714,828,892 in “contributions and grants” – 2018

$614,153,616 in “contributions and grants” – 2019

Two Year Total: $1,332,982,508

Expenses – Form 990 – 2018 & 2019:

scholarships totaling $624,325,270 – 2018

scholarships totaling $667,545,702 – 2019

Two Year Total: $1,291,870,972

Payroll & Benefits & Outsourcing

2018 Payroll & Benefits: $19,899,245 

2019 Payroll & Benefits: $22,110,485 (Including $1,164,052 for “management & key employees) 

   $1,120,016 of the 2019 total listed as “fundraising expense”, so as of the last public report, they’re paying over $1 million just to fundraising professionals

Two Year Payroll Total: $42,009,730

What Step Up financials DON’T tell us

  • What is the source of the “contributions and grants”? Donor names are not listed. 
  • 2019 Audit Report listed $683,370 in functional expenses for “recruiting and advertising”. This included (according to the 990) a total of $592,698 paid to two employment agencies. Why? This is very unusual in a non-profit financial report. Who are they recruiting? What is their function?
  • More questions about payroll expenses are raised in Finding 2 of the 2019 audit (below).

What Step Up Audit Reports tell us about their program monitoring function

Findings from August 2019 Audit:

  • Finding 1: Step Up did not always properly evaluate the household income of FTC Program scholarship applicants to ensure that scholarships were only awarded to eligible students. A similar finding was noted in our report No. 2019-012. 
  • Finding 2: As similarly noted in our report No. 2019-012, Step Up procedures do not require and ensure that records of attendance and time worked by exempt employees, reviewed and approved by applicable supervisors, be maintained. 
  • Finding 3: Step Up did not notify employees and students of the purpose for collecting social security numbers. In addition, some unnecessary information technology (IT) user access privileges existed that increased the risk that unauthorized disclosure of the sensitive personal student information may occur. 
  • Finding 4: Application processing errors caused a delay in funding for certain students eligible for the Gardiner Scholarship Program. 
  • Finding 5: Step Up procedures did not always identify private schools receiving more than $250,000 in scholarship funds in a fiscal year to verify that those schools contract with an independent certified public accountant for an agreed-upon procedures engagement pursuant to State law. 
  • Finding 6: Step Up expended $280,000 in FTC Program earnings for non-FTC programs.

Other audits have revealed that Step Up has financial irregularities that require further investigation. For example, Step Up earned $1.4M in interest on tax-credit dollars from 2016-18, which could have been used on up to 237 scholarships. Step Up President Tuthill defended using the interest money for non-program expenses by pointing to “start-up costs.” 

What Step Up Audit Reports DON’T tell us

  • With respect to Finding 1: Failure to properly evaluate household income (multi-year finding) – What is the remedy if a student/family has been awarded a scholarship for which they do not qualify?
  • With respect to Finding 2: This finding says that Step UP has 29 exempt employees, including the Senior Director of Development, Development Officers, Director of Marketing, and Managers of Community Outreach, who worked from home in Florida, Georgia, or Pennsylvania. Who are these employees and what work are they doing on behalf of Florida’s students? Why are they living and working out of state? How much are they being paid? 

NOTE: Proposed legislation under SB48 is changing the SFO audit requirement from annually to every three years.

What School Financial Reports Tell Us about Step Up compliance monitoring 

  • In 2019, there were 1,209 schools that received more than $250,000 of scholarship funds. Of the 1,107 who actually submitted the required reports, 28% contained material exceptions that ranged from inadequate segregation of duties to not utilizing an operating budget.
  • There were 78 schools that did not submit reports and 48 that submitted incomplete reports.

What School Financial Reports DON’T tell us

  • Which schools are in compliance and which are not? Is this information available to parents?
  • Who is monitoring the quality and appropriateness of the educational materials and services that are eligible for purchase using scholarship funds?
  • Who is monitoring the quality and academic outcomes for students attending private and religious schools?
  • Who is monitoring compliance with DOE regulations that require to qualify for scholarship money, schools must “comply with the anti-discrimination provisions of 42 U.S.C. s. 2000?” That statute is part of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, and says “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Charitable donations as a means to avoid taxes

Per the Florida Department of Revenue, “The (Florida Tax Credit) program allows taxpayers to make private, voluntary contributions to eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations and receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against the following Florida taxes;”

  • Corporate income tax;
  • Excise tax on liquor, wine, and malt beverages;
  • Gas and oil production tax;
  • Insurance premiums tax; and
  • Sales and use tax due under a direct pay permit

What this means is that “donations” made to Step Up are not coming from the company’s assets, but by diverting taxes owed that would have gone into the state’s general revenue fund to pay for government services, including public schools. Since its inception, over $3 billion has been diverted, primarily to Step Up. In 2019 Step Up received $618 million from 250 donors. To date, 1,799 private schools participate in the tax credit scholarship program, 66% of which have a religious affiliation.

The “donations” appear to come primarily from the following since 2010:

  • Alcohol Distribution Industry ($1.3B)
  • Insurance Industry ($75M)
  • Healthcare Industry ($104.5M)
  • Financial Services Industry ($45.5M)
  • Banking Industry ($14.2M)

Notable donor/tax credit companies include:

  • Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits (largest single donor at $615M thru 2019), 
  • Geico Insurance, 
  • AutoNation Insurance, 
  • Humana Insurance, 
  • Iberiabank
  • Continental National Bank, 
  • United Healthcare, 
  • HCA Healthcare, 
  • HMS Host Restauranteur, 
  • Raymond James Financial, 
  • Waste Management, 
  • Skechers USA, and 
  • Circle K Stores. 

It is interesting to note that the Step Up website has not listed its corporate donors since 2018. Why have they gone dark? Perhaps due to negative publicity when it was revealed that many of the religious schools receiving scholarships had policies discriminating against LBGTQ students, employees, and families.  Some corporations withdrew their tax credit donations, including Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank, and Wyndham Destinations.

An expanded voucher program marches on

Using the tax credit donations, Step Up awards scholarships to qualified families, based upon ever-changing criteria. What started as a program to assist low-income families obtain funds to attend private schools (Florida Tax Credit Scholarship), has morphed into four additional programs for students with special needs (Gardner Scholarship), students who have been bullied (Hope Scholarship), students who attend a low-performing public school (Family Empowerment Scholarship), and students with low reading scores (Reading Scholarship).

The income eligibility threshold continues to rise, with pending legislation in 2021 rising to 300% of poverty level ($78,600 for a family of four), with annual increases going forward. There is no income threshold for students with disabilities or homeschooled students. And once a child qualifies for a scholarship, they keep it through 12th grade regardless of whether the family income grows.

New proposals through Senate Bill 48 will convert the five current scholarship programs into two ESA’s (Educational Savings Accounts) where recipients have full choice of spending on an array of approved goods and services and/or private school tuition. Leftover ESA funds can be banked for future college funds. The proposed ESA’s will be funded from a Trust Fund using general revenue funds as well as tax credit donations, which raises interesting constitutional questions.

During the Senate Education Committee debate during the 2021 Legislative Session, Senator Manny Diaz, Jr., the chief proponent of the new ESA program, assured the Committee that the program had ample guardrails to prevent fraud and abuse. However, what our Task Force has learned about Step Up makes us wonder if these guardrails are made of toothpicks.

Follow the money: Step Up and politics

This is an area that needs deeper delving, as it is difficult to trace the various PAC’s  (Political Action Committee) and entities that make campaign contributions under the radar. One place to start would be with Miami Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. (not to be confused with Manny Diaz who heads the Florida Democratic Party). 

Senator Diaz is the driving force with expanding charter and scholarship programs. He has inherent conflicts with his employment with Academica, a for-profit charter school management company. Senator Diaz also operates a PAC called Better Florida Education PC, which reported $1,152,070 in donations in 2021.Step Up President Doug Tuthil was quoted in 2011 on YouTube saying, “One of the primary reasons we’ve been so successful (is) we spend about $1 million every other cycle in local political races, which in Florida is a lot of money. In House races and Senate races, we’re probably the biggest spender in local races.” Is Step Up still making campaign contributions as a 501-c-3 non-profit organization?

We attempted to connect the dots to find connections between Step Up and campaign contributions to key legislators, as well as from corporations receiving tax exempt benefits. This again proved difficult given the practice of bundling individual contributions into groups with vague names such as Floridians for Good Government.

A driving force behind the ESA expansion is to create a cottage industry of start-ups and business ventures. In a presentation to the Florida Senate Education Committee, Tuthill was enthusiastically promoting opportunities for business to offer goods and services to growing numbers of parents who can choose what to purchase.

Step Up has conveniently created a portal on their website called “My Scholarshop” with direct links to vendors. It would be interesting to discover any links between the vendors and legislators, Step Up board members, or staff? 

Constitutional issues

The Tax Credit Scholarship program is an ingenious way to skirt constitutional issues such as the separation of church and state. By using Step Up, a non-profit entity, as a pass-through, the state is not directly funding the vouchers to religious schools.

In 2017 the Florida Supreme Court dismissed a law suit filed by the Florida Education Association for “lack of taxpayer standing” since the scholarships were funded from donations rather than tax revenue. The question remains whether the expanded ESA program will have the same protections.

Separate and unequal

In their book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, authors Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider ask, “Where does this end?” Some have suggested the ultimate goal is to create a completely parent-driven system where scholarships are available to all. Others have pointed out the cost-savings of privatizing the education system, eliminating the state’s responsibility to monitor the quality of educational programs, certify professional teachers, build safe school buildings, and provide annual assessments of learning progress.

When asked about quality control and learning outcomes, voucher proponents always revert to “parent choice.” It is up to the parents to make those determinations about “what is best for their child.” This assumes that all parents are up to the task.Are we on the road back 200 years ago when schooling was solely a parent’s responsibility? Parents back then cobbled together clusters of one-room schoolhouses and private tutoring. 

Parents with means had access to private schools with qualified teachers, while the Catholic Church created a system of parochial schools.

As the industrial age approached, it was clear that this parent-driven school system was inadequate for a modern society. In 1838, Horace Mann founded and edited The Common School Journal. Mann is considered the father of public education. His six main principles for creating public schools were:

  1. the public should no longer remain ignorant;
  2. that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public;
  3. that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds;
  4. that this education must be non-sectarian;
  5. that this education must be taught using the tenets of a free society; and
  6. that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.

It is ironic that in the post-industrial information age, the Florida Legislature is promoting a system that was abandoned years ago. The Covid Pandemic has laid bare the importance of being highly educated to survive and thrive in a technological age. A high-quality education is more important than ever. This means highly trained teachers and a curriculum based on research and science. 

Reverting back to a cobbled-together system of home schools and religious schools in church basements will leave more children behind, and will lead to re-segregated schools based on race and income. Is this where Florida is headed?

Resources

This is a preliminary list of resources we found during our investigation. Others may find them helpful in uncovering more about the operations and conflicts with Step Up for Students.

John Kirtley: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article235210632.html

John Kirtley: http://search.sunbiz.org/Inquiry/CorporationSearch/SearchResults?InquiryType=OfficerRegisteredAgentName&inquiryDirectionType=PreviousList&searchNameOrder=KIRTLEYJOHNF%20L040000768592&SearchTerm=Kirtley%20John&entityId=L04000076859&listNameOrder=KIRTLEYJOHNF%20L040000768592

Step Up For Students, Creation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Step_Up_For_Students

Step Up For Students, Promotion: https://www.politico.com/states/florida/story/2016/11/new-us-education-secretary-has-ties-to-florida-voucher-fight-107601

Step Up For Students & Donors: https://jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com/search?q=Step+up+for+students+takes+down+their+annual+reports+to+hide+their+donors

Step Up For Students, Audit: https://www.news-journalonline.com/news/20190905/audit-finds-problems-at-floridas-step-up-for-students#:~:text=The%20audit%2C%20issued%20last%20week,students%20before%20it%20was%20fixed

Step Up For Students, Our Leadership Team: https://www.stepupforstudents.org/about-us/our-leadership-team/

Step Up For Student, Equal Opportunity: https://www.stepupforstudents.org/equal-opportunity-education/

Step Up For Students, Anti-gay policies: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/education/os-ne-vouchers-gay-students-updates-20200214-kprtbtsjfjbnhlsfat2asjfvle-story.html

Step Up For Students, Financial Reports: https://32n7ya2og9cc2147lx4e0my6-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019-2020-990-Form.pdf

Manny Diaz: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article235210632.html

SB48, Bill Analysis: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/48/Analyses/2021s00048.aed.PDF

Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, School Requirements: https://revenue.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Non-Public_School_Notice_of_Intent_to_Participate.pdf

Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, Jeb Bush: https://yellowhammernews.com/bush-visits-alabama-raise-awareness-school-choice-low-income-scholarships/

POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS SUMMARY

Step up:  https://www.stepupforstudents.org/office-of-student-learning-2/teaching-learning/

Step up Advocacy: Voices for Choices.  https://www.stepupforstudents.org/step-up-voices-for-choices/

Step up Regional Councils:  https://www.stepupforstudents.org/office-of-student-learning-2/school-support/

Employee Giving:  https://www.stepupforstudents.org/donor-resources/employee-giving/

Kirtley vs AAA 

https://www.politico.com/states/florida/story/2019/04/18/school-choice-advocates-face-off-even-as-vouchers-win-support-972612

KEY LEGISLATOR PACs

https://www.news-journalonline.com/news/20191228/florida-legislatorsrsquo-pacs-amass-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars/1

Sen. Wilton Simpson:  Pasco County, Trilby: Senate President

PACs:  Future Florida and Florida Green PAC, Jobs for Florida, Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee $68,934,933.44

Senate Education Committee Republicans

Sen. Jennifer Bradley: District 5, Marion County; Education.  Husband is Rob Bradley, 

Chair of Senate Appropriations Committee

PAC:  Working for Florida’s Families https://www.opensecrets.org/campaign-expenditures/vendor?cycle=2020&vendor=Working+for+Florida%27s+Families

Sen. Doug Broxson: District 1, Okaloosa County; Pensacola Appropriations Subcommittee on Sen. Education, Appropriations

PAC:  none

Sen. Manny Diaz Jr:  District 36, Hialeah, Miami-Dade; Education, Appropriations, Appropriations Subcommittee on Education

PAC: Better Florida Education: http://www.betterfleducationpc.org/contributions.php

Manny Diaz Jr: https://www.transparencyusa.org/fl/candidate/manny-diaz-jr-can?cycle=2018-election-cycle

Sen. Joe Gruters: District 23, Sarasota; Education, Governmental Oversight and Accountability, Appropriations

PAC:  Republican Party of Florida $605,925,807.52

Sen. Travis Hutson District 7, Volusia County; Palm Coast Appropriations and Appropriations Subcommittee on Education

PAC:  First Coast Business Foundation $762,575

https://www.transparencyusa.org/fl/pac/first-coast-business-foundation-69922-pac/donors

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo: District 28, Lee County;   Appropriations, Appropriations Subcommittee on Education

PAC: Working Together for Florida

https://www.transparencyusa.org/fl/payee/working-together-for-florida-pac

Other School Choice Supporters 

Sen. Kelli Stargel: District 22 Lake; Appropriations Chair

PAC: None

Sen. Aaron Bean: District 4 Duval 

PAC: Florida Conservative Alliance $751,742.60 

https://www.transparencyusa.org/fl/pac/florida-conservative-alliance-60710-pac/donors?page=5

Lizbeth Benacquisto, District 27, Lee County: 

PAC:  Protect Florida Families $666,536.02

https://www.transparencyusa.org/fl/pac/protect-florida-families-fund-74099-pac

POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES 

American Federation for Children: Advocates for School Choice/Alliance for School Choice-Walton Foundation, Betsy DeVos https://www.politicalresearch.org/2012/08/01/rights-school-choice-scheme

Conservatives for Principled Leadership http://conservativesforprincipledleadership.com/

Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville http://conservativesolutionsforjax.com/

FAPSC-PAC https://www.fapsc.org/page/33

Federalist Society Members:  National group of conservative attorneys 

Fl Education Empowerment: Kirtley (closed)

Florida Federation for Children (Kirtley):  https://www.federationforchildren.org/about/

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/editorials/fl-op-edit-florida-voucher-schools-20210202-t7eunnz47vcezlzqys4ex6dfq4-story.html

*Victorious candidates supported by FFC:

https://www.federationforchildren.org/school-choice-supporters-victorious-florida-elections/

Floridian’s United for Our Children’s Future:  FP&L; U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals Corp (aff. with Associated Industries of Florida). https://unitedforflchildren.com/

Contributions Reporting

Florida Elections Commission Campaign Finance Database https://dos.elections.myflorida.com/campaign-finance/contributions/

Center for Responsive Politics runs the Open Secrets https://www.opensecrets.org/

National Institute on Money in State Politics runs Followthemoney https://www.followthemoney.org/

Campaign Finance Database: https://dos.elections.myflorida.com/campaign-finance/contributions/#both

Florida Transparency USA https://www.transparencyusa.org/fl

NSPRA describes major funders of educational reform https://www.nspra.org/our_mission

Download the pdf here:

Over the opposition of Joy Hofmeister, the state superintendent, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted 4-3 to allow charter schools to have a share in property taxes and motor vehicle taxes that previously were reserved for public schools.

A groundbreaking settlement will fundamentally change the way charter schools are funded in Oklahoma, despite vehement opposition from the state’s top education official.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted 4-3 on Thursday in favor of an agreement with the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.

The charter school association called the agreement a “tremendous step” for equality in school funding.

State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the settlement could violate state law and have “seismic” implications by redistributing school funding.

“Today’s board action circumvents the will of the people of Oklahoma and the state legislature by unilaterally determining how public education is to be funded,” Hofmeister said in a statement Thursday evening. “I fear this action knowingly violated Oklahoma statute and the Oklahoma Constitution.”

The original promise of charter schools when they started thirty years ago was that they would cost less than public schools because of their lack of bureaucracy. That pledge has long been forgotten as charters fight to have equal funding–or in some states, like Texas–more funding than public schools.

This decision will mean less money for Oklahoma’s underfunded public schools.

Joy Hofmeister is one of those rare state chiefs in a red state who puts public schools first.

The Economic Policy Institute is one of the very few think tanks in Washington, D.C., that is not funded by Bill Gates or the Waltons. It is openly on the side of working people. It does valuable research. During the pandemic, unionized workers fared slightly better than non-union workers.

This study shows dramatically that as unions decline, income inequality grows.

Figure B in this article shows that as the percent of people in unions declined, the share of income going to the top 10% increased.

Union membership reached a peak (about 33% of all workers) in the late 1940s-early 1950s.

Since then, the spread of anti-union laws (so-called “right to work” laws) has caused a sharp decline in union jobs.

The anti-union movement has been funded over the years by big business and billionaires, of course. They are now fighting the movement for a $15 an hour minimum wage. They live in luxury but don’t understand why working people need a living wage just to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Over the past decade, I have repeatedly defended unions, and extremely stupid people have accused me of being paid by the teachers’ unions. Jeanne Allen of the pro-choice Center for Education Reform once tweeted that my “beautiful home” in Brooklyn Heights must have been paid for by the unions. Yes, I did live in a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, but I paid for it myself, without a penny from any union.

I defend unions because they provide a pathway into the middle class for people who are poor and working class. By joining a union, they are part of an organization that will make sure they have a good salary, health benefits, and a pension. Why is so problematic for rightwing conservatives and the 1%? Billionaire John Arnold is offended by public pensions, and he has spent a few millions trying to persuade the public that pensions are bankrupting the public sector. I think it is more likely that the public sector has been starved by tax breaks for billionaires.

So, yes, I would like to witness the rebirth of unions in my lifetime. They are the very best protection for working people. They build a middle class. Our society needs more unions, a higher minimum wage, and representation for all workers.

Education Trust, which is amply funded by billionaires, says it advocates for equity when it promotes standardized testing. Twenty years of standardized testing shows that this is a useless and fraudulent effort. Education Trust should be advocating for unions if it really wants equity.

Let us hope that billionaires like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Eli Broad, to mention just a few, will invest in union organizing drives. If they truly want to promote equity in American society, that is the best way to advance the cause. Not charter schools. Not vouchers. Not standardized testing. Unions. Unions that assure a decent standard of living and a decent retirement for every member.

Gary Rubinstein revisits the past decade of failed reforms and notes how frequently the “reformers” made promises and then failed to keep them. Michelle Rhee came on the national scene, appearing on the cover of TIME, then disappeared after helping to sink the mayor of D.C. who hired her. Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein claimed that under their leadership, there was a “miracle” in New York City, but the miracle disappeared when they and their public relations team left office. Jeb Bush touted a Florida “miracle,” but Florida remains mired in the depths of mediocrity when assessed by NAEP. Laurene Powell Jobs promised to “reinvent” the high school and handed out $100 millions to the schools she chose; many failed soon after. We await the “miracle.” Even Betsy DeVos claimed to be “rethinking” school, wondering why we needed public schools at all; now she is busy spreading millions to charter and voucher advocates in the red states.

Gary concluded his review of all the rethinking, reinventing, and rebranding by taking a close look at a school hyped by TFA. He looked at the numbers, and lo and behold, no miracle there.

In this “model” school, the kids are faring poorly:

OK, “So what,” you say, “only 1.1% of their 10th graders passed the science test and 2.7% of their 10th graders passed the math test. What matters is ‘growth.” Well in that department they didn’t fare so well either.

He concludes:

Usually it’s a lot harder than this. They often pick a school that has artificially inflated test scores due to attrition. Keep in mind, this is the school Villanueva Beard chose to highlight. One of the lowest performing schools in test scores and growth in the state of Indiana.

Whether they are ‘rethinkers,’ ‘reinventers,’ or ‘reimaginers’, a reformer by any other name still doesn’t know anything about schools.

The burning question is: When will the billionaires who fund “reform” and “reinvention” decide to stop funding failure?

Tom Loveless is an experienced education researcher who taught sixth grade in California. He has long been skeptical of top-down solutions to classroom-level problems. In this post, he explains why Common Core failed.

The theory of standards-based reform is that if everyone has the same curriculum and the same instruction, no one will fall behind. Thirty years ago, I wrongly believed that, and I supported the idea of national standards written by those in the field. But it is perfectly obvious that students in the same school with the same teachers using the same curriculum and having the same instruction do indeed have different outcomes. Having the same standards, curriculum, and instruction does not assure equal outcomes for all students. David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, and Bill Gates, who funded the standards, did not know that.

He writes:

More than a decade after the 2010 release of Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics, no convincing evidence exists that the standards had a significant, positive impact on student achievement. My forthcoming book next month—“Between the State and the Schoolhouse: Understanding the Failure of Common Core”—explores Common Core from the initiative’s promising beginnings to its disappointing outcomes.

While the book is specifically about Common Core, the failure of that bold initiative can only be understood in the context of standards-based reform, of which Common Core is the latest and most famous example. For three decades, standards-based reform has ruled as the policy of choice for education reformers.

The theory of standards-based reform rests on the belief that ambitious standards in academic subjects should be written first, guiding the later development of other key components of education—curriculum, instruction, assessment, and accountability. By promoting a common set of outcomes, standards-based reformers argue, the fragmentation and incoherence plaguing previous reform efforts could be avoided.

The approach is inherently top-down and regulatory, with standards developed by policy elites and content experts at the top of the system. The other components, all of which are bolted to the academic standards, grow in importance downstream and are often under the control of practitioners. The book focuses on curriculum and instruction, the what and the how of learning. They are key to the production of learning in classrooms.

Despite the theory’s intuitive appeal, standards-based reform does not work very well in reality. One key reason is that coordinating key aspects of education at the top of the system hamstrings discretion at the bottom. The illusion of a coherent, well-coordinated system is gained at the expense of teachers’ flexibility in tailoring instruction to serve their students. Classrooms are teeming with variation. An assumption of Common Core advocates is that variation in learning occurs primarily because of schools and classrooms possessing disparate, and all too often, indefensibly low standards—that if schools were brought under a common regime of high expectations, children who are falling behind would catch up or never fall behind in the first place.

Please open the link and read the rest of the article.

Darcie Cimarusti, communications director for the Network for Public Education, reports on the assault on public school funding in Iowa. K12 Inc., the for-profit virtual charter chain, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is noted for high attrition rates, low graduation rates, low test scores, and high profits. Its top executives are each paid millions of dollars.

In multiple states across the country omnibus schools choice bills with sweeping charter and voucher provisions have been introduced. NPE Action has been following these bills here. Just such a bill was introduced in Iowa, SSB 1065 which would modify the state’s existing charter school law, which requires the approval of a local school board, to allow charter applicants to apply directly to the state board for a charter with no local approval required. Lobbying disclosures show that K12 Inc., which recently rebranded as Stride, Inc., has lobbied in favor of the bill

Should the Iowa legislature send this bill to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk, no doubt K12’s lobbying efforts will intensify. Currently K12 operates 51 online charter schools in 20 states. 

Iowa may be next.