Monday, February 29, 2016

And, of course... Florida

I realize we've been hammering the charters pretty hard lately, but the intention has never been a blanket condemnation. There are a lot of good ideas here and even more good people, but, at present, the whole enterprise has at least two fatal flaws: a naive approach to metric-based policy and a childlike faith in the power of markets to overcome conflicts of interest.

The result has been exactly what any reasonable person would have expected.

John Romano writing for the Tampa Bay Times

Rep. Erik Fresen ['named “legislator of the year” by Florida’s for-profit college lobbying group, the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools & Colleges'], a font of smiling insincerity, wants the state to turn most of its school construction and renovation funds over to companies that run charter schools.

Never mind that traditional schools outnumber charters about 6-to-1. Never mind that from 2009 to 2014, charters got $312 million in capital funds and traditional schools got a pat on the head. Never mind that practically 1 out of every 4 charters eventually closes and that taxpayer money is forever lost.

Nope, let's forget all of that for a minute and focus on Fresen, a Republican from Miami.

The guy the Miami Herald reports earns $150,000 a year consulting for an architecture firm that specializes in — I can't make this up — building charter schools. The guy whose sister and brother-in-law are executives with one of the state's largest charter operators.

Now, who thinks that might be a conflict of interest for a politician in charge of divvying up construction funds between charters and traditional schools?


The schools were to have "special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are identified as academically low achieving.''

That sounds like at-risk kids. Poor kids. Minority kids.

And yet, all these years later, that's not what's happened.

For instance, based on the data included in the Florida Department of Education's school grades released Friday, 68 percent of the students in traditional Hillsborough County schools are considered economically disadvantaged. And yet, in the county's three dozen charter schools, only 30 percent of the students are economically at-risk.

So maybe Hillsborough is an outlier. An aberration.

Except poor kids also are underrepresented at charter schools in Pinellas County. And Pasco. And Hernando.

In South Florida, where charters are everywhere, the numbers are truly disturbing. Let's look at the schools where more than 80 percent of the students come from low-income families. Can we agree those are the situations where charters might do the greatest good?

Well, in Miami-Dade, more than 51 percent of traditional public schools fall into that category, and only 35 percent of charters. How about the reverse situation? Schools where less than 20 percent of the students come from low-income families? That would be 1 percent of the public schools, and 13 percent of the charters.

In other words, the numbers are opposite what they're supposed to be. Charters seem to be catering more to wealthy families and leaving the poor kids behind. And, as a bonus, the state keeps taking money away from those public schools to give to charters.


This is not a knock on charters. Many are truly exceptional, and some are succeeding in situations where public schools failed.

Instead, this is a plea to parents. To taxpayers. To anyone who cares about public schools. Your Legislature has sold what remains of its dark soul to the growing industry of for-profit education. Lawmakers will talk fancy about being fiscal watchdogs, but it's all a ruse to cater to companies that see students as living, breathing profit margins.
Here's more on the story from the Miami Herald.

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