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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Florida's education motto: Line the Bush's pockets, close its public schools

From the Reid Report

Anitere Flores is at it again. The Bushite state Senate Judiciary chairwoman from Miami, who’s already on record throwing other women under the bus by seeking to force them to have children (or be subjected to anti-abortion indoctrination by even unwilling doctors), and attacking fellow Hispanics by agreeing to be the Latina face of Florida Republicans’ noxious Arizona-style immigration bill, now has an idea the Bush family will adore: forcing all Florida school children to take online classes.

And what’s not to love? Flores bill, cosponsored by Republican state Rep. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, would:

• Allow full-time, online school for kindergarten through 12th grade;
• Allow home-schooled children to take online classes without previously attending a public school.
• Open the door for private companies to set up virtual schools. That provision would also apply to charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.

And of course, the money provision:

Starting next year, students entering high school would have to take at least one online course to graduate.

Florida already has a state-run virtual school, and Flores and company claim the school supports the idea of private competition, since the private run online schools would have to meet the same standards. Then again, with Florida Republicans slashing through the state payrolls and gutting public employee pensions, what’s the Florida Virtual School spokesman supposed to say?

More from the Herald:

… proponents say the push to grow online education is not fueled by cost-cutting. Instead, their goal is to give students more choices with technology — a longtime goal of former Gov. Jeb Bush, who while in office ushered in aggressive reforms.

Last year, about 21,000 — less than 1 percent — of the state’s 2.6 million public-school students took part in online education. That was an uptick from the previous year, and with enrollment projected to grow, virtual school is one of the only items in the House and Senate education budget proposals with increased funding.

Bush’s education foundation has taken up the mantel for the former governor’s cause in Tallahassee. It took part in a news conference Thursday to promote the legislation, which cleared its first Senate committee earlier this week.

“We’re walking around with BlackBerrys, with cell phones, with iPods, iPads,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, told reporters. “The only place, unfortunately, where that technology has not been fully embraced is in our education system.”

Hm… funny thing that … funny, funny, funny … I mean if you could get, say, 100 percent of 2.6 million students to take online school, and a company, like, say, Ignite! Learning, or former Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett’s K12, to get even 10 percent of that market apiece … mo money, mo money, mo money…!

Let’s go to a flashback, shall we?

(Los Angeles Times, Oct. 22, 2006) A company headed by President Bush’s brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush’s company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.

At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president’s signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite’s portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece.

The law provides federal funds to help school districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance, especially in reading and math.

But Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until next year.

The federal Department of Education does not monitor individual school district expenditures under the No Child program, but sets guidelines that the states are expected to enforce, spokesman Chad Colby said.

Ignite executive Tom Deliganis said that “some districts seem to feel OK” about using No Child money for the Ignite purchases, “and others do not.”

Neil Bush said in an e-mail to The Times that Ignite’s program had demonstrated success in improving the test scores of economically disadvantaged children. He also said political influence had not played a role in Ignite’s rapid growth.

And how well has Ignite! done in Florida? Very. From 2000 to 2003 alone, Neil (who made a name for himself running Silverado Savings and Loan into the ground during the 1980s S&L crisis) raked in $20 million. Some of the money Neil has made since then has come from Florida’s use of Ignite! test prep software to get kids ready for the corporate-lucrative FCAT standardized tests. And both Neil Bush and Bill Bennett’s politically-connected companies have been the subject of federal scrutiny, over whether their products are selling more because of who the founders are, than because of what they can do.

Now to be fair, Ignite! currently focuses on in-class digital/online learning aids and test prep tutorials. But if the door is opened to private companies like Neil’s opening up full charter schools online, the sky’s the limit. And Neil may not even have to change his business model to make a profit.

A bit of background as to why:

(March 1, 2011) - In December, (Jeb) Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat, joined in a national call for digital learning in a report that urged states to open competition for online content that could become as effective and user-friendly as is for shopping. They also urge replacement of textbooks with digital devices that are cheaper for taxpayers and more relevant to today’s students.

Despite Scott’s support, a virtual-learning overhaul faces hurdles, including opposition from textbook companies and the state’s teachers union. Virtual-learning bills sponsored by state Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Erik Fresen, both Republicans, died in last year’s session.
But it is being ruthlessly resurrected right now.

Since his time in office and now that he’s unencumbered, Jeb Bush has steamrolled the push across the country for school vouchers and digital “virtual” learning instead of textbooks in the classroom.

How nice this must be for brother Neil Bush, and for those who want our kids’ teachers out of the picture permanently.

In the meantime, Jeb Bush hired Tom Vander Ark to infiltrate State Houses, as a bludgeon to push virtual learning onto the unwilling populace.

Dan Popkey writes in the Idaho Statesman:

February 24, 2011 -

A man Newsweek once called America’s most influential baby boomer in education comes to the Idaho Statehouse Thursday to support online education and Idaho schools chief Tom Luna’s reform bills.

Tom Vander Ark, who oversaw $3.5 billion in grants as head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, calls himself a “frustrated independent” unattached to a political party.

He now works on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” project and is a partner in Learn Capital, a private equity investor concentrating on education innovation worldwide.

He was invited by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank, lobbying group and news outlet, which paid travel expenses. He spoke with the Statesman Wednesday.

Q: How did the Freedom Foundation convince you to come to Idaho?

A: “I spend most of my time advocating for more and better online learning. I was in Tallahassee (Fla.) doing the same thing yesterday.”

Q: You’ve never met or spoken to Tom Luna and weren’t consulted in the drafting of his plan. What prompted you to support his “Students Come First” bills?

So, first you slash teachers’ pay and turn them into 1 year contract employees, void their pensions and tie their salaries to a standardized test. … Next, you simply make them incidental to the learning process, either by automating their jobs via “digital classrooms” like the ones sold by Ignite! — so basically, any low-paid person can do the job, no tenure required — or by driving education out of the classroom and onto the home computer.

It’s a hell of a plan to privatize education in increments.

If, of course, that’s what you want to do…

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