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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The preferential treatment of charter schools in Florida goes from the ridiculous to the sublime

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

The Florida DOE’s announcement that it would apply $2o million toward charter school start-ups drew significant condemnation here. Now comes word where the money is coming from. In a weekend interview with the leader of the Florida Charter School Growth Fund comes word that the money would come from Race to the Top funds. Says former KIPP “learning officer” Darryl Cobb:

Florida’s money will come from Race to the Top and then we’re also going to be bringing an additional $10 million to bear, so that every $1 of private philanthropy will be matched by $2 of public philanthropy for a total of $30 million

Cobb, who incidentally is an alum of the controversial Broad program, tells St. Petersburg Times reporter Jeffrey Solochek why the to Florida:

First, I think it’s very mission aligned with who we are. The state DOE specifically set criteria for high performing charter that are going to go into the neediest areas, the areas that are predominantly low-income and high-minority. That matches with the core work that we do across the country. I also think we saw an opportunity that while the Florida landscape already has many charters operating in it, this is a segment of the market that is very under-served. So the number of high performing schools targeted and focused, I should say the neediest communities as identified by the educational underperformance of their schools is a very open market here in Florida and we wanted to be part of the solution of helping to ensure that all students in Florida have access to a great education.

I wonder who Cobb means by “we.” Is it KIPP? Or the national charter school growth fund? Or does is he talking about the Broad foundation whose grads are noted for their ruthlessness in dealing with any and all things public schools?

Speaking of ruthlessness, last week’s investigative piece in The Nation revealed just how far Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque would go toward imposing charter schools on the state. Although I posted this passage last week, its poignant taking a look at it again:

Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush, spoke to fellow reformers at a retreat in October 2010. Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”

It is these same “under the radar” bills which attracted Cobb and whomever he means by “we” to Florida. Charter operators know they can go over the head of school boards to a DOE staffed with allies after passage of one of Levesque’s “under the radar” bills . Cobb’s characterization of “high-performing charters” is laughable – especially after his old employer KIPP has a failing charter in Jacksonville that the state ed commissioner ran interference for. Nevermind the fact that 15 of the 31 failing schools in the state last year were charter schools. But people like Cobb and Levesque favor legislative fiat over advancement of charter schools based on merit and virtue.

There’s still a key unknown in all this. Is the Florida Education Association – who was part of the RttT application – aware of the DOE’s ability to apply RttT funding to charter school start-ups. And furthermore, can they? Is this the sort of “infrastructure” that Steve Wise was talking about when he told Paula Dockery that funding for SB736 wouldn’t be going toward paying for either merit pay or the new teacher evaluation system? (See this FB video at Grumpy Educators).

At any rate, its quite clear that Florida’s republicans are telling us this: RttT money won’t be going toward funding its own mandates, but will be going into the pockets of charter school cronies.

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