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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why the rush to replace Florida's public schools with private profit centers?

From the Palm Beach Post, By Jac Versteeg
After making a big deal of lending his ears to a “listening tour” on education Gov. Rick Scott is giving lip service to seeking more money next year for Florida’s public schools. Doing so will be even more important — and more expensive. As The Post’s John Kennedy reported, public school enrollment is up nearly 30,000 and is projected to rise more than 20,000 next year.
The governor had hedged that he would try to keep schools even with this year’s spending, which despite the $1 billion he touts as “adding” still hasn’t fully replaced the money he cut his first year in office. How much more will he seek for the 2013-2014 year? “We’re still working on that number,” the governor told the News Service of Florida.
Reasons for the rise in public school enrollment range from a slowly reviving economy — which draws more workers with school-age children to Florida — to, well, a slowly reviving economy — which still leads families to choose public over private schools.
Parents and students might be more willing to make that switch because of the charter school fad. “Magnet”used to be the faddish school label. Then “A-rated.” Now, it’s “charter.” In fact, charter schools run the gamut in quality, assuming the state’s iffy grading system is a valid way to judge. Charters make up a disproportionate number of F-rated schools, with the excuse that they enroll students who have struggled in traditional schools. But many also earn As. In some cases, as with magnet schools, that’s the result of cherry-picking good students with motivated parents.
Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature have been big charter school boosters, seeking laws to allow faster expansion, easier conversion of traditional schools to charters and giving them more money for construction and maintenance. The emergence of for-profit charters and their lobbyists is a bigger factor in the movement than improved education.
Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw, a former charter school principal, worries that charter schools are being approved at a pace that outruns accountability. His concern is validated by district Inspector General Lung Chiu’s finding that Mavericks High School in Palm Springs collected $160,000 too much after the for-profit charter school inflated enrollment.
The overbilled amount, which the district is trying to recover, came to light only after disgruntled employees revealed it. Mavericks is run by a company headed by Frank Biden, who is Vice President Joe Biden’s brother. For-profit charter companies, along with “virtual schools” and voucher supporters, also gain clout through political contributions, which totaled more than $2 million in the 2012 elections.
For all the hype and official favoritism, charter schools still serve only about 200,000 of Florida’s nearly 2.7 million public school students. The for-profit charter school companies see vast potential for expansion. We see obvious proof that the legislature and Gov. Scott should make traditional public schools their priority.

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