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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

We can't just wait for the courts to settle school choice.

I read Julie Delegal’s piece about the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and school choice and where I fundamentally agree with her position, I disagree with her tenor. 

Trey Csar of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) and Mrs. Delagal would have you believe the school choice debate should be just civil discourse between disagreeing groups and that if you really cared you would either remain above the fray or wait for the courts to settle it. Well I can assure you the JPEF is doing neither.

Last summer during Jacksonville’s school board races the JPEF partnered with numerous local non-profits, including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters to put on forums with the single stipulation being that none of the non-profits would endorse a candidate.  They did this while at the same time members of their board were not only endorsing the same three candidates in the three races but giving them thousands and thousands of dollars too. Csar might say something like “that’s the board and they do what they do and it has nothing to do with what the JPEF does” to which I ask you, who believes that for a second?

Who believes Gary Chartrand, who is the char of the state board of education despite never having taught for a day in his life, and the man responsible for bringing Csar and JPEF to town, as well as contributing to numerous charter schools, the Public Policy department at Jacksonville University, Channel 7 (which gave Csar and Chartrand education awards), providing the lion’s share of the Quality Education for All (QEA) funds, and who has his hands in seemingly every Jacksonville pot that has to do with education would just throw up his arms and say, “ JPEF just do what you do, I and the rest of the board will stay out of it.”

Heck Chartrand even wrote the Duval County School Board and urged them to drop out of the voucher law suit. He didn’t say let’s let the courts figure it out, he said, I am the chair of the state board of education let’s see if I can influence some weak willed school board members, all but one by the way he had given money too. It is ridiculous and insulting for Csar to think we would believe that Chartrand and the board plays no role at all in what they do. Or that he is passionate for school choice and JPEF is “whatever” about it.

Make no mistake friends this is not a cordial debate between disagreeing parties, there is a war being waged and the forces that would seek to profit off of or privatize public schools are winning.

The Duval superintendent has lamented the loss of tens of millions of dollars due to the growth of charter schools and vouchers. There is not one true educator on the state board of education but Chartrand and his charter school and voucher interests is; legislators who have charter schools or close ties to charter schools routinely introduce and vote on legislation that would benefit them to the detriment of public schools. Rick Scott’s transition education team had more charter school owners than educators on it too. Tampa Millionaire John Kirtley, the man behind Step up for Students and Vouchers has funneled money into school choice PACs to influence races all cross the state and Jacksonville’s local Republican Party has even said supporting vouchers will be a litmus test and those that don’t will be opposed. Csar, shrugs his shoulders at all those things as if they don’t matter. Sit it out he says, be above the fray, there is no room for partisanship in education. Julie Delagal says, let the courts figure it out.

Just so there is no mistake I am partisan, I squarely believe in the efficacy and value of public schools but at the same time what choice has the other side given me. JPEF’s own report says we have no idea how schools that take vouchers are doing and that school choice through the siphoning away of resources hurts public schools. Then Csar’s own web-site says Jacksonville Charter schools which have grown by nearly 400 percent since the time the JPEF arrived do worse than their public school counterparts, Julie Delagal has even reported on this in the Folio Weekly and in Context Florida.  In short the choices besides public schools are either a mystery or worse. If the JPEF truly cared about kids why would they be trying to funnel kids into those options? Isn’t there choice just for the sake of choice stance irresponsible? I believe it is and I believe it is hurting kids too.

The JPEF which is now also managing money for Duval County something I think we should be wary of and well informed about has done some nice things. They have hooked up donors with classrooms, they have taken over the running of the teacher of the year program and have been behind some rallies for our public schools too but at the same time their forays into policy are disasters and the reason being is despite their claims to the contrary they are partisan as you can get because they want school choice even if that is a bad choice for our children.

Like Csar does, I urge you to go to their web-site and read their school choice report too and let their very own words speak for them but unlike Delegal I don’t think we should wait for the courts who have had a spotty record at best when it comes to protecting our children, to figure it out. I would urge you to pick a side too. Trey Csar and the Jacksonville Public Education Fund have.

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