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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Many Florida cities are trying to protect themselves form Charter Schools, Jacksonville is not one of them.

These are facts, Duval’s charter schools when compared to its public schools under perform.

KIPP the model for high achieving charter schools spends about a third more per pupil which allows them to have a longer school day, year, a smaller teacher-student ratio, they don’t backfill, that’s replace students that leave and their students have access to a dedicated music curriculum. Despite all this their school grades have been shoddy. A F the lowest grade in Northeast Florida, a miraculous B, a grade protected C that would have been a D if Florida did not have the rule protecting schools from dropping more than one letter grade and another B. I submit that if any public school had those resources and advantages they would have maintained straight A grades.

Charter schools have got the message that they cannot be successful in our poorer neighborhoods and have fled to the suburbs and affluent neighborhoods where they are not needed to set up shop. There they siphon away students and resources from schools that were doing well, invariably hurting those neighborhood schools.

In the last few years the percentage of Charter schools has increased by more than 300 percent in Jacksonville from 11 to 36. Ask yourself if 5 years ago you thought, what Jacksonville really needs is 25 more schools. It also wasn’t too long ago that a study was recommending we close, not because of  performance but because of underutilization, several public schools.

We have a charter school problem. We have too many that we either don’t need or that are doing poorly. As for choice being a reason, choice simply for the sake of having choice is a bad choice and that’s not coming from me, that’s coming from arguably the number one authority on charter schools.

Dr. Raymond of the Stanford Credo Charter project, recently said, I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And (education) is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed… The policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. We need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools. But I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.

She’s right. Parents shouldn’t have to weight through advertising or be expected to know that the narrative that public schools are failing is a false one. It’s not choice that is being sold it is privatization that is being camouflaged and you have to look no farther than Florida’s for profit colleges and prison takeovers to know what a disaster privatization has been.

One of the biggest problems we have is the superintendent and school board with the exception of Paula Wright, all at least partly owe their positions to charter school interests. Gary Chartrand the powerful chair of the state board of education, despite never being a teacher nor working in a school, not only sold Superintendent Vitti to the school board facilitating his hiring but he and his equally wealthy friends have financially supported the other board members. He not only brought KIPP to town but he has used his position on the state board to rubber stamp charter school application after application over the objections of numerous school districts. Our school board has literally taken thousands of dollars from him, other charter school operators and their supporters.

It’s a little off topic but Mr. Chartrand is also responsible for the rule protecting schools from dropping more than one letter grade which greatly benefitted KIPP, the KIPP school was also just given 1.6 million dollars from the district through a charter school collaboration grant, and the KIPP school was allowed a massive expansion despite dubious results and the fact the public schools closest to it are greatly underutilized. Some might point out that he has also has helped raise fifty million dollars for the district, through the Quality Education for all initiative. I asked to see the minutes of the organization to see if there was evidence of any quid pro quo, (KIPP expansion, KIPP grant) however their meetings, despite the fact at them they are setting district policy, are not open to the public and was told no.    

If we had a more motivated media I believe all these connections would have been reported. Is there something insidious going on? I have my suspicious but the truth is we will never know because Chartrand and the board have been allowed to act in secrecy behind closed doors.

Vitti and the board publicly have bemoaned the expansion of charter schools and how they have siphoned away scarce resources, done a worse job and set up shop in neighborhoods that don’t need them but the truth is nobody in the state has been more accommodating to them.

Other cities are demanding that charter boards be local, that chains can’t expand until all the schools under their control are doing well and that the schools have some form of innovation that the public schools aren’t offering.  

Some districts are calling for surety bonds to make sure the organizations are financially stable and criminal and performance background checks to make sure individuals or organizations are sound. I personally think there has to be a need rather than just to provide choice for a charter schools to be allowed to open.

Take for instance the Charter School USA school at the Flagler Center. It is being placed right in the middle of four high performing schools three of which are under enrolled. It is in an area town that does not need a charter school and the only possible purpose it serves is to enrich the owner of the for-profit Charter Schools USA. It was approved on the same day the Acclaim charter school announced it was closing, with the super’s recommendation by a six-one vote. The super and boards actions once again did match up with their rhetoric.

I started above with some facts, here is perhaps the most damning; in Florida over 280 charter schools have opened taken public money and closed leaving families in a lurch including 9 in Duval, one of which closed on May 5th a month before the end of the school year, hundreds of families were sent scrambling.

It might be worth injuring public schools if charters were performing well, stable and innovative but the truth is they are not. It’s time the super and board stood up for our students and the community rather than their financial backers.  It’s past time we put in reasonable requirements that protect our community.

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