Florida schools roundup: Fraud charges for charter founder, H.B. 7069 and more

Fraud, racketeering charges: The founder of a charter school company is charged with racketeering and organized fraud in connection with the operation of his schools in the Pinellas, Escambia, Bay, Hillsborough, Broward and Duval districts. According to a statewide prosecutor, Marcus May, who founded Newpoint Education Partners, took more than $1 million from the state, the six districts and the 15 schools he owned and used it to take trips, have plastic surgery, and buy homes and personal watercraft. Also charged is Steven Kunkemoeller, who owns two companies that allegedly sold supplies and furniture to May’s charter schools at inflated prices. The three companies also were indicted by an Escambia County grand jury a year ago on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white-collar crime. Tampa Bay TimesPanama City News Herald. Pensacola News JournalFlorida Times-UnionWJHG. WFLA.

More on H.B. 7069: One financial safeguard that was discussed early and often for inclusion in an education bill did not make it into H.B. 7069. There are no provisions to make sure that state funds for charter school construction aren’t pocketed for profit by charter company owners. Instead, charter companies will automatically get a proportion of funds based on enrollment, not need. Gradebook. H.B. 7069, and its push for school choice and charter schools, is now the law of the state. But the debate about it hasn’t ended. Critics of the bill say the “state-money-should-follow-the-student” catch-phrase many Republican legislators have adopted violates the state Constitution and a 2006 court precedent that outlawed state vouchers for private school tuition. Tampa Bay Times. Opponents of H.B. 7069 say they expect one or more districts to file a legal challenge to provisions of the bill. The Capitolist. Hillsborough County school officials should quit blaming the Legislature for their financial problems, says House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “It’s their bloat, inefficiency and gross overspending. Their problem is their mismanagement.” Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Court sides with charter schools on funding fairness

If voters approve a tax to fund local public schools, charters are entitled to a fair share.

That’s the upshot of a court ruling issued last week in Indian River County. Voters there approved an extra property tax to levy fund operational expenses for their schools in 2010. At the time, charter schools enrolled roughly five percent of public-school students in the county, so, according to TC Palm, the district allowed charter schools to receive five percent of the funding raised by the tax.

In the years since, charter schools have grown. They now enroll some 12 percent of students in the county. But they still receive the same 5 percent of funding from the discretionary property tax.

Local charter schools contended that distribution was unfair, and took the district to court.

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Florida schools roundup: Cyberattacks on schools, education bill and more

Schools cyberattacked: A cyberattack launched last fall against the Miami-Dade County School District and three others ultimately failed, but it did show vulnerabilities of districts trying to protect the personal information of current and former students, their parents and school employees. Experts say school wifi networks are traditionally easy to connect to, and the proliferation of cell phones among students gives hackers opportunities to get access to those networks. Miami Herald.

Education law impact: Brevard County teachers worry that the new education law will put jeopardized promised raises, and school officials are concerned with the availability of money for capital projects. Florida Today. Some northwest Florida schools will benefit from the new law, and some could be negatively affected. WTXL. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, architect of the K-12 education bill, gets a hostile reception at an event in Tampa. Florida Politics. Corcoran may be the Legislature’s most interesting man, but he may also be the most contradictory. Miami Herald. In an interview, Corcoran defends the education bill. WFLA. Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins doesn’t expect an immediate increase in the number of charter schools – so-called “schools of hope” – moving into areas with persistently low-performing schools. Charter companies have to find locations, submit applications and build a staff, and the Legislature still hasn’t written the rules to be followed, he noted. Gradebook. State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, tries to explain how H.B. 7069 came about. GradebookPolitico Florida.

Civil rights queries: The U.S. Education Department says it is scaling back on civil rights investigations of public schools and universities. Officials say rules set during the Obama administration greatly increased the number of complaints about such things as disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults claims. They expect the new policy will help the department more quickly resolve cases it does take. New York Times. Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says it will investigate the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies over their practices in enforcing civil rights laws. Education Week. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education bill, impact for charters, reaction and more

H.B. 7069 signed: Gov. Rick Scott signs H.B. 7069, the Legislature’s massive $419 million public education bill, at the private Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando. The bill provides $140 million to recruit high-profile charter schools into areas with persistently low-performing schools, requires 20 minutes of recess every day in public elementary schools, sets aside more than $200 million for teacher and principal bonuses, moves standardized state testing to the end of the school year, and expands the Gardiner scholarship program for special-needs students, among other things. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner program. Orlando Sentinel. redefinED. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Sarasota Herald-TribuneNaples Daily News. Gradebook. Lakeland LedgerAssociated Press. News Service of FloridaSunshine State News. Florida Politics. Politico FloridaWashington Post. More reaction to the signing of the bill and how its components could affect some school districts. Tampa Bay TimesFlagler Live. Bradenton Herald. Gainesville Sun. Miami Herald. WOKV. Cape Coral Daily Breeze. WJAX. WJHG. WTVT. Why would Scott sign the controversial H.B. 7069 and veto S.B. 374, the higher education bill? Many think it’s political payback to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the Senate’s attempts to override Scott’s vetoes. Politico Florida.

Bill’s impact: Charter schools are the big winners in the education bill. Sun Sentinel. Here are some details of other things that will change with the bill’s signing. Palm Beach Post. Florida districts are starting to look into how to fit 20 minutes of recess into their school days. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Fla. governor signs massive education bill

Gov. Rick Scott signs major education legislation during an Orlando ceremony, as state Reps. Manny Diaz, Richard Corcoran, Mike Bileca and Erin Grall look on.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Big changes are coming to Florida’s public education system.

Flanked by House Republican leaders and special needs children, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation that equalizes funding for Florida’s charter schools, transforms the state’s system for turning around struggling public schools, and boosts funding for special needs scholarships — among dozens of other provisions.

HB 7069 was at the center of a heated public campaign by parents, educators and political activists. The News Service of Florida reported this week that the governor had received 23,440 messages supporting the bill, and 22,734 calling for a veto.

Scott acknowledged the avalanche of “input” he’d received but said he’s convinced the massive 274-page package will help students.

House Education leaders Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah and Mike Bileca, R-Miami confer with former Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando.

“It addresses lots of key issues in our education system, and paves the way for every Florida student to receive the world-class education that every student deserves,” he said.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and a host of lawmakers who worked on parts of the bill joined the governor at Morning Star Catholic School, which educates children with special needs.

Mike Bileca, R-Miami and chairman of the House Education Committee, said some of the biggest changes would come in areas where public schools have languished with low academic performance.

The new law speeds up the timetable for districts to turn around struggling schools. It also creates a new Schools of Hope grant program aimed at attracting high-performing charter schools to struggling areas. It could also fund traditional public schools that want to provide wraparound services or create charter-like, college-prep, academics-plus-character cultures.

“We’re going to see our communities in high-poverty areas flourish, and we’re fundamentally going to change the state of Florida for the better,” Bileca said.
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Florida schools roundup: S.B. 374 veto, charters, new report cards and more

S.B. 374 veto: Gov. Rick Scott vetoes the Legislature’s higher education bill, S.B. 374, saying it shortchanges community colleges. “While the bill makes positive changes to several State University System programs, and there are many provisions I think would be good for students, it does so at the expense of the Florida College System,” Scott wrote in his veto letter. The bill, the top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also includes a significant expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program. That and other programs that expand financial aid won’t be affected this year because they’re also embedded in the overall budget bill, says Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Scott is urging legislators to make the Bright Futures changes permanent during next year’s session. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. The governor signs 28 other bills, including a measure to study school crossings for potential safety improvements. Palm Beach Post.

H.B. 7069: Despite reports that Gov. Scott will sign H.B. 7069 today in Orlando, State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is holding out hope that the bill will be vetoed and reworked. Gradebook. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, says he remains troubled by the secret process used to put together the education bill. Tampa Bay Times. Here’s a summary of some of the things that will happen if H.B. 7069 is signed. Palm Beach Post. Brevard County school officials say they’re behind in the budget process because they still doesn’t know how much money they’ll be getting from the state. Florida Today. The Volusia County School District should receive about $4.5 million more than expected from the state, after the increases approved in the legislative special session, but school officials say they still face a $2.42 million budget deficit. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Charlotte County School District will receive about 1.7 percent more per student than originally expected from the state. Charlotte Sun.

Charters win in court: A circuit judge rules that five charter schools in Indian River County are entitled to their fair share of a tax approved by voters and collected by the school district for operations. The charters have received about 5 percent of the tax since the 2013-2014 school year, as determined by the school board, but contended they deserved 12 percent. The judge agreed, saying the charter schools should receive a proportional amount based on enrollment. The school board will have to decide whether to appeal. TCPalm. The ruling could have implications for Palm Beach County. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


The week in school choice: Becoming the man

Robin Lake of the Center on Reinventing Public Education has a must-read on how her quest to find an appropriate school for her son changed her views on educational choice.

I’m an education researcher and policy analyst, and before that point I’d been firmly opposed to school vouchers, for all the typical reasons: their track record, concern about government money going to religious schools, equity issues and a sense that private schools weren’t accountable to parents in the same way public schools are. The voucher debate has long been cast as one between opponents and supporters of public schools, and I was – and still am – in the latter camp: someone who has always believed that public schools matter, should be funded better and have the potential (and duty) to serve all students well.

But my husband and I started adding up the money being spent on our son, between the various aides, teachers and central office staff. If the district had given us half of what they were spending, we would have been able to afford a good private school that would work well for our son.

This exercise was theoretical – the district wasn’t going to give us money, not without a lawsuit. But it made me realize that I could no longer oppose vouchers on principle. If I would have gladly accepted one, how could I oppose others getting the same opportunity?

Lake understands all school choice options must be accountable to the public — and has, at times, pushed voucher advocates on this point. It wouldn’t hurt to have more people with that outlook inside the private school choice tent, helping to make voucher programs better.

Becoming ‘the man?’

Everyone’s take going into the National Charter Schools Conference focused on the difficult political moment.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos showed up and delivered what may be her best speech since taking the post.

Underrated line: When she called access to a quality education a “basic human right.”

Democratic Congressman (and Colorado gubernatorial hopeful) Jared Polis had criticisms for DeVos before her speech. He was a no-show for a panel talking bipartisan support for charters.

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Charter school advocates rally around immigrant students

Daisy Romero Chavarria was taking finals at the University of Pennsylvania and found it increasingly hard to concentrate. She worried her parents would face deportation in Texas.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency were arresting undocumented immigrants in the state.

Then, in May, Texas legislators passed a law allowing police officers to question the immigration status of anyone during routine stops. The law will go into effect in September.

“We learn to live with fear and uncertainty,” Chavarria said at a national gathering of charter school advocates in the nation’s capital. “I went to a mentor’s office to vent. I couldn’t talk to my parents about it. I did not want them to think I was worried.”

Chavarria said living in fear becomes a way of life.

“We don’t talk about it because we learn to live with it,” she said.

Chavarria is protected under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a program that provides a two-year work permit and temporary protection from deportation to young adults who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. She said she worries the program will be rescinded.

The concerns of students like Chavarria animated discussions at the National Charter Schools Conference this week in Washington.

Some prominent figures in the charter school movement have advocated for undocumented students, arguing the children they serve should be protected. That advocacy has transcended the usual political divides over the future of public education. Continue Reading →