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Question for Florida: What Will You Do To Stop This?

On Thursday, April 12th, the Florida House passed HB5105 which rapidly advances the privatization of Florida’s public schools by allowing outside charter chains to establish networks of schools across the state and requiring schools with persistently low school grades to be closed or handed over to these charter companies. The House budget includes $200 million to fund this endeavor. On Monday, April 17th, the Senate will hear a similar bill, SB796, which allows the establishment of a separate “High-Impact Charter” network of schools that would be funded locally but be devoid of any local control by duly elected school boards. Either bill would, effectively, establish a parallel network of public schools, despite Florida Constitution’s requirement to fund a “uniform system of free public K-12 schools.” 
Both bills are heavily supported by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. To be completely clear, the Foundation and their partners in the Legislature, who have done the Foundation’s bidding for almost two decades, are the ones who created this mess. Now, they are positioning their own ideas, again, as the solution to the mess they created and (what a surprise!) many will personally profit from their “solution.”
According to reports, “both chambers agreed Thursday to negotiate a compromise in a conference committee of House and Senate members as part of budget negotiations” (aka “horse trade in the shadows”). We believe the privatization of Florida’s public schools should be done in full sunshine.
Actually, we believe it shouldn’t be done at all.
Remember: the same reformers that are pushing this legislation (led by Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Florida’s Future) have created and manipulated the state’s A-F School Grade system, ensuring a constant percentage of “failing schools” (based on scores on a standardized test that has never been shown to be fair, valid or reliable in our most at risk student population). They created a system designed to fail students and schools, manipulated it to ensure continued failure and then labeled the schools “failure factories.”
By focusing on student test scores, on ever increasing amounts of higher and higher staked standardized state mandated assessments, what these Bush-influenced legislators have really created is “test taking factories” which, frankly, fail all children. Children deserve classrooms filled with joy and creativity, inspiring a love of learning and nurturing the talents of every child. Instead, Florida’s reformers have created classrooms full or test preparation and drills, with little time for creative endeavors or, in many cases, even recess. And Jeb and his friends have been in charge for almost 20 years…
When a charter school is allowed to open near a school that has been labeled a “failure factory”, often it is the students with the most resources (for example, parent transportation) and, therefore, the highest test scores that are able to utilize their “choice” options (read more about how charters student selection affects apparent performance here). When the charter school skims off the top performers, the neighborhood school finds itself in a downward spiral created by the system itself. As Rep Abruzzo said during HB5105 debate (at 3:20:20): “What happens then? Schools fail and then more charters open up. That is what is occurring and that is what we are about to do.” It is privatization of public education, plain and simple.
Many of the proponents of these bills have direct ties to the charter school industry that will benefit from this legislation, including the Speaker, Richard Corcoran, whose wife owns and operates a charter school that is looking to expand. By making HB5105 his legislative priority, House Republicans were left with the choice to vote yes on this legislation or risk percussions from House Leadership.
During the debate on HB5105, Rep. Manny Diaz Jr (who is employed by the for-profit charter company, Academica) tried to convince the naysayers that this student and school shaming accountability system, which created the market for charter school takeover and privatization of public education, was the brain child of the late Lawton Chiles, and, therefore, a bipartisan effort. (watch at 3:11:05)
“I’ll go in to reminding my colleagues from across the aisle that it was a governor that they called Walking Lawton Chiles that signed the Charter School statute into law. It was also a governor by the name of Lawton Chiles that signed what became the FCAT into law. So when we are taking shots at our accountability system, when we are taking shots at charter schools, make sure you have the facts before you start to begin to talk about them.”
Seriously? It is Rep. Diaz that needs to be clear on the facts. Yes, Chiles signed bills that established Florida’s first charter school and led to the creation of the FCAT. HOWEVER, both bills were created under the influence of Jeb Bush’s newly created Foundation for Florida’s Future (FFF) and passed by a Republican dominated legislature. At the time, charter schools were created to help special populations of children, NOT to compete directly with public schools. Also, when the FCAT was created, it was to assess student performance to inform instruction, period. There were no high stakes attached; no labelling of schools or children as failures. The expansion of charter schools to compete directly with traditional public schools, for both high performing students and tax dollars, was the result of FFF promoted legislation signed into law by Governor Bush, himself.  Likewise, establishing the A-F School Grades system and the other high stakes attached to state test scores (including the punitive Mandatory 3rd Grade Retention Law) are directly attributable to Bush and his Foundation. To implicate Lawton Chiles is disingenuous, at best.
It is no coincidence that Rep. Diaz is ALSO sponsoring HB773, the Foundation’s “Fewer Better Tests” bill. HB773 contains “proficiency language” that would dramatically increase the failure rates on the FSA by raising the passing scores, requiring ABOVE GRADE LEVEL performance to “pass” the FSA, by aligning passing scores to NAEP proficiency (we have written about it here, here and here). In January 2016, the Florida Board of Education, after months of due diligence, voted 6-1 against such alignment, despite constant lobbying by the Foundation. While the Senate has worked to eliminate similar language from the companion SB926, Diaz has shown no interest in following suit, probably because HB773’s proficiency language has been a priority of Jeb’s FFF for several years. If Diaz is able to “horse trade” and pass the “proficiency language”, FSA failure rates will skyrocket, school grades will plummet and, as Senator Abuzzo pointed out, more charters will open. Rep. Diaz’ plan is crystal clear; these bills will hasten the privatization of public education. They are #fortheprofits, they are not #forthekids.
During his close, bill sponsor Rep. Chris Latvala, implored House Democrats, who had debated against HB5105, to vote “yes”, suggesting that many of them would support actually his bill if weren’t for undue pressure from the teacher’s union and their caucus. He suggested this was a historic vote and years from now “somebody in your community is going to ask, how you voted on this bill and, members, what are you going to say?” He, of course, is certain the privatization of public education will be a good thing. We think people will be asking the same question, for the opposite reason. When privatization destroys public education in Florida, people are going to ask “How did this happen?” We think House Republicans know this, as well. We suspect this is why Speaker Corcoran felt the need for a quorum call before the vote, so that reluctant house members couldn’t just step out and avoid the vote. For the record, here is the official floor vote:

Did your Representative vote “yea” for privatization or did they try to protect our public schools and vote “nay”? 5-10 years from now, will representatives be proud of their vote or will they be ashamed of what they have done?

Last summer, when discussing my concerns about competency based education (another priority of the Foundation) and its seeming preference for computer programs over human teachers (read it in The Washington Post here),  I asked my Monroe County School Board members these questions:

“When you walk into a kindergarten class and you see small children filling in bubbles on worksheets, do you ever wonder what you could have been done to stop this? When you see the results: unchanged or falling SAT, ACT and NAEP scores and relatively untouched achievements gaps across the country, despite the retention of tens of thousands of third-graders, do you ever wish we had never given this arbitrary school grade system, or these test-based reforms, any credence?

I know the excuses: There were state mandates. School boards take an oath. Hindsight is 20/20. But, still, do you ever wonder?”

It appears the privatization of public education was the goal all along and now, when faced with legislation that will “seal the deal”, I ask my School Board, and ALL Floridians, this:

What will you do to stop this?

Here is one option, follow the links and contact legislators today: http://fundeducationnow.org/get-schooled-no-to-schools-of-hope-charter-turnaround-heist-urge-senate-to-reject-sb776-block-inclusion-in-budget-train-bill/

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