Missouri’s Top Educator Tells Imagine Charter Schools to Close; Could it Happen in Florida?


There’s more trouble for Dennis Bakke, the CEO of Imagine Schools. Missouri’s Commissioner of Education told Imagine’s state sponsor that the low performing and financially strapped schools should close. In response to a letter from Missouri Baptist University, Chris Nicastro wrote:

“We do not view it as the intent of the Missouri General Assembly that the department engage in intrusive regulatory oversight of charter schools, or to perform the administrative responsibilities of the sponsor. However, it appears from your public statement that MBU desires our recommendations in this matter. Let me be specific:

“1) Announce immediately that the Imagine charter schools will close at the end of the current school year.

“2) Work closely with the St. Louis Public Schools and other charter schools to ensure the smooth transition of students from Imagine to other public schools.

“The Department has provided as much technical assistance as current statutes and our current resources allow. Should you need additional assistance, please contact my office.”

Bakke was on Florida Governor Rick Scott’s education transition team and he also operates three failing charters in Florida.  Nicastro seems to express frustration that her office doesn’t have more oversight. Similar circumstances and legislation exist in Florida.

But is it conceivable that Florida’s education commissioner, Gerard Robinson take the same kind of action against Bakke and his Imagine school here?

Charters have powerful, well-connected lobbying groups. Its former top lobbyist is  in charge of the state agency that oversees them. Furthermore, there are several legislators whom have a financial interests in charter school success. Robinson’s boss has based much of his education policy on charter schools.

Could it be that charter school crony capitalism is what finally gives Florida an ethics reform bill?

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About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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5 Responses to Missouri’s Top Educator Tells Imagine Charter Schools to Close; Could it Happen in Florida?

  1. stlgretchen says:

    With all due respect, I would not quote Chris Nicastro as a valid resource. She is a puppet of the governor who is totally in the tank for RTTT, Common Core standards, etc. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is one of the most dysfunctional departments in the state. It sounds very much like her to lay the blame on the constraints of the legislature for lack of oversight. Even if she DID have the oversight she wishes she had, it wouldn’t make any difference. She’s just another bureaucrat in this ridiculous and failing system we call public education.

    She supports charter schools (she was a proponent of RTTT and expansion of charters), TFA, more federal control, etc. In our original RTTT application, she states she wrote many of the goals based on Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge. Like a typical bureaucratic elite, “the people” are too stupid to figure out what type of education children should receive with the tax dollars they are spending, and need to be nudged toward what she and the federal government “knows” what they need. She will just pass the blame (as she did in the quote in this article) when the education doesn’t work. It will not be her fault, or Arne Duncan’s or anyone who supports these ridiculous mandates.

    Let’s refer to her last paragraph: “The Department has provided as much technical assistance as current statutes and our current resources allow. Should you need additional assistance, please contact my office.” Try to contact her office. IF the number is correct on the website (half of them are incorrect), you will need to call at least three times before you receive a return call OR you will need to have a legislator call and demand answers to talk to a DESE official. No, the correct response from DESE should be…”The Department has provided as much technical assistance as our competency allows”. And that’s not saying much.

    • Bob Sikes says:

      You’ve spent more time with this than I have Gretchen. Most state level admins are on board with privatization schems, yet isnt her call for them to close in a letter unprecedented? Hard for this to be doublespeak. Our ed commish sides with charter schools, too.. But even they cant run away from numbers and financials for ever.

      • stlgretchen says:

        I agree with you, Bob. They can’t run away from numbers and financials forever. But what are they running to? She seems to be throwing the Legislature under the bus. The state/DESE can’t run the “failing” districts in St. Louis and Kansas City very competently. Apparently the charters can’t either.

        I would like to hear Nicastro’s thoughts about the real reasons these districts can’t be successful. I believe it has less to do about money vs cultural reasons. KC squandered $2 BILLION received from a desegregation order in the 1980’s and still is delivering dismal results(http://www.missourieducationwatchdog.com/2010/07/paradigm-shift-in-kansas-city-school.html). What do you do with children that can’t/won’t learn and families that can’t/won’t impress the need for education on children? Throw more money at the issue? That hasn’t worked. Blaming the charters (and they have proven themselves to be less than stellar in their performance) is only part of the problem. DESE hasn’t proven itself to be that much more competent.

        So let’s be honest and talk about why public education isn’t working even though it’s quite expensive for the taxpayers. Charters haven’t fixed the problem, neither have the state and national governmental departments. Throwing everyone under the bus and not addressing the problem is not solving a darn thing.

  2. One Florida charter is appealing a local school board’s decision to deny its application to open schools. Another failing charter wants to expand in its operations and the school board questioned why they should expand when the already operate a failing charter. They say they will appeal if denied. So no one seems to have any control over charters, it seems!

  3. Is Nicastro kidding?! MORE oversight? What parallel reality are we walking through? Nicastro, head of Missouri’s Dept. of ED., is operating outside the “oversight” of the legislature on a regular basis and loving it. She is accepting ga-zillions of dollars to adopt Race To The Top initiative after initiative. And I really doubt that she wants anybody to tell her she can’t do that. In fact she is single handedly spending us into oblivion because all of these mandates she is forcing on us, outside the blessing of the legislature are gonna have to be paid for, in a budget balanced by the legislature. Great gig if you can get it.

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