Editors of the Tampa Bay Times are calling on republican senators to join their democrat colleagues in voting against SB 1718, the Parent Empowerment Act. The editorial, titled Parent Trigger Gimmick Further Erodes Public Education, points to two troubling examples of Bay area charters as reasons not enable their expansion is such a reckless manner.
Republican sponsors claim their goal is to empower parents, but it’s really just another gimmick distracting from lawmakers’ continued indifference to investing in public schools. Even with the restoration of $1 billion next year to cover most of this year’s cut in public education spending, Florida still ranks among the lowest in the nation in per pupil spending.
Two recent lessons in the Tampa Bay region also should inform senators’ votes before they open the door wider for charter schools. The Pinellas County School Board is trying to revoke the charter of a Life Force Arts and Technology Academy in Dunedin after it was discovered to have used tax dollars to purchase Church of Scientology-related materials and taken children on a field trip to a Scientology church. And schools in St. Petersburg and Land O’ Lakes run by the nonprofit Imagine School also remain under scrutiny because of the extraordinary rental payments they make to a related, for-profit corporation.
The Florida House already has approved this bad idea, and Senate leaders once again circumvented normal procedures to ensure the bill comes to a vote by the full Senate before the annual session ends Friday. Florida doesn’t need this further erosion of public education. What it needs is a Legislature willing to improve public schools, not just foist their responsibility off on private businesses that are ready to profit regardless of whether they are ready for the challenge of providing a sound education.
The Imagine example is not an isolated one as it demonstrates one way charter schools enrich themselves. The building they exist in are non-profit, but the real estate arm of the corporation that runs both is paid an obscene amount every month of what was once taxpayer money. Other companies, like Florida charter school giant Academica, own many of the buildings they operate, charge rent and collect management fees. All the while not having to pay taxes on the building because it’s categorized as a public school.
Altamont Springs republican senator David Simmons said this summer that “failure of charter schools exact a financial and human toll.” During the course of Life Force’ collapse, they stopped providing bus service to transport students – something that likely was a real crisis for many families. And something which public schools would never have done.
Meanwhile Jeb Bush’s foundation is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to impose more such schools on Floridians. Either lost on Bush or totally ignored by him – both an unacceptable possibility for Floridians – is the reality that he’s essentially telling it’s ok that the primary objective of state schools can be different that it is now. If Jeb Bush has his way, the main focus of the schools our kids go to will be to make money – and make it for someone who many never walk in the building. All the while telling us everything is ok, because those FCAT scores are so good.