Coming off last weekends story by Mary Ellen Klas which showed how the RPOF allocates campaign cash to the chosen ones, is an Orlando Sentinel story by Aaron Deslatte detailing how pro-voucher school privatization groups are taking donations from for-profit charter school operators to bankroll state candidates.
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida arm of a school-voucher group raising big bucks from charter schools is sending out some positive mail for Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican in one of the highest-profile House contests this year against Democrat Karen Castor Dentel.
The Florida Federation for Children, a state arm of the national school-choice group called the American Federation for Children, has spent close to $200,000 this summer — most of it on direct-mail pieces assisting Republican legislative candidates who support expanding school-voucher programs and charter-schools.
The mailer says nothing about Plakon’s party affiliation, which is probably by design given the slight Democratic tilt to the new House District 30, which takes in Maitland and Winter Park. Instead, it pictures Plakon and his wife, next to a headline that reads “building a stronger economy — one classroom at a time.”
It goes on to say Plakon has worked to “empower parents — not bureaucrats,” and for ”hiring the best teachers” — references to two controversial education reforms he backed in the Legislature, including the so-called “parent trigger” bill that passed the House this year. The measure, which failed by one vote in the Senate, could have opened the door for charter-school companies to take over failing schools when parents OK’d such a takeover. Plakon also supported the teacher-tenure bill that passed in 2011, and has been challenged by the Florida Education Association. That bill ends long-term contracts for teachers and bases evaluations partially on standardized test results.
Plakon’s Democratic opponent, a Maitland teacher, has taken aim at him over the parent-trigger bill, but the lawmaker said he had no knowledge the charter-school group was sending out pro-Plakon mail.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they’re interested in this race,” he said. “I’m pleasantly surprised that someone is saying nice things about me.”
The electioneering group is headed by John Kirtley, the Tampa businessman who created the state’s corporate income tax scholarship program and runs the Step Up for Students group that administers the voucher-program.
The Florida Federation for Children group has raised $770,000 this year — including $100,000 each from for-profit charter school companies Charter Schools USA and Miami-based Academica Management. The group also got $300,000 in July from the parent AFC in Washington, D.C.
That dwarfs the roughly $416,000 the FEA has raised through its Florida Education Association Advocacy Fund.
As voucher advocates like Kirtley have steadfastly maintained that their intentions are to serve impoverished kids, their alliance with Florida’s two biggest for-profit charter schools who largely target kids from affluent families reveal their motivations to not be so pure afterall. The political and policy agendas of charter schools and pro-voucher groups have obviuosly merged.
The activity that John Kirtley’s group are engaging is not yet listed in Follow the Money, although he personally made two contributions to the RPOF last year of the odd total of $6128.00 which could be filtered into the PACs belonging to the GOP leaders in the Florida legislature. Kirtley’s also made 18 different $500.00 donations to Florida legislators this year, most of them Democrats. The Tampa businessman will be hosting a fund-raiser later this month for Jeb Bush’s pro-voucher foundation along with two members of the Florida board of education.