Jeb Bush’s Foundation Wants Florida to Ignore Crony Capitalism on Charter Schools


Big charter school operators have been whispering about getting their own independent board to approve charter schools. This week, Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education editorialist Mike Thomas unsurprisingly made the case that it was time for Florida to do just that. Writes Thomas in The Edfly Blog:

Charters are competitors. They steal customers, deplete revenues and increase costs. When charters siphon off kids, they not only take the money that comes with them, they often cause nearby schools to operate under capacity. This increases inefficiencies and per-student costs because all that empty space still must be maintained.

As charters continue to expand, they will force districts to make more and more tough choices on personnel, closing schools and redrawing attendance boundaries, both political poisons. We are seeing this play out in spectacular fashion in some older urban areas.

So there is a serious conflict of interest in play and it only will get worse as school choice expands.

To manage this conflict, states like Florida have guidelines for districts to follow in approving charters, and an appellate process to the State Board of Education for charters that are turned down.

This is not ideal in the long run.

I think Tennessee is headed in a better direction. It is contemplating an independent board to approve charters. This follows the recent denial of charter school applications based solely on protecting the turf of existing public schools.

The school districts are fighting this idea, arguing for local control of public education.

Of course they would like to pick and choose the location of charters to fit within the framework of their existing schools, giving them control of where choice and competition occurs. This pretty much negates the concept. History is not on their side as the free market plays a growing role in education and successful charters open up franchises in other states.

Two years ago, my kid’s name got picked out of the hat for the best charter school in the region. I kept her in the neighborhood public school because it sold me on quality and had a heck of a band director.

Long term, the future of public schools will depend not on blocking competition, but winning the competition.

As Thomas makes no proposal which addresses budgetary issues, I must assume he presumes his new independent charter school board will be dictating to local school boards they will have to fund the charter schools. When this untenable dynamic comes to light, it’s easy to see that his proposal is a non-starter. Never mind just  how preposterous it is that a distant appointed board should dictate to an elected board the manner in which they spend taxpayer dollars.

But Florida’s current system which Thomas bemoans as “not ideal in the long run,” is already rife with serious conflicts of interests. Let’s look at them.

* The Foundation Thomas is working for has received funding from two charter school corporations which do business in Florida – Charter Schools USA and K12 Inc. Moreover, the Foundation also accepts funding from several faux education philanthropies  like the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation  and the Eli Broad Foundation which fund countless pro-charter school entities across the nation. It is these which Thomas’s boss, Patricia Levesque boasts as providing 90 percent of the Foundations funding.

* Florida’s new education commissioner, Tony Bennett, accepted campaign contributions from Charter Schools USA and K12 Inc while running for Indiana’s education superintendent. He also received $50,000 from Eli Broad (Eli Broad Foundation) and $200,000 from Alice Walton (Walton Family Foundation). Bennett has a seat on the charter school commission which hears application disputes now. Neither the legislature, the Bush Foundation nor Bennett have expressed any concern for these clear conflicts.

* In my November 2011 post I detailed how four Florida legislators either own or have financial relationships with charter schools.

* The chairman of Florida’s Board of Education, Gary Chartrand, is chairman of KIPP charter schools of Jacksonville.

Thomas’s justifies his proposal as it’s in the interest of “free markets” and “competition.” No mention of “accountability.” It’s next to impossible for parents to hold a distant politically appointed board accountable, while a locally elected school board is.

The contradictions don’t end there. The Foundation for Excellence in Education has been advancing legislation which actually manipulates markets with legislation that gives unfair advantages to charter schools by circumventing local oversight and, yes, choice. In conservative circles this is referred to as government choosing winners and losers.

Thomas’ anecdotal comparison of local school boards as a burger joint monopoly is morally inverted. Unlike the burger joint, local school boards aren’t seeking to have their franchises operate at a profit. Thomas’ charter schools do and it is they who seek to game the system.

UPDATE: See this commentary from Jonathan Pelto: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/01/20/charter-schools-when-you-dont-succeed-change-the-rules/

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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3 Responses to Jeb Bush’s Foundation Wants Florida to Ignore Crony Capitalism on Charter Schools

  1. Diane Kepus says:

    Oh my gosh I do not know to even respond to such lies. Independent Charter school boards – well they already have those within the FAILING charter schools of which after looking at Orange County’s list yesterday I have some deep serious questions when they reopen for business tomorrow.

    Their current list of “current” charter schools shows 8 schools of which are rated an F on the 2011 test scores and of those 4 are high schools. Do we think an Independent board would close these schools any faster than the local district school boards or the stuck to the hip of Jeb Bush’s FL State School Board would? I seriously doubt it.

    Were you all aware that we in Orlando already have a “Workforce Academy Charter” which has been in operation since 2003 and there are absolutely NO FCAT scores listed for these 11th and 12th grade students who are attending school 3 days a week and working 2.

    This school does not even come up on the Florida State Testing web sites for a regular or a Charter high school. What’s up with that? An what is up with these Charter schools being allowed to file for and receive 501 (c) (3) status so that no one can see who is pouring private funds into them. The web site for the school even states most of the kids attending were failing so now they are in the workforce environment of which the principal is making almost $100K a year plus bonus and NO ACCOUNTABILITY AS TO WHERE THE OUTSIDE MONEY IS COMING FROM.

  2. kafkateach says:

    Public school districts are in the Jeb Bush scam as well. Even after all of the articles in the press this week about the Bush emails, my district is still ordering teachers to register for “Digital Learning Day” (a Bush sponsored event). I write about my own experience with digital learning in public high schools, here:
    http://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/digital-learning-day

  3. Pingback: Charter Schools: When you don’t succeed, change the rules - Wait, What?

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