Today’s release of emails from a DC watchdog indeed provided some troubling revelations. Among these were arranging travel and reimbursements for FLDOE staffers and examples of clear advocacies for their corporate donors. But more than anything else, the sheer volume of emails between multiple Foundation for Excellence in Education staffers and state employees at the Florida Department of Education made the two appear almost co-dependent. But so many policy questions and requests for data were made by FEE staffers to numerous FLDOE staff that one would more likely be left with the impression that the later worked for the former.
Most disturbing of these involved attempts to dictate policy and legislation. This from In the Public Interest:
In addition to sending an invitation to the state board of education to attend a press conference in support of parent trigger legislation, FEE staff was very much involved in legislation affecting the state’s school turnaround procedures, which include converting some neighborhood schools to charter schools. (Education Commissioner Gerard) Robinson emailed (CEO Patricia )Levesque in December 2011 to review the Department of Education’s Differentiated Accountability Draft Legislation. Levesque writes, “I think we need to add a sec onto this bill to give you/the department authority to set a state‐approved list of charter operators or private providers so districts can’t pick poor performers to implement turnaround. Also, you/State Board should have more authority to enforce a strict timeline for turnaround models.2” If Charter Schools USA, the for-profit operator, were included on the “state approved list,” it could improve the company’s growth potential.
And this involving Florida’s No Child Left Behind waiver:
Levesque made her and her team’s resources available in February 2012 to “help with any defense of Florida’s waiver, pushback on Ed Trust’s report.” (Education Trust’s report, which rated each state’s NCLB waiver application, noted that Florida’s accountability system did little to address achievement gaps.) Chiefs for Change, another Jeb Bush-related education group, became aware of the report, because Paul Pastorek, who, as the former Louisiana state Superintendent, was a member of Chiefs for Change, attended a meeting about waivers at the Federal Department of Education as a representative of the Chiefs. New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s private response about the ratings to a representative from Education Trust was shared with Robinson by Levesque along with the note: “Did Gerard get his copy of their review? We would like to help respond.” Levesque and the Foundation were an integral part of the waiver process in Florida; at one point Robinson emailed a staffer saying “Please connect with Patricia as you did before to discuss our latest draft document. Also, take a look at a document she me about our waiver.”
It clear that Levesque and her staff have been enlisting the assets of the FLDOE to support legislation they’ve crafted on behalf of their clients like Pearson and Charter Schools USA. Moreover, the never-ending requests for data reveal even more. FEE has been manipulating the FLDOE to conform to it’s agenda while using it as a tool to maintain the Florida Model Jeb Bush sells to state legislatures all over the country.