Whether or not the practice runs afoul of any Florida statute is unknown, the FEE’s recruitment and reimbursement for FLDOE staffers to attend and present at an event that promoted their agenda is questionable. At least four FLDOE staff attended FEE’s 2011 Summit in San Francisco. This from In the Public Interest report that was released yesterday.
The Foundation gave “scholarships” to pay for Florida Department of Education staffers to attend the Foundation’s annual summit. The only requirement of these “scholarships”— presumably funded by the Foundation’s corporate donors–seems to be that a person work in the state education department. When the Department of Education emailed the Foundation asking, “Also, why do you think I was told that I could register Mike Kooi as a scholarship recipient?” the Foundation responded, “He was awarded the scholarship because he is an employee in the Florida Department of Education, and because of his close work with the Commissioner.” The Scholarship paid for registration, including five meals; up to three nights lodging; and reimbursement of travel expenses included round‐trip coach airfare and up to $250 for incidentals.
Prior to being hired by the FLDOE, Kooi was the lead lobbyist for Florida charter schools. He now runs the department which promotes and oversees charter schools. It’s clear the FEE sought out Kooi for the conference and the email exchange above indicates that someone at the FLDOE wondered why.
The Foundation’s CEO, Patricia Levesque was actively involved in getting FLDOE staff for the conference and personally contacted commissioner Gerard Robinson. In a September 2011 email Levesque specifically named two FLDOE staffers as they “will be critical in describing to the other states how Florida is handling value-added formula for student data for teacher evaluations and how Florida is handling implementation of the new tiered evaluation system for teachers and principals.” Thirty minutes later, Robinson responded to Levesque by directing his staff to “send Patricia the names of those who are coming.”
At the time of Levesque email, Florida had not yet even had a year under it’s belt of SB736, the state’s new evaluation system. The 2011 -2012 school year would essentially serve as a pilot. And not only was the “value-added formula”or VAM only a goal of the legislation, it wasn’t funded. Yet Levesque was clearly pushing both as if they were already successful in a clear attempt to promote the Foundation’s Florida Model as a their own template for successful reform.
What did Levesque think when the first roll-out of SB 736 data in December 2012 revealed that 97 percent of Florida teachers were found to be effective of highly effective? Perhaps a clue came from her email to Florida’s superintendents two weeks later proposing to tweak the formula with “peer reviews/student surveys.”
Since the 2011 San Francisco conference, Levesque boss, former governor Jeb Bush, has been barnstorming all over the country and selling the Florida Model to countless legislatures. Last week a close ally of Bush, Florida senate president Don Gaetz, said that Florida’s accountability system has a real chance of “imploding.” A report yesterday indicated that Bush’s hand-picked state board of education intends to implement the accountability systems as is, deadlines and all. But following the Pied Piper, Florida’s merry little band of education reformers carry on while Florida burns.