House Charter School Bill Corrupted by Cozy Relationship Between Tony Bennett and Charter Schools USA


Chris Moya,  Charter Schools USA lobbyist testified this week that Rep. George Moraitis charter school bill was about ‘improving accountability”. Moya and Florida Charter School Alliance lobbyist Jim Horne’s smug performances this week were justified. The new bag of goodies for their clients are assured of being delivered. The fix is already in.

Within several clauses of PCB CIS 1301 are numerous references to “high performing charter schools” who would benefit from the public school facility take-over intentions of the bill. This prompted inquiry as to what criteria established such a lofty status. FLDOE official, Michael Kooi, a former charter school lobbyist himself, dryly brushed aside such concerns as the bill’s nuances  would only benefit  one – KIPP Schools of Jacksonville. There’s no way that Moya and Horne were going to correct their colleague and call attention to their client. Moya’s Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) along with Academica, both with extended families of other charter schools, easily qualify as high-performing charter schools.

Experienced readers of Florida legislation understand that content which is underlined are additions to the bill. Three of these involve high-performing charter schools. The underlines are excluded here, but can be seen in the bill here in John O’Connor’s story in StateImpact.

First,with respect to big charter school operators like CSUSA and Academica on page 34, lines 933 to 940:

If a high performing charter school requests to consolidate multiple charters or to modify its charter pursuant to this subsection,  the sponsor shall have 40 days after receipt of that request to  provide an initial draft charter to the charter school. The sponsor and charter school shall have 50 days thereafter to negotiate and notice the charter contract for final approval by the sponsor.

“Sponsor” refers to local school boards and it’s use as a descriptive term has become disingenuous in Florida as local school boards can no longer reject charter schools. Final say now belongs to political appointees in Tallahassee. And let’s shift to one of those appointees, Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett. There are two additions to the bill which strengthens Bennett’s influence. This from pages 34 and 35; lines 949 to 960.

(5) The Commissioner of Education, upon request by a charter school, shall verify that the charter school meets the criteria in subsection (1) and provide a letter to the charter  school and the sponsor stating that the charter school is a high-performing charter school pursuant to this section. The  commissioner shall annually determine whether a high-performing charter school continues to meet the criteria in subsection (1). A high-performing charter school shall maintain its high-performing status unless the commissioner determines that the charter school no longer meets the criteria in subsection (1),  at which time the commissioner shall send a letter providing  notification of its declassification as a high-performing charter school.

And this from page 36; lines 995 to 1008.

(2)(a) The Commissioner of Education, upon request by an  entity, shall verify all charter schools served by the entity and verify that the entity meets the criteria in subsection (1)  for the previous prior school year and provide a letter to the entity stating that it is a high-performing charter school  system. The commissioner shall annually determine whether a high-performing charter school system continues to meet the criteria in subsection (1). A high-performing charter school system shall maintain its high-performing status unless the  commissioner determines that the charter school system no longer meets the criteria in subsection (1), at which time the commissioner shall send a letter providing notification of its declassification as a high-performing charter school system.

Section 4. This act shall take effect July 1, 2013.

The Palm Beach Post continues to report that CSUSA made $214,500 in campaign contributions in Florida last year. This doesn’t include the $5000, CSUSA gave to Bennett last year while running for reelection in Indiana. Moreover, Bennett has already demonstrated a willingness to act on behalf of CSUSA. After Bennett’s defeat, it was reported that CSUSA received $6 million more of Indiana taxpayer money than they should have while Bennett was Indiana’s ed boss.

So now CSUSA’s lobbyists are maneuvering to give Bennett more say over determining disputes between local school boards and their client. Does anyone really doubt which side Bennett will take if CSUSA wants an empty school buildings that a cash-strapped district like Brevard could make the agonizing decision to close?   The following clause (page 30 and 31; lines 837 to 857) ensures just that can happen:

If a district school board-owned board facility that has previously been used for K-12 educational purposes or property is available because it is surplus, marked for disposal, or otherwise unused, it shall be made available provided for a charter school’s use at no cost on the same basis as it is made available to other public schools in the district. If the facility was used as a K-12 public school in the previous school year, as a condition of using such a facility, the charter school shall agree to target students who had been assigned to that public school the previous school year and to enroll a sufficient number of students to ensure that the facility will be used at a greater capacity than it had been used in the previous school year. A district school board-owned facility that is being used at less than 50 percent of its Florida Inventory of School Houses (FISH) student capacity shall be shared with the charter school at no cost to the charter school, or the entire facility shall be made available to the charter school at no cost. The district school board may give  priority for the use of such facility to charter schools and charter school operators with a proven record of academic success.

Horne, Moya and Kooi had to be delighted that no real challenge to this wording emerged this week during public testimony. With “at no cost to the charter school” appearing twice, the bill serves as a stealth charter school land grab. And within the same bill are assurances that a man is already in place who can make it happen in the obscenely compromised and conflicted Tony Bennett.

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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4 Responses to House Charter School Bill Corrupted by Cozy Relationship Between Tony Bennett and Charter Schools USA

  1. Rob Belcher says:

    Folks, this is the same thing he did here in Indiana. If you want to see where it’s headed, look at what he left us. A sponsor (Ball St. University) is closing 7 charters after this year for poor performance. This was their choice after being outed by a national study. The INDOE was not shutting them down, regardless of what Czar Tony says about closing failing charters…..he won’t. Just glad we could vote him out. My sympathies.

    • Joanne Yarin says:

      Thanks. I’ve been in a perpetual state of mourning since his selection was announced. Every time I think that we’ve hit bottom here in Florida and can only go up, I get proven wrong.

  2. Not all CSUSA schools are high performing. Check out some of their poorly performing schools, in particular DCSA in Jacksonville. I don’t understand why no one has dug deeper into CSUSA’s shell game and tactics.

  3. 3D Learner says:

    Not only are most charter schools not high performing, but their creation also takes money directly out of public schools. This results in decreased services — music, art, reading and other programs. Floridians need to remember that their votes count and that a doubling of charter schools over the next 5 years will cripple public schools ability to provide the services you expect. When charter schools take 10 kids from a public school, at say $7,000 per kid, the schools lose $70,000 and probably can reduce their out of pocket costs by $10 to $15,000. This means they need to cut services by $55 to $60,000 every year. The time for change is NOW!!!

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