A consortium of progressive organizations released yesterday titled ALEC v. Kids: ALEC’s Assault On Public Education. StateImpact has the entire report furnished by Progress Florida. Here is the report’s focus on Florida:
ALEC’s ties to Florida are reinforced by the connection with Former Governor Jeb Bush and his ALEC member Foundation for Excellence in Education. ALEC has taken model policies from FEE, and FEE has promoted policies taken from ALEC. Matthew Ladner, working at the time for the Goldwater Institute, introduced the ‘A-Plus literacy Act’ as an ALEC model bill based off the education policies, including vouchers, Former Governor Bush spearheaded in his tenure in Florida.
Ladner then began working for FEE, where he works today. FEE’s digital learning statistics are used by ALEC for their report card, and Florida has enacted an ALEC model Virtual Public Schools Act. FEE supported the ALEC ‘Parent Trigger’ legislation that failed in Florida, voted down by the Senate 20-20.
ALEC’s education policies have been intertwined with Florida for more than a decade. In 1999 the Florida Legislature passed a bill as part of Governor Jeb Bush’s signature education reforms establishing the McKay Scholarship Program. The program is a voucher system to allow for disabled students to attend private schools. This program was the first of its kind.
87 ALEC’s model ‘Special Needs Scholarship Program Act’ is based on the Florida McKay scholarships. Now, at least seven states have enacted similar programs. Although it was the first of its kind, Florida’s McKay scholarships are wrought with problems.
There is no mechanism in Florida law to measure the academic achievement of students using the scholarships.
It is impossible to know if the program is improving or harming academic performance. For more than a decade, Florida has spent millions on the scholarships, without any mechanism to assess the efficacy of the program.
Not for lack of trying, the Manhattan Institute, a State Policy Network Affiliate with ties to ALEC,
has attempted to assess results by conducting a surveys, in 2003 and 2008.Not surprisingly these surveys mirror the ALEC model legislation, attempting to assess satisfaction, but not truly assessing student performance. In 2011, still with no credible assessment of the Florida program, the state expanded the McKay scholarships to encompass more students.95
As the program has grown in size to 26,000 students, with the state paying more than a billion dollars, rampant fraud has followed. In a thorough investigation, the Miami New Times investigated the McKay scholarships and found appalling fraud. While schools were required to have a physical location, no verification was required, and the New Times found that funds were being spent on schools that did not exist, existed in condemned buildings, or simply existed in public parks. Schools had virtually zero regulation of curriculum, and no requirement for accreditation, to the extent that many ‘schools’ let children wander in parks, and in an appalling case had children panhandling as a ‘business management class.’ Even corporal punishments, banned in Miami-Dade public schools, made a resurgence in McKay funded private ‘schools.’ Between the program’s implementation and 2011, the Florida Department of Education had investigated 38 schools, and substantiated claims of fraud in 25 of them; many of the schools committing fraud continued to receive McKay funding. According to the Miami New Times, many of the schools committing fraud are merely asked to repay the stolen funds, and continued to receive McKay payments.
This is not surprising, as the law, at the time, stated that the Florida Department of Education could make no more than three random site visits each year; three visits covering the more than a thousand schools who were in the program.
The Miami New Times investigation prompted legislators to enact measures to combat fraud, 12 years into the program.102 ALEC’s model bill has not changed, and continues to advance in states.
For more information on ALEC in Florida, please see ALEC In Florida.
Aside from endless and clearly biased conclusions on selected test data, Bush’s FEE has yet to provide proof that their efforts have actually helped children. Floridians are supposed to be soothed and persuaded by vague themes of “choice” and “accountability” as proof of FEE’s devotion to kids. But FEE’s reliance on corporate America’s cash shows it to be more of as USF professor Sherman Dorn referred to as a “trade organization.”
FEE’s executive director, Patricia Levesque, responded this morning:
“Progress Florida is attempting to create a sense of impropriety where none exists. We at ExcelinEd (FEE) believe every child can learn when kids become the focus of education. We advocate for data-backed, proven reforms and innovative ideas. The proof is in student learning results. Period. And that should be the metric for determining good public policy.
“These policies cannot be done in a vacuum, which is why we proudly work with lawmakers, policymakers, researchers, experts, innovators, educators, parents and more to learn from each other. It is no secret we’re committed to expanding school choice and work tirelessly with state leaders to accomplish that. We want traditional public schools to win over parents by advancing student achievement, not by eliminating the competition. But ExcelinEd does not advocate for any particular company or program, and there is no evidence of ExcelinEd advancing the private interests of its donors or partners.
“By all means, organizations should be scrutinized. But we won’t allow biased attempts to discredit our organization to derail our mission
It’s noteworthy that Levesque’s response is almost identical to the one she made in response to In the Public Interests report on FEE’s emails with seven state’s employees last March. In this morning’s statement, Levesque continues to mischaracterize opposition and FEE’s record. This whopper is sure to raise some eyebrows:
But ExcelinEd does not advocate for any particular company or program, and there is no evidence of ExcelinEd advancing the private interests of its donors or partners
Did Levesque overreact? Progress Florida’s report was more about ALEC and the McCay Scholarship scandal than it was FEE. Her vigorous defense confirms FEE’s close association with ALEC in a manner that will embolden opponents and bring additional – and warranted – scrutiny to both.