On Friday Step Up for Students blog, redefinED, published a story about this year’s bill from the Florida House which SUFS writer Travis Pillow describes as a “funding” and “accountability’ bill:
Florida charter schools could face more scrutiny from school districts, and also get more support and predictable facilities funding under a bill approved by the state House.
It was the first bill passed by Rep. Bob Cortes, a freshman Republican from Central Florida.
Key provisions would ease the expansion of charter schools that open in areas served by academically struggling district schools, and create a funding backstop for charter schools, which drew questions on Thursday from Democrats who worried about its impact on school district budgets. The House also approved measures allowing traditional school principals to receive charter-like autonomy, and giving traditional public schools the same flexibility under state class-size penalties that charter schools enjoy.
Observers of the republican-dominated legislature know the drill. Any reform bill is intended to benefit the state’s big charter school corporations first. Floridians know there won’t be anything in a House bill which Charter Schools USA doesn’t.
It is true that the House sponsor of HB 7037 surprised some as it didn’t come from the for-profit charter school industries go-to legislators. Cortes is a new representative, but one who has an impressive resume of public service. A quick glimpse at campaign finance data shows no direct contributions from either of the big charter schools or their bosses, but they easily do it indirectly. Let’s explore how.
Starting after the 2012 election, Charter Schools USA boss, Jonathan Hage authorized over $275,000 in campaign contributions to influence Florida elections.
Within this amount are four contributions totaling $115,000 made to the Republican Party of Florida. The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) made 18 in-kind rollover donations totaling $100,000 to Cortes within an 8 month period. This is one way Hage can legally make a larger donation go further. There is a $1000 limit per donation to individual campaigns.
Charter Schools USA made one whopping payment of $100,000 during this same campaign cycle to John Kirtley’s, Florida Federation for Children. Kirtley is the founder of Step Up for Students and still serves as their board chairman. Along with wife, Kirtley made three donations to the RPOF totally approximately $35,000. The Kirtley’s contributed four times to Florida Federation of Children (FFC) for a total of $357,000. In all the Kirtley’s contributed almost $525,000 to influence Florida elections.
The website for Florida Federation for Children has been inactive since 2010. Along with Step Up for Students, it is identified and linked as a state ally of the American Federation for Children. Kirtley is the vice chairman of its board. During the 2014 election cycle it made 10 payments to FFC totally close to $600,000. During the entire cycle FFC took in almost $1.2 million in cash.
On its inactive website, FFC describes what they do as follows:
We identify election circumstances in which there is a discernible difference between the candidates on the issues of parental choice and education reform, regardless of any other factor, especially party affiliation. We then engage in electioneering communications to voters throughout Florida, making them aware of candidates and their positions on issues of the day.
It’s obvious that Hage and Kirtley know each other and recognize that they have common self-interests. Scathing Purple Musings wrote more about their connection earlier this month. Hage’s $100,000 coupled with the massive amount of funds that Kirtley moved to Florida Federation for Children accounted for over $900,000 of the almost $1.3 million total the EOC took in during the 2014 cycle. Both financially benefit from the massive movement of taxpayers dollars from public schools to private, unaccountable entities.
Lets look at the totals another way. Between Jonathan and Sherrie Hage, Charter Schools USA and their project developmental arm, Red Apple Development, approximately $345,000 was spent between November 2012 and November 2014 to influence Florida politics.
As for Kirtley during the same time, he and his wife wrote checks totaling close to $525,000. Kirtley also controls the $1.2 million of Florida Federation for Children making the two-year total about $1.725 million.
Over a two-year period, two Floridians – Charter Schools USA boss Jonathan Hage and hedge funder John Kirtley spent over $2 million to influence Florida education policy. Well less than 5 percent goes to Florida Democrats. It’s no small wonder that charter school and school voucher legislation move so smoothly through the state’s republican-dominated legislature.