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Florida’s charter schools are in danger of extinction while Broward County is paving the way through corruption

Florida’s charter schools are in deep need of funding to be able to sustain let alone grow and build as an increasingly popular education choice within our state. While Florida lawmakers agree that charter schools are in need of renovations, equipment and software, they also have rejected a proposal that school districts say would take money from their traditional public schools and give it to charter schools.

For anyone not familiar with charter schools in Florida, these are public schools of choice available within public school districts that do not charge a tuition. They are very popular and are among the fastest growing school choice options in the state. The purpose of charter schools is to offer more effective, innovative programs and choice to diverse groups of students. Most offer students a concentration on a specific field of study such as the arts, criminal justice, medical studies, etc. while still ensuring that core curriculums of math, sciences, and English are prioritized.

Since 1996, the number of charter schools in Florida has grown to over 400 in 2010 with enrollment reaching well over 175,000 students. Many students move on to wait lists to address the increasing popularity of this choice compared to the number of slots available.

Unfortunately, while charter schools are public schools, they do not currently receive funding in the same manner from the state and districts as traditional public schools do.

“How do we treat all our public schools fairly? At this point I don’t see legislation that has completely satisfied that question,” said Rep. Marti Coley, (R-Marianna).

“We have many policy issues that need to be discussed,” she said. “And that is how do we treat all our public schools fairly? At this point I don’t see legislation that has completely satisfied that question.”

Florida education advocacy groups including Citizens for Strong Schools, Fund Education Now, Save Duval Schools and Support Dade Schools issued this statement today praising the House Pre-K-12 Committee for defeating Rep. Janet Adkins’ amendment to HB 903 to allot funding to charter schools:

[The] bi-partisan vote in the House Pre-K-12 Committee was a bold rejection of Rep. Adkins’ goal to hand our hard-earned public tax dollars over to for-profit charter developers to buy or improve private assets.  This is the second failure by the House to pass this measure which was stripped from HB 903 by House K-20 Innovations days ago. Members of our alliance testified against companion bill SB 1852 last week in the Senate K-12 Education committee.  That bill still gives public tax dollars away to for-profit corporations to buy and maintain assets the public will never own.  We oppose any and all efforts by politicians to turn tax dollars over to private corporations who value profit over the children we love.

This issue has regretfully become a battle with Florida school districts pitting themselves against charter schools and the funding they need to survive.

One county’s ordeal—Broward County School Board deemed corrupt by the Florida Supreme Court

In Broward County, FL, issues of funding charter schools have reached a fever pitch of allegations leading to the Florida Supreme Court concluding that corruption was indeed present within the Broward County School Board and district. As published in FINAL REPORT OF THE NINETEENTH STATEWIDE GRAND JURY IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA Case No: SC09-1910:

The evidence we have been presented concerning the malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance of the Broward County School Board (Board) and of the senior management of the Broward County School District, (District) and of the gross mismanagement and apparent ineptitude of so many individuals at so many levels is so overwhelming that we cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen. Therefore we are reluctantly compelled to conclude that at least some of this behavior can best be explained by corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists. Moreover, many of the problems we identified in our inquiry are longstanding and have been pointed out by at least two previous Grand Juries.

The county’s charter schools legal representatives painted a clear evidentiary picture of specific management problems found and detailed in the report, which included: 1) lack of accountability; 2) lack of disciplinary authority; 3) infighting; 4) lack of training and standardization for inspectors; and, 5) inadequate record keeping.

As a result, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that, “for the Constitutional mandate that requires an elected School Board for each District, our first and foremost recommendation would have been to abolish the Broward County School Board altogether.”

Testimony from mid-level management provided to the Court cited explanations that “they can’t discipline or fire lazy, incompetent workers.” Further testimony and evidence revealed, “Whistle blowers and other malcontents who expose flaws in the system and lack of leadership find themselves transferred out of their positions to less desirable ones, even outright fired…”

The Final Report of the Grand Jury also included the fact that “The [School Board] has authorized the spending of billions over the last 10 years and has saddled Broward taxpayers with $2 billion in long term debt, and yet [the county has] thousands of empty seats at under enrolled schools in the eastern portion of the county and critically overcrowded schools in the western part of the county.”

The final conclusion of the Supreme Court, described as what might be the worst example, “it is our conclusion that there was a deliberate, conscious effort by senior officials of the District in collusion with or at the direction of certain Board members to avoid the timely filing of an updated Plant Survey with State Department of Education between 2006 and 2008 for the express purpose of continuing what was by then an out-of-control badly mismanaged construction program. This was in our view driven mostly out of a desire to benefit contractors and the political fortunes of Board members. The result of this effort is an abundance of empty classrooms, mostly in the east, $2 billion in debt in critically overcrowded schools in the western part of the county.”

How these grievous issues within the Broward County School District relate to charter schools is that the charter school system doesn’t get as much money for building its funding, while the district is busy purposefully mismanaging the funding it receives, as it was determined by the Florida Supreme Court cited above.

Additionally, city officials have maintained for years that Broward should pay the several million for police officers in schools for school safety and should contribute some funds for building improvements to help ensure sustainability of charter schools.

Legally the district is not responsible for covering these costs, but it could. It currently pays half the city’s police officer cost. And, courts have ruled that the county district doesn’t have to help with building funds for the charter schools.

Yet, as reported by South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 12, 2011 by Ariel Barkhurst:

The city-run charter school system of Pembroke Pines [in Broward County] seems a dream come true for many parents, with an A for academics from the state and graduates’ college-attendance rates in the high 90s.  It serves about 5, 600 kids, and has a waiting list 12, 205 kids long. But it’s almost out of cash, and sinking fast.

The five schools together face a $5 million budget deficit. Revenue is down from $50 million to $44 million; expenses haven’t decreased by much. And they only have about $5.6 million in savings. That doesn’t leave much of a safety net.

City officials are considering cuts to close the gap. They might not buy new science text books, a move City Manager Charles Dodge admits will probably negatively impact student science FCAT scores.

 For charter schools to remain a viable choice for students and families, it is critical that the issues of equality in funding allocations be sorted out. Otherwise this innovative, proven successful education choice may no longer be an option in many Florida communities.

Unedited version above… for editied version published in SaintPetersBlog, visit here:

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