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Charter Schools: still sucking after all these years

Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette says 23 of 34 charter schools in county are "responsibly run"

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579

NUMBER OF CHARTER SCHOOLS IN OPERATION IN FLORIDA

 

150

APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF CHARTER SCHOOLS CLOSED IN FLORIDA SINCE 1996, WHEN THE STATE FIRST APPROVED CHARTER SCHOOLS

 

203,199

NUMBER OF FLORIDA STUDENTS IN CHARTER SCHOOLS, ABOUT 9 PERCENT OF THE STATE'S STUDENT POPULATION

 

"Be big. Be bold. Fill the space." – Former Gov. Jeb Bush talking about education reform at the Florida Capitol on Feb. 14

Sources: Florida Department of Education, Palm Beach Post, Orlando Sentinel

As Florida's public education system continues its corporate-sponsored descent into the proverbial meat grinder, to the misguided chants of "choice," you should probably know that your elected friends in Tallahassee are busy greasing that grinder so that your kids' minds are minced that much more quickly. In fact, just to make certain that everything was going according to plan, former governor and current education carpetbagger Jeb Bush made a fabled trip to the Capitol on Feb. 14 to romance legislative leadership with talk of reform. So many bills are happening! Change is everywhere!

"I told [Bush] we have a lot of reform that has been sort of shot off like rockets," Senate President Don Gaetz said, according to the Palm Beach Post. "And it's all coming down from the sky now in the same place at the same time."

Boom! Bush's visit came on the heels of the reintroduction of the previously failed "parent-trigger" bill last week, along with various other legislative volleys that would remove the extremely limited filter of quality control via local school boards and, perplexingly, give privately owned charter schools free access to unused or partially used school buildings within public school districts. Why? Because there are allegedly 80,000 students on choice-y waiting lists, and their parents' voices must be heard. Oh, and charter and online education interests poured $2 million into the legislative race influence pool last year, and those suits better get what they paid for.

None of this is sitting too well back on the ground level where politics matter less than, say, children. At the Feb. 13 League of Women Voters of Orange County monthly Hot Topics luncheon, Republican Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette – who once served in Tallahassee himself – didn't mince words on the issue. Though he declared himself a proponent of that thing called "choice," he qualified his stance to indicate that said choices should probably be better considered. Charter schools work when they cater to special needs, but not when they come into direct "competition" with the greater good of public schools. Sublette laundry-listed all of the various incentives being offered for charter-hops via vouchers, scholarships and tax credits; then he lamented what he saw as the latest power grab by the state as it intends to take away all local oversight of charters. As it is, even charter schools that are denied permission to operate by the county can swiftly seek remedy via a state appeal. The exasperation was palpable.

Sublette ballparked that of the "34 charter schools in Orange County, 23 are responsibly run." (We only counted 31 on the school board's website, so take that for what it's worth.) Also, Sublette's tired of getting the blame for poorly performing charter schools – he gave one example involving a minority-focused school (that was serving Domino's Pizza for lunch) where only a tiny percentage of the students could read at grade level – and the state gets all the glory of titular "choice" expansion. "Take them away from us," Sublette said of charter schools. "End the charade." We don't need no (fake) education.

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