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by Marc Yacht March 26, 2014, 8:01 pm
The Broward County School Board has notified three charter schools that they have violated their agreement with the school system and will have to close.
But the State Board of Education has to approve such decisions and often does not support school board decisions. The three Broward schools are still operating.
Local school boards are frustrated when Tallahassee interferes with their efforts to regulate corrupt or underperforming charter schools. One of the three Broward charter schools, Rise Academy, had been ordered closed before only to have that decision overruled. Boards typically try to close charter schools that are in debt or are failing to provide students even a basic education.
Corruption well describes the underbelly of many charter schools. Undermined legislative oversight relates to political zeal for expansion. Charter schools are protected by sympathetic conservative legislators and high-priced lobbyists who are paid directly or indirectly with tax dollars.
That money could better be used to help traditional public schools that are struggling because the state has reduced its support over the years. Florida public school funding ranks 43rd out of 50 states.
There are 519 approved charter schools in Florida. The cost to taxpayers exceeded $1.5 billion over a three year period and nearly half of the schools had financial arrangements with their directors or employees that would not be allowed in traditional public schools.
Critics question how much of the tax dollars given to charter schools are actually spent to educate the students.
Some charter schools are rife with conflicts of interest. The schools lease space from board members. Board members enter into school contracts with relatives. Administrators, board members and staff have borrowed money from charter schools, some that were nearly broke. One school fudged attendance records to allow students to work on projects that profited the school. The school went unpunished and remained open.
Responsible public school boards can do little to address these scandals because many powerful people in Tallahassee are proponents of charter schools.
Local school boards are handcuffed when alerted to infractions or questionable practices. Where are the governing bodies that might hold charter schools accountable? The State Board of Education often blocks local school boards’ efforts to curb charter school abuses.
Charter schools are protected from accountability. Their advocates say parents need schools that are not hamstrung by so many rules. Why not just tweak those rules and save the taxpayers money?
Charter schools often are riddled in debt, hire teachers public schools could not hire, engage in self-serving contracts to employees, directors and board members. They often use tax dollars to support religiously influenced education. Churches and other religious groups often lease their property to charter schools. Charter-school supporters in Tallahassee appear to have no problem with tax money being spend to benefit churches.
Voters must decide whether they are comfortable with this growing abuse of their tax money. The attack on public education involves siphoning needed resources from traditional schools and unwarranted criticism of public school teachers, schools, and principals.
Someone needs to challenge in court the legislative efforts to privatize education, undermine science, and selectively educate students.
Public education, which is so important to the growth and success of this nation, is threatened by entrepreneurs, religious doctrine, and feckless conservative legislators.
Marc Yacht is a semi-retired physician living in Hudson, Fla. Column courtesy of Context Florida.