Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The sun continues to shine on Florida's charter school hustlers

Barbara Smaller, New Yorker

Attention charter operators and ed profiteers. Florida is the place if you like warm weather and easy money in real estate. I got to see how the charter game is played in the Sunshine State during my days at USF when Jeb Bush was the guv. Now, under Rick Scott and his ed adviser Michelle Rhee (not to mention disgraced former ed commissioner Tony Bennett), the state has opened up even wider for charter expansion.

Fresen (R) chairs the Education Committee
Florida Rep. Erik Fresen,  a Tea Party Republican, chairs House Education Appropriations hearings on charter expansion. But his sister Maggie, and brother-in-law, Fernando Zulueta  run Academica Charter Schools, one of the country’s largest and wealthiest for-profit charter school management firms, with more than 90 schools in Florida alone. Fresen also has worked as a land-use consultant for Civica, an architectural firm that has designed several Academica schools. Really?

Fresen is pushing a bill HB 7083 that would require school districts to make public school buildings available to charters and turn over closed public school to charters. It would also make it easier for out of state charter operators to compete for schools and school real estate.

Does this sound like N.Y.? It should. Only FL has no pols like N.Y. Mayor de Blasio ready or able to really take on the powerful charter hustlers like their state's versions of Eva Moskowitz. Florida charters are among the worst in the country. Gee, I wonder why.

The most recent windfall for Fresen (who also represents the state's gaming interests) and family came when Palmetto Bay council members on Monday unanimously approved plans for a 1,400-student charter school within a residential and commercial complex development. The charter school will be part of the Somerset Academy Inc. franchise managed by Academica. Fresen’s district includes a part of Palmetto Bay and in 2011, he sponsored changes in state law to limit municipal power over charter schools.

The Miami Herald reports:
According to Palmetto Bay Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, the property’s zoning designation and laws governing charter schools all converged in “a perfect storm” to force the council’s hand to approve, with no guarantees that the school would adequately address the traffic and congestion issues sure to arise with an added influx of 1,400 students every work day...
...“If you want a place with as little control as possible, put it in an Enterprise Zone. And then if you’ve got a school with legislated protection, so that [municipal] control over approving and not approving is very limited, you’ve got a double whammy of not being able to control any of the effects,” Stanczyk said.
BASEBALL CHARTERS...Bloomberg News reports that the politically connected Zulueta is working on a deal with Major League Baseball and celebrity (why?) Pitbull to have his charter school company partner with the Washington Nationals on a D.C.-based charter operation. The Rhee connection with D.C. pols and Sec. Duncan, should play a big role here. Academica opened Somerset Preparatory Academy in Washington last September as a toe-hold in the region. Pitbull opened up last year's National Charter Schools Conference and was introduced by Zulueta.

Names that pop up in the deal include Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, who insists "it’s not a gimmick. Since most charters don’t have a building when they receive authorization, she said, they need a cash infusion up front..." AND Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who "agrees that celebrity-brand schools are not to be dismissed."

I think Richmond, Zulueta, Rees, Fresen, Duncan, Scott, Pitbull... and their whole gang need to be dismissed.

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