Pitbull and Betsy DeVos

This week our Secretary of Education was visiting schools in Miami where she took time to visit a charter school opened by Armando Christian Pérez, better known as Pitbull. Yes the same rap artist who has been criticized for his offensive and misogynistic lyrics. That guy.

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According to Mark Caputo of the Miami Herald, “The Miami-born son of Cuban exiles is helping build a Little Havana charter school that opens next month and was a featured speaker at the 2013 National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C., where he wowed the crowds.” In his own words, Pitbull said, “I’m so used to making records that to be up here speaking to you all actually makes me nervous.” …Right.

The school, called Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM) and has been criticized for its affiliation with the for-profit company Academica, which was featured in The Miami Herald’s “Cashing in on Kids” series two years ago. In the last 10 years, Florida’s charter school movement has grown into $400-million-a-year for-profit industry backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians, but with little oversight.

State Rep. Eric Fresen, a Miami Republican who has family and financial ties to Academica, said in a written statement, “He thought the sports theme was a great hook to get kids engaged in education, especially in Little Havana, so he offered to help promote and brand it,” Fresen added. “There is no financial motivation. He’s very rich on his own right already.” (Miami Herald,)

DeVos says Florida is a national model for school choice. A national model?  According to US News and World Report, Florida ranks #46 in states with the worst public education system in the country- ranking ahead of Arizona, South Carolina, New Mexico and Nevada. and slightly behind Louisiana and Mississippi. Increasing charters in Florida supports the visions of Jeb Bush who advocated strongly for more charters. 46th out of 50. I would say this IS a national model, but not the same way the Secretary thinks it is.

In 2015, Diane Ravitch wrote that Florida hit a milestone with over 300 failed charter schools. She also said, “one in six of them either are running a debt or “had material weaknesses with their internal financial controls.”   In 2016, a report from redefinED found that “Florida saw more charter schools shut down than any other state last year, according to a new report.”

Florida has roughly 10 percent of the charters operating in the country, but accounted for nearly 14 percent of closures last school year. The Sunshine State was only slightly better than Arizona and Texas.

What’s the cost to taxpayers?  According to Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald,

Failed charter schools not only leave students in the lurch and teachers out of jobs — Florida taxpayers are stuck with enormous financial losses.

Last month, the Associated Press reported that since 2000, about $70 million in state money earmarked for construction and building improvements had disappeared with failed charter schools. Nineteen charter schools in Miami-Dade County closed after taking in $7.9 million. In Palm Beach County, $9 million in building expenditures went down the tubes with 21 charter schools. Broward’s 19 defunct charter schools lost $16.5 million (2016).

What’s DeVos’ interest in Florida?  Follow the money. DeVos has strong family ties to Florida; she and her Amway heir husband own a home in Vero Beach, and her father-in-law owns the Orlando Magic basketball team.

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Florida – a state noted for many things like sunshine and oranges- ranks 46th in public schools, has the highest rate of charter school closure among the 50 states, and a Secretary of Education who wants this to be a national model.

90% of children in this country attend public schools, which by all intents and purposes, (and contrary to popular opinion) are doing just fine. So her idea is to support this experimentation of new charters started by celebrities and take more money away from the overwhelming majority of students who attend public schools.

Great idea, Mrs. DeVos. What could go wrong?

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These are my reflections for today.

4/8/17

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Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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