Last September, former Governor Jeb Bush, chairman of the education reform group, Foundation for Excellence in Education, came to General Electric’s corporate headquarters in Fairfield to “share the Florida education reform story and give support to education reformers in the Constitution State.”
Other speakers included Tom Foley, former and future gubernatorial candidate and founder of the Connecticut Policy Institute and Patrick Riccards, the now former CEO of ConnCAN.
Pushing his education reform agenda, Bush called for ending teacher tenure, implementing teacher evaluations and compensation based on standardized test scores and utilizing alternative paths to certification/licensure.
Most importantly Bush called for the expansion of charter schools.
As Bush told the audience, “If Florida can do it, every state can.”
Many of the education reform proposals Bush championed were actually part of Governor Malloy’s education reform bill, and although legislative Democrats made some changes, the majority of the concepts made it through the process and became part of Connecticut’s new education reform law.
Malloy, like Bush, has also been pushing to expand funding for charter schools. In fact, although state funding for public schools has remained relatively constant since 2008, funding for charter schools has been one of the fastest growing areas of the budget. In fact, despite a $415 million deficit this year and more than a $1 billion projected deficit next year, Malloy’s budget already has built-in increases for charter school funding, on top of the increase they got this year.
In state after state, the charter school industry’s agenda has become increasingly clear.
In some states, including Florida, concerns about the impact of charter schools has been growing. Using their “application process” and their ability to “out-migrate” students who don’t fit the definition of good students, charters are notorious for creaming off the best students.
Not only do they sweep targeted student populations out of the local schools, but they siphon off scarce resources. Public schools end up with significant on-going expenses, insufficient funding and the appearance of being inefficient as their per-student costs grow, since most school activities and services must be maintained despite lower numbers of students.
As states recognize the negative impact charters have on local public schools and taxpayers, some charter companies are finding it harder to get their expansion plans approved.
Charter schools have even be rejected in Florida.
So how is Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee and the charter school industry responding to the fact that some charter school proposals are being rejected?
Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education recently wrote,
“…Tennessee is headed in a better direction. It is contemplating an independent board to approve charters. This follows the recent denial of charter school applications based solely on protecting the turf of existing public schools.
The school districts are fighting this idea, arguing for local control of public education.
Of course they would like to pick and choose the location of charters to fit within the framework of their existing schools, giving them control of where choice and competition occurs. This pretty much negates the concept. History is not on their side as the free market plays a growing role in education and successful charters open up franchises in other states.”
So faced with the refection of some charter school plans, the neoconservative answer is – do away with local control.
It is not enough that charter school supporters are already disproportionately represented on many state and local boards of education.
It is not enough that the charter school industry is spending record amounts lobbying for their agenda, as they did on behalf of Governor Malloy’s education reform bill here in Connecticut.
It is not enough that the charter school industry is already engaged in “pay to play” strategies like their big fundraiser for Governor Malloy’s political action committee last May.
It is not enough that those who support charter schools provided the lion’s share of the $562,000 plus that was spent last fall in support of Mayor Bill Finch’s failed attempt to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by himself.
Just as with their warped definition of advanced capitalism and free market competition, these education reformers are constantly working to change the rules to further their financial interests and escape any accountability to taxpayers, parents and the students that they say that they care so much about.
We haven’t seen this latest corruption of democratic ideals in Connecticut – yet – but you can be sure that if the charter schools don’t get what they want from the State Board of Education, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut Legislature, we’ll see more and more proposals allowing charter schools to side-step the fundamental concepts of local control and governance.
For an excellent commentary on this issue, see what fellow pro-public education blogger Bob Sikes has written at the blog, Scathing Purple Musings. The article can be found at: Jeb Bush’s Foundation Wants Florida to Ignore Crony Capitalism on Charter Schools.