Critics deride Schools of Hope, say privateers are plotting public education's demise
Beth Overholt is gearing up for a showdown on high-stakes testing and charter schools. But first, she has to get across town in mid-day traffic. Pick up her high school senior – class valedictorian - and head to Atlanta to check out Georgia Tech. Her daughter can’t decide whether to continue at Tech or stay in town and attend Florida State.
Overholt is active in the opt-out movement against the state’s public schools’ testing regimen. Right now though she’s sitting at a red light steaming about something Sen. Aaron Bean said three days earlier in a committee meeting.
Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, made a pitch for $200 million to lure charter school operators to set up shop in neighborhoods of schools the state rates “D” or lower.
Bean called one charter operator’s performance “extraordinary.”
“It’s a D school,” Overholt exclaimed. “My kid goes to a D school. Why don’t they get the money?”
Overholt is among a group of parents, educators, and lawmakers who see a plot to undermine public education unfolding in the session’s final two weeks. They say it is being executed by reformers who use a pretense of accountability and innovation to divert public money to set up an alternative privatized education system.
The money Bean requested and included in a House-approved plan called “schools of hope,” would lure private operators of charter schools to provide additional services, such as more hours of instruction and “wrap-around services” including food and medicine for students served by low-performing schools.
The "Schools of Hope" plan, coupled with a testing bill the Senate is writing, works together, according to critics. The testing bill currently changes what amounts to a passing grade (proficiency) on state tests. Overholt has wrestled with the state testing system for nearly a decade as a member of school and district advisory councils.
She and members of several groups say Florida’s puts too much emphasis on tests to evaluate students, teachers, and schools. They say the current system benefits primarily the testing companies and is part of a tactic to privatize education.
“They play together. Flip the proficiency language. Label a school a failure. Presto! A public school moves in,” said Overholt. “They get the proficiency language and schools of hope passes, public schools will close.”
The fate of the two measures and the future of the state’s education process will be decided in negotiations during the next two weeks.
(This) is why I enjoy the budget conference process,” said Senate President Joe Negron, Friday. “That’s when a lot of these issues get hammered out.”
And within the education community, the hammering is building to a crescendo for a May 5 finale.
When a Senate companion to the House’s schools of hope proposal arrived Activists see conspiracy in plan to help charter schools: