DeVos buys influence, Rubio drinks at the trough & it’s not just a FL problem


Betsy DeVos, with an estimated net worth of $5.1 billion, has invested at least $200 million buying influence from mostly Republicans and some Democrats. In Florida, Marco Rubio received $98,000 from DeVos and that’s not all. DeVos has covered her bases across the states. In fact seven of the Senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee received generous donations from DeVos and went on to approve her nomination setting her up for a full vote on the Senate floor, Tuesday, February 7th .

Like many ambitious politicians, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s need for cash creates conflict over being true to voters or appeasing donors able to secure political futures. Sadly, money wins almost every time.

Job one for every politician is raising cash either for themselves or for the dark money PACs they run. Even first term politicians know their votes are payback for campaign cash.  Constituents be damned. That’s why in the face of an estimated three million calls and letters in opposition, folks like Marco Rubio will close his email box, shut down his voice mail and vote yes for U.S. Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos.

When it comes to pay to play politics, the single, most powerful force standing between voters and money is we, the people. Know this for 2018. The stakes are exponentially high.

For now, contact Sen. Marco Rubio and all the others who took money from Betsy DeVos. Let them know, it’s time to pay the real piper – the voters.

Sen. Marco Rubio:


Here’s a list of Senators under the influence of Betsy DeVos:


SEVEN H.E.L.P Members who took cash from Betsy DeVos plus Twitter Handles & Emails. Call them out! 

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R, TN – DeVos Cash $2,500: @SenAlexander

Sen. Richard Burr, R, NC – DeVos Cash $43,200: @SenatorBurr

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R, LA – DeVos Cash $70,200: @BillCassidy

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R, UT – DeVos Cash $2,000: @SenOrrinHatch

VOTING NO ON DEVOS: Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, R, AK – DeVos Cash $40,500: @LisaMurkowski

Sen. Todd Young, R, IN – DeVos Cash $48,600: @SenToddYoung

Sen. Tim Scott, R, SC – DeVos Cash $49,200: @SenatorTimScott


Breakdown of Florida politicians under the influence of Betsy DeVos:

Name    Amount    Year     Party

Al Lawson for  Congress    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Al Jacquet    $500.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Betty Reed    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Bob Healy    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Darrell Rouson    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Dianne Williams-Cox    $500.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Gary Siplin    $1,000.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Jim Waldman    $500.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Mary Estime-lrvin    $500.00    2016    D

Campaign to Elect Virginia Saviett o    $500.00    2016    D

Committee to Elect Anitiere Flores    $1,000.00    2016    R

Committee to Elect Anitiere Flores    $1,000.00    2016    R

Marco Rubio for US Senate    $5,400.00    2016    R

Mica for Congress    $2,700.00    2016    R

Republican Party of Florida    $10,000.00    2016    R

Soto for Congress    $2,700.00    2016    D

Buddy Dyer for Mayor    $1,000.00    2015    D

Carlos Curbelo Congress    $1,000.00    2014    R

Committee to Elect Daphne Campbell    $1,000.00   2014   D

Committee to Elect Diane Williams-Cox    $1,000.00    2014    D

Committee to Elect Gary Siplin    $1,000.00    2014    D

Committee to Elect Jeff Brandes    $1,000.00    2014    R

Committee to Elect Manny Diaz    $1,000.00    2014    R

Frank Brunner for School Board    $1,000.00    2014

Johnny Gaffney for Florida House    $1,000.00    2014    D

Lizbeth Benequisto for  Congress    $2,600.00    2014    R

Melody Johnson for  School Board    $1,000.00    2014

Rick Scott for Governor    $5,000.00    2014    R

Shawn Frost for School Board    $1,000.00    2014

Committee to Elect Michael Joseph    $1,000.00    2014    D

Jeff Atwater for CFO    $3,000.00    2013    R

Pam Bondi for Attorney General    $500.00    2013    R

Teresa Jacobs for Mayor    $250.00    2013    R

Al Lawson for  Congress    $1,000.00    2012    D


Allen West for  Congress    1, 000    2012    R

Bobby Powell for State House    $500.00    2012    D

Friends of Connie Mack    $1,000.00    2012    R

John Patrick Julien for State House    $500.00    2012    D

Mack Bernard for State Senate    $500.00    2012    D

Victoria Siplin for State Senate    $500.00    2012    D







FL Speaker’s rant against voucher lawsuit linked to national”Reform” endgame: Get parents to opt out of Public Ed, take a low-$ tax-funded debit card & pay the difference


By now, many know that Florida Speaker Richard Corcoran bitterly lectured newly installed house members regarding his contempt for the teachers union, calling it “downright evil.” Corcoran spent inordinate time focused on a lawsuit filed by the Florida Educators Association challenging the state’s private school voucher program. It was a miserable spectacle watching Corcoran call public school teachers “crazy,” “disgusting” and “repugnant,” just because he dislikes a two year old suit.

Why is Speaker Corcoran so angry about this lawsuit?

For starters, if the court rules in FEA’s favor, striking down Florida’s voucher program, it will be very difficult for reformers in this state to convert the current corporate tax credit scheme to the much broader next generation Choice 2.0 Education Savings Accounts (ESA). The problem is that BOTH programs rely on diverting potential tax revenues to a third party, allowing reformers to claim that the money never “technically” belonged to the state.

Currently, Florida’s voucher program allows corporations to divert their taxes to Step Up for Students, the state’s largest designated Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO). The resulting vouchers are then used primarily for private religious schools that do not have to meet any of the standards imposed by the state on public schools. Since its inception in 2001, lawmakers have expanded Florida’s voucher program so that $2.7 billion dollars once destined for state general revenue that should have funded a wide range of needs has been diverted to private schools. Keep in mind that Step Up for Students has been paid at least 3% of the gross or $81 million dollars over the years as a “fee.”

Education “reform” is all about chaos and disruption. Because it’s hard to tear down a cornerstone asset like public education, reformers rely on issuing a series of unfounded “studies” in the hopes that the press and politicians will quote their theoretical “findings” as fact. That strategy, called “moving the Overton window,” manipulates public perception with the goal of normalizing radical policy ideas like annually transferring $800 billion public tax dollars into privatizing public schools.

One such study by Matthew Ladner, is entitled The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family. Ladner works for Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, writes the K-12 Education Report Card for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is a fellow at the Friedman Foundation for School Choice/Ed Choice and the Goldwater Institute. Don’t dismiss this study because it was written in 2012. Its contents are a road map that should not be ignored. Of course, ALEC conveniently provides legislators with an off-the-shelf model bill called the Education Savings Account Act.

Ladner writes that, “Education Savings Accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.” He lays out all the usual reasons for why, in his opinion, public schools are failing. He claims that public education is a 20th century “factory” model. In reality, what could be more factory-like than “reform” standards such as high stakes testing, teaching to the test,virtual learning and student data obsession?

Of course, Ladner blames teachers unions and school boards while ignoring the trauma of poverty and hostile legislation. On one hand he extols parental “choice,” on the other hand he decries the locally elected voice of school boards as “monopolies.”

Camel’s nose under the tent

Florida already has several forms of vouchers. There’s the aforementioned Corporate Tax Credit Voucher, Voluntary Pre-K, McKay Scholarship for Exceptional Education Students (ESE) students and a targeted ESA program called the Gardiner Personal Learning Account that expanded the pool of eligible ESE students to include 504 classifications and requires recipients to relinquish their right to public education.

School reformers have been busy. Since 2014, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee have adopted ESA programs.  The easiest first step is to write legislation that covers ESE students. That’s the so-called “nose under the tent.”  Once that happens the door is open for states to pursue Education Savings Accounts for every child while launching a wholesale conversion of existing voucher programs.

Zero proof exists that ESAs are better than public schools

There is an assumption that handing tax funded Education Savings Accounts over to parents will transform them into discerning consumers and thereby “providers will have powerful incentives to compete on the basis of both quality and cost.” That’s the thinking that destroyed thousands of healthy mom and pop businesses across the nation and left us with Walmart. Put another way, should we allow our children to be used as guinea pigs to prove whether consumers control the market or the market controls consumers?

One thing is clear, voters, teachers, parents and children have been gamed by high stakes test and punish reforms. The past 15 years of notions such as “failure factories,” “ineffective teachers,” “status quo,” “merit pay,” “Common Core,” “mandatory third grade retention” and “choice” are the semantics of a scheme. All the high stakes discomfort, micromanagement, cruelty and humiliation vectored toward teachers and children were never about improving or investing in public education. If it were, why would Matthew Ladner write this?

“The job of a private school, private tutor, or community college accepting funds from an ESA is decidedly not to teach the state K-12 academic standards. Rather, people should understand ESAs as an opt-out of the public school system, not as an extension of it into other delivery methods. The hope of an ESA system would be to allow a broad diversity of approaches. We should view dictating a single set of curriculum as a self-defeating anathema to such a project.

The public does have an interest in the academic progress of students in such a system nonetheless. Requiring students to take a national normed exam would serve the needs of transparency in a fashion that does not dictate curriculum to providers or students.” The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family

Where’s the truth? In Florida and other “reform” states, Jeb Bush, legislators, lobbyists, education commissioners have all supported state tests, vehemently rejecting any substitution or use of a nationally norm-referenced test, citing the incongruity with state standards. What about Pearson, AIR and all those vendors with their expensive data-manipulated criterion referenced tests, prep and remediation that cost taxpayers billions?

Public Tax Dollars + For-profit Corporations = Privatized Education

School reformers dislike the fact that the U.S. Constitution is clear about the separation of church and state and that most states have a “no-aid’ or Blaine amendment prohibiting states from using tax dollars to fund religious schools.  An analysis by the National Education Policy Center of Ladner’s “Way of the Future” points out that:

A lengthy discussion that follows of so-called Blaine amendments (the generic term for measures enacted in various state constitutions forbidding direct government aid to educational institutions with any religious affiliations) contends that since the ESA money goes to parents, state constitutional prohibitions against funding religious institutions are avoided.

This is the same type of work-around Florida uses to divert dollars to Step Up for Students Corporate Tax Credit vouchers.

Ladner himself writes, “Relative to a voucher program, a system of parent-managed accounts may have constitutional advantages over school vouchers. The broader possible use of funds may help to immunize choice programs from court challenges under “Blaine Amendments” in some state constitutions.”

Privatizing public education is corporate welfare on steroids. These “reformers” don’t really care about kids, quality or accountability. They believe the $800 billion dollars states spend annually on public schools is their “entitlement.”

 Education Savings Accounts buy more than education

 ESAs require a shift to private schools and a rejection of public education. Here’s what they do:

  • Parents must withdraw/”opt out” from traditional public school
  • Deposits 90% of district per student funding in ESA account (ex: in Nevada that’s $5,100)
  • Districts lose these funding dollars
  • Acceptance to private schools, which are free to discriminate, is not guaranteed
  • Parents determine if teaching certificates, curricula, standards or accreditation is necessary
  • 3% of all ESA funds are paid to private Scholarship Funding Organization for management “fees”
  • Allows private schools to charge more than the ESA for tuition and other services
  • Allows parents to use ESA money and their own wealth fund expensive private school tuition
  • Allows private oversight firms to apply penalties/seek criminal charges against parents/vendors
  • Allows private schools to expel students at any time for any reason
  • Can pay for textbooks required by private school
  • Can pay for tutoring or other services
  • Can pay for on-line virtual K-12 schooling
  • Can pay for national norm-referenced test fees
  • Can pay for special ESE instruction and/or services
  • Can pay for college or university tuition if student is dual enrolled
  • Can pay for textbooks for a state college or university
  • Can pay for transportation to school
  • Can pay for purchase of curriculum or any supplemental materials
  • Leftover funds can be applied to a 529 college tuition program

Perhaps the most striking problem on the list above is the amazing opportunity ESAs have for inequity. Obviously private schools reserve the right to raise their tuition, discriminate and teach whatever they want as long as consumers buy. Reformer’s can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim to be concerned about zip codes keeping  poor students “stuck” in schools while pushing publicly funded ESAs designed to allow Johnny’s parents to pay and extra $20,000 per year for an exclusive prep school when Ricky’s parents cannot.

As an analysis by the National Education Policy Center of Ladner’s “Way of the Future” points out:

”Research evidence from the United States and abroad suggests that parental choice policies, such as ESAs, result in increased social, economic, and racial stratification. This poses a fundamental equity issue for the provision of universal education in a democratic society.”

ESAs – national strategy

Predictably, ESAs were front and center at Jeb’s recent Foundation for Excellence in Education National Summit where there was talk of schooling in a “post facility” world and “education savings accounts (ESAs), voucher-like subsidies that can fund not just private school tuition, but also things like tutoring and home schooling.”

Writer Rachel Cohen, who attended the summit observed: “In theory, additional money to pay for educational expenses sounds like a great way to level the playing field between well-off and low-income students. Children from wealthy families take advantage of all sorts of costly educational opportunities outside of school, such as summer enrichment programs, sports teams, and private tutoring. But at least as they’re currently conceived, education savings accounts are more about redirecting existing per-pupil funds away from public schools, not so much about supplementing public school students with additional money.” 

Speaker Corcoran’s anger over the voucher lawsuit betrays his motives. Years of legislators passing “reforms” that hurt children and harm their teachers speaks volumes. Without the ability to divert funds, it will be very hard to enact Milton Friedman’s sixty-year-old free-market voucher/ESA vision that devotees like proposed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Jeb’s Foundations and the James Madison Institute want so badly.

Of course DeVos, an ardent voucher/ESA fan, has invested heavily in her effort to undermine public schools. The Washington Post reports, And in 2000, the DeVos extended family spent $5.6 million on an unsuccessful campaign to amend Michigan’s constitution to allow school vouchers — the only choice tool not currently in play in Michigan.”

Make no mistake, the political school “reform” agenda intends to destroy public schools. They’ve talked about it, they’ve written about it, they’re passing a suite of laws to do it.

Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Now would be the worst possible time for public education advocates to back down from this fight. These are our children and they desperately need us to be their voice.

Watch Speaker Corcoran’s entire address here and comments to press here.

I voted. – Best way to honor brave souls who fought so hard for us


Susan B. Anthony said, “No woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex.” That nonpartisan statement spoke volumes to the thousands of brave souls who fought fiercely, risking life and limb, to secure the vote for all of us. Anthony was arrested on Nov. 5, 1872, for voting. It wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th Amendment was ratified; making women’s voting rights the law of the land. Now this presidential campaign has laid bare a deep vein of misogyny that would have rocked our suffragette heroes to the core. Much work remains. – Kathleen Oropeza, Orlando Sentinel 100, October 16, 2016

It took 48 years from the time Susan B. Anthony was arrested for casting her vote for Ulysses S. Grant to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. She was not alone; women’s suffrage officially began in 1840, when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from London’s World Anti-Slavery Convention, prompting them to hold a Women’s Convention in the United States. All told, the struggle for women’s suffrage took 80 years.

We must never forget that the vote was not guaranteed to women or people of color by the original U.S. Constitution. African Americans endured a terror-filled unjust  civil and voting rights struggle that spanned 95 years from the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 to 1965 when Congress finally enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to enforce rights for all African Americans.

Voting is the best way to thank all of those heroes who fought so hard for us. It’s how we breathe new life into such difficult victories. 

Erin Blakemore wrote.  Why Women bring their “I voted” stickers to Susan B. Anthony’s gravefor the Smithsonian:

When Susan B. Anthony died in 1906 at age 86, her funeral overflowed with mourners. Despite the fact that there was a blizzard raging in Rochester, New York, thousands packed into the church service and over 10,000 others showed up to pass by her flag-draped coffin and pay their respects. Yesterday, over a century later, admirers of the suffrage icon came to her grave with a different kind of tribute—dozens of “I Voted” stickers.

Rochester women have been coming to Anthony’s grave with flowers and stickers since at least 2014. One of them, Sarah Jane McPike, told The Huffington Post’s Caurie Putnam that the first year she voted, she brought flowers to Anthony’s grave. She isn’t the only one—as of 6:15 yesterday, the grave in Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery was covered with two bouquets and at least 28 stickers. In a Facebook post about the tribute that is now becoming a tradition, Brianne Wojtesta wrote that the cemetery “has taken an official stance that they love this. It’s seen as a way of interacting with and honoring the legacy of one of their ‘permanent residents.’”

And what a legacy: Anthony fought for equality for women for over 60 years and laid the foundation for the legal right to vote that American women enjoy today. Not only did she encourage women to agitate for the vote, but she herself illegally voted and served time for her defiance.

Anthony’s espousal of temperance and abolitionism was controversial enough—but it was her die-hard insistence on women’s right to the vote that won her mockery and outright abuse during her lifetime. When she presented a petition that would have allowed women to own their own property and have custody of their children to the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee in 1856, she was openly ridiculed with a response that recommended the petitioners “apply for a law authorizing them to change dresses, so that the husband may wear petticoats, and the wife breeches, and thus indicate to their neighbors and the public the true relation in which they stand to each other.” Effigies of Anthony were given sneering mock funerals when she came to town. And she was often caricatured in the press as what one biographer called “an unattractive reject.”

But to Anthony, the right to vote was worth it all. “It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union,” she said in an 1873 speech. “And we formed it, not to give the blessings or liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men. And it is downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot.”

Anthony did help women in the United States win the vote—but it was granted to them 14 years after her death. For Anthony, who had devoted her entire life to the cause, this was a bitter pill to swallow. “To think I have had more than sixty years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel,” she said to a friend while on her deathbed.

For the women she helped enfranchise, a little sticker holds a lot of symbolism. Perhaps the tribute is a 21st-century version of the outpouring of love and emotion at Anthony’s funeral—an acknowledgment that, in the words of Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, who delivered Anthony’s eulogy, “there is no death for such as she.”


The propaganda behind Jeb’s Harvard “teaching” job


After years of devising and pushing legislation to disrespect and harm professional educators, Jeb Bush is going to “teach” at Harvard. The irony cannot be overstated. To be clear, Jeb is no teacher and this is no job.

Jeb will act as a visiting fellow in the Program on Education Policy and Governance – an organization where he served as chairman of the Advisory Board for several years beginning in 2011. Other members of the advisory board have included John KirtleyPhil HandyGerard RobinsonJoel Klein and Corey Booker. PEPG funders include the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the The Walton Family Foundation. The Milton Friedman Foundation was among the earliest funders, dating back to 1997, the program’s inaugural year.

PEPG delivers many of the “studies” Jeb, ALEC and others use to justify privatizing public schools. One such study, The Effects of Early Grade Retention on Student Outcomes over time: Regression discontinuity evidence from Florida was written by Martin West, Deputy Director of PEPG but released to the media deceptively by The Brookings Institute.  The study conveniently concluded “evidence that early retention leads to adverse academic outcomes is misleading due to unobserved differences between retained and promoted students.” 

Studies like this allowed Jeb and his friends to aggressively convince 18 states to implement mandatory third grade retention, despite overwhelming evidence that retention is a proven drop-out predictor.

So, PEPG has asked Jeb to deliver its 2016 Godkin Lecture as a “visiting” academic. This is just another effort by public education “reformers” to use the Harvard Kennedy School as a beard to promote a political agenda.

It’s essential to fully understand what Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance does. Far from an objective research center, PEPG is an ardent proponent of the Milton Friedman vision of privatization of public schools using vouchers, for-profit charters, and a vast array of vendors.

Predictable, recurring themes such as mandatory third grade retention, teacher evaluations, U.S  students being unable to compete internationally, investing less on public education while expecting increased returns, class-size doesn’t matter and the ever-expanding push to digital learning are front and center.

Of course, once a “study” is released, PEPG boasts about all the media coverage.  The only thing this proves is that, like many other institutions, the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance churns out thinly supported but well-timed reports to support a political objective. Often this “proof” is released to the media just prior to legislative session or a critical floor vote in the House or Senate.

So, PEPG is part of an enormous propaganda machine that Jeb and his school “reform” pals have been using for years.  Using studies to manipulate and even harm the futures millions of children for political expediency is worse than bad. Calling yourself a “teacher” after working continuously to discredit and devalue the profession is a level of disrespect that knows no bounds.

This overview of several recent PEPG annual reports tells the story:

2015 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Not Just the Problems of Other People’s Children – PEPG refutes the effects of poverty on student learning
  • The Public Turns Against Teacher Tenure – Celebrates Vergara ruling ending teacher tenure in California, which was overturned on appeal.
  • The Education Spending Fog – PEPG dismisses the importance of investment in public schools
  • The First Hard Evidence on Virtual Education – PEPG builds the case that computers are just as good as human teachers. “The bottom line is that Florida high-school students taking algebra or English I online perform at least as well on state math and reading tests as do students taking the same courses in a traditional format.” 
  • Public Schools and the Private School Voucher Threat – PEPG purports that school vouchers are good for public schools

2014 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School – PEPG uses NAEP and PISA to support argument that better accountability, more school choice, and market-based teacher compensation and retention policies can, on the other hand, boost achievement without adding materially to school costs.”
  • Louisiana Voucher Program May Improve Racial Integration – PEPG position flies in the face of extensive evidence.
  • Teachers vs. The Public – Among the “findings”: public support for school vouchers for all students increases sharply when people are informed of the national ranking of student performance in their local school district. Support for charter schools and parent trigger laws also increases when the public learns the truth about local student performance. 

2013 PEPG Annual Report:

  • New Digital Learning Policy Conference Hosted by PEPG – the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning, created in 2010 by the Digital Learning Council, co-chaired by former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, providing the starting point for the conversation: Funding follows the student, Choice among multiple providers: Reducing costs without lowering quality, Fund achievement, not attendance and Federal, state and local roles in education
  • School Vouchers Help African Americans Go to College: Experimental Evidence from New York City – PEPG based its claims on prediction not longitudinal study: The study shows that an African American student who was able to use a voucher to attend a private school was 24 percent more likely to enroll in college than an African American student who didn’t win a voucher lottery
  • Reforming the Early Years of Schooling: Third graders benefit from retention – PEPG executive director Martin R. West claims that: Florida’s policy of retaining third graders based on state standardized test scores has a positive long-term impact on those students.

2011 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Florida’s class-size reduction mandate did not improve student achievement
  • Conference on Merit Pay: Will it work? Is it politically viable? Among PEPG findings: Neither academic credentials nor years of experience, after the initial few, are correlated with a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.
  • EdNext-PEPG Survey shows that, on many education reform issues, Democrats and Republicans hardly disagree – “proof” that the public completely favors all education reforms and believe there should be no exceptions for teachers regarding tenure.
  • Shaping Court Decisions: PEPG’s research is cited in multiple court cases.
  • Shaping Opinions: Informing Citizens Through Op-eds and Commentaries

Inspect all PEPG annual reports here.

List of PEPG studies used to influence perceptions regarding education “reform.”





Vote today. NO excuses.


Vote today. Our children are depending on you to cast your vote for them.

Florida is on the brink. Everything from high stakes testing and the privatization of our public schools to destroying our water resources, denying healthcare to  our most fragile citizens to ignoring the profound impact of poverty is on the table.

We have to stop electing folks who put profit first and people last.

Be smart. Make a plan to vote today rain or shine.

The polls are open until 7 p.m. tonight! 

Find your precinct at your local supervisor of elections.

‘Reformers’ stoop low: They label them ‘government schools’ to knock students, teachers


by: Kathleen Oropeza | Guest Columnist | Orlando Sentinel  

Words have power. The advertising industry is built on finding out which words sell. Most of us accept that the principle of caveat emptor places the burden on buyers to beware. But what about the darker, politically-driven purpose of using words in calculating ways to damage or alter perceptions? Take public education, for example. There is a significant national effort underway by “reformers” urging people to re-style the delivery system of the American Dream as “government schools.”

The New York Times reports that Kansas politicians now use “government schools” to deliberately ridicule their statewide system of publicly funded education.  Jeb Bush famously refers to public education, school boards and districts as “13,000 government-run monopolies run by unions.”  That’s strange coming from a guy who burned through $80 million in PAC dollars in his quest to be elected head of our “government.”

Sadly, this is about money and power, not what’s best for our children. It’s a move to set traditional district public schools apart from so-called “public for-profit charter schools.”  States spend $800 billion on public education annually, $19 billion in Florida.  Ever since the unsecured loan/credit default fiasco of 2008, privatizers have been drooling over that evergreen pile of tax payer cash spent on public schools.  They don’t see this money as a shared community investment in our children.  It’s just a glorious pot of gold ripe for private profit, not a public asset that belongs to us.

Every hedge fund has a charter school “investment” opportunity sector.  Wealthy foreigners can buy citizenship for themselves and their families in exchange for investing in charter school development.  The problem is that this money transfer isn’t happening fast enough, meaning the public school systems aren’t dissolving as planned.

It’s not for lack of trying. Politicians, whipped by lobbyists have done their best to ratchet up the misery. In Florida they’ve defunded public schools by $4 billion dollars, used high stakes tests to harm teachers and hurt kids, diverted billions to fund vouchers for private religious schools and aggressively given public school tax dollars to for-profit charter schools that often fail.  Predictably, vendors, former bureaucrats, politicians and lobbyists have grown rich from the enterprise.

Parents baffle reformers by remaining loyal to their district public schools and teachers, choosing instead to advocate for an end to unproven, expensive test and punish policies.  Still, politicians persist in claiming public schools are failures and kids are “stuck.” Thanks to gridlock and partisanship, the term “government” resonates negatively with people.  Ironically, the very legislators who receive tax paid salaries and benefits stridently paint neighborhood public schools as shoddy “government” training centers from which children must be rescued.

This isn’t the first time words have been weaponized to achieve a political goal. In fact, education “reform” is filled with buzzwords like choice, status quo and accountability which are designed, based on individual perceptions, to mean different things to different people.

Take the word choice. “Reformers” say that parents must have “choice” in educating their children. Who would argue with that?  What’s not mentioned is that “choice” means a shift to a factory-like widget in/widget out view of students as workers. They don’t disclose that the same finite pot of money is funding extra “choice” seats for students, seriously diluting public school resources. They don’t tell parents who choose religious school vouchers that their school might not be accredited and is not accountable for their curriculum.  So getting to make a “choice” and being informed are two different things. It’s a gotcha for parents who don’t know to ask the right questions. It’s the sort of mean trick that gets played by hucksters of every stripe and it always ends with, “Sorry, you made your choice!”

There’s no do-over for our kids. The reality is that many of the so-called “reforms” from mandatory retention, excessive standardized tests, school grades, unfair teacher evaluation methods, data obsession and narrowing the path to high school graduation are failed policies that deserve to be reversed as soon as possible.

History is flush with bullies, dictators and worse who screamed into power using words to denigrate anyone who stood in their way. The dishonest label of “government schools” feeds an education “reform” narrative of doom and failure. Our free public schools, which the majority of our nation’s children attend, rank among greatest social institutions ever built. The intentional negative re-branding of public education for political expedience does nothing but advance a profit motive. In a word, that’s unforgivable.

Read article here. Reblogged from Fund Education Now.

Hand writing class notes, avoiding devices = better grades


Public education “reforms” are forcing the shift to online testing and learning. Clearly, the potential for profit is enormous. The move to all-access devices in the classroom is a largely unproven experiment on our kids. A recent paper by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found that removing laptops, iPads and other technology from classroom lectures vastly improved student outcomes on tests. It found that the presence of digital devices is distracting, resulting in reduced test scores for both low- and high-performing students. Apparently the organic experience of handwriting notes improves learning.

According to the study, students who use their tablet or computer to take classroom notes may actually be “surfing the Internet, checking email, messaging with friends, or even completing homework for that class or another class. All of these activities could draw a student’s attention away from the class, resulting in a lower understanding of the material. 

The findings are all the more interesting because they examine economics students at West Point where there is a student teacher ratio of 18:1.

The Guardian notes: The researchers suggested that removing laptops and iPads from classes was the equivalent of improving the quality of teaching.

The study divided 726 undergraduates randomly into three groups in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years. The control group’s classrooms were “technology-free,” meaning students were not allowed to use laptops or tablets at their desk. Another group was allowed to use computers and other devices, and the third group had restricted access to tablets.

“The results from our randomised experiment suggest that computer devices have a substantial negative effect on academic performance,” the researchers concluded, suggesting that the distraction of an electronic device complete with internet access outweighed their use for note-taking or research during lessons.

The research had an unusual twist: the students involved were studying at the West Point academy in the US, where cadets are ruthlessly ranked by exam results, meaning they were motivated to perform well and may have been more disciplined than typical undergraduates.

But even for the cream of the US army’s future crop, the lure of the digital world appears to have been too much, and exam performance after a full course of studying economics was lower among those in classes allowed to use devices.

HANDWRITING NOTESWe really have to wonder about the long term effects of a level of screen time where “life has no on/off switch.” Psychology Today recently explored the impact of screen time on the young that has far reaching life-time consequences:

The brain’s frontal lobe is the area responsible for decoding and comprehending social interactions. It is in this corner of the mind that we empathize with others, take in nonverbal cues while talking to friends and colleagues, and learn how to read the hundreds of unspoken signs—facial expression, tone of voice, and more—that add color and depth to real-world relationships.

So how and when does the brain’s frontal lobe develop? Not surprisingly, the most crucial stage is in early childhood, during that same critical period, and it’s dependent on authentic human interactions. So if your young child is spending all of his time in front of an iPad instead of chatting and playing with teachers and other children, his empathetic abilities—the near-instinctive way you and I can read situations and get a feel for other people—will be dulled, possibly for good.

We live in a world where pre-teens and high schools students are obsessed with social media, texting and the insane notion that doing all of these things while driving or some other equally important activity is “multi-tasking.”  Students think nothing of studying for a test while impulsively checking for updates, messages and chat threads in an obsessive need to “know.”

Is it any wonder that even ultra motivated West Point Cadets are distracted by taking notes on laptops and tablets?  Parents and educators take heed. Zero proof exists that device-driven learning and testing is high quality, safe or effective. While the philanthro-tech crowd sees little value  in the high-touch act of hand writing class notes, we must never forget that their point of view comes with an enormous pay day for them at our children’s expense.


A portion of this piece appeared in the Orlando Sentinel, May 14, 2016






April 27, 2016, Context Florida.

Florida’s approach to improving public education is getting serious scrutiny on several fronts.

Now is the time to take a good look at whether the changes we’ve endured — mass privatization, real-dollar funding decreases, high-stakes testing, and loss of local school board authority — gets us closer to carrying out our constitutional duty to our children.

A public-education-funding lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of 17 years of GOP-led school reforms ended in Leon County Circuit Court on April 8. Citizens for Strong Schools, Fund Education Now, and other plaintiffs have alleged that Florida is violating the State Constitution by failing to adequately fund a “high quality” public education for students.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has all but completed its power-grab from local school districts with a new, inter-district, open-enrollment scheme, and is sending public tax dollars to develop private real estate assets — in the form of charter schools.

These types of policies spurred a national, grassroots public school advocacy organization to give Florida an “F” in its 50-state report card in February. And this month, the Tampa Bay Times collected a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of how one county abandoned efforts to desegregate its schools with disastrous consequences. Would that it were truly for only one county.

The prize-winning series is called “Failure Factories.”

Jeb-Bush-brand reformers and grassroots public education advocates alike, along with circuit court Judge George Reynolds, should pay close attention to the stories. The big takeaway is that simply because a court declares a school district “unitary” for purposes of desegregation, doesn’t mean the county won’t revert to its segregated, inequitable ways once court supervision is lifted.

A civil rights study performed in Florida just a few years after some counties were awarded “unitary status” by the courts reports a median statewide segregation index of 47. That number, the study explains, represents the percentage of students who would need to change schools to make those schools reflect the district’s black and white population ratios.

“The reality is that we are dancing dangerously close to resegregation,” activist Kathleen Oropeza said. She contends that Florida’s reform policies, especially the push for charter schools, have made things worse, not better, for school equity. School inequity, in many Florida cities, is still very closely related to racial segregation.

Oropeza, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and co-founder of Fund Education Now, testified earlier this month. Research backs her up.

Professors at Duke University released a study of North Carolina schools last year that concluded that the charter movement effectively re-segregated that state’s schools. Jeff Guo of the Washington Post reports that North Carolina’s charter schools tend to be overwhelmingly black or overwhelmingly white. That trend has been seen in Florida charter schools, and nationally.

“Charter schools are not required to take all students,” Oropeza says. “They can be selective in subtle ways. If you sign a contract and don’t pay through volunteer hours or financial donations, your contract might not get renewed.

“They’re creating separate, unequal seats for every child, hoping that the free market is somehow creating a solution.”

Free market solutions are not to be found in Jacksonville’s charter schools, which fared worse than Jacksonville’s public schools in an analysis of provisional 2016 grades. Charter schools, like public schools, run the gamut with school grades. The biggest correlate to academic performance remains, tragically, a student’s zip code.

“Charter schools were originally intended to be places of innovations, schools that bring something that the community doesn’t already have,” Oropeza said. “Instead of bringing innovation, they’re becoming factories of replication, draining billions of dollars away from district public school classrooms.

“When you read education reform legislation, at the heart of almost every bill there is a vendor built into the bill. It speaks volumes about what education legislation is really about in Florida.”


Meanwhile, public school inequities persist — and economic disparities still overlap race too much in our state. Jacksonville, for example, is home to several under-enrolled, underperforming public elementary schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has proposed several boundary and program changes – including magnet programs — at some of these schools to keep them open. And that has neighborhood advocates and Congresswoman Corrine Brown understandably upset: magnet schools have failed miserably to produce school equity.

The civil rights report gives us a big clue as to what is really at the heart of our public school problems. It’s not teachers, or teacher unions. It’s not a question of whether privatization creates better outcomes for poor kids. We’ve seen that it doesn’t.

Pretending that the “market” will repair decades of entrenched socio-economic, geographic and demographic trends is naïve. The truth is, we’ve barely gone halfway to truly address the persistent inequities in our schools, despite the fact that we know money, well spent,makes a positive difference.

The “Failure Factories” article rightly credits Duval County with raising $50 million to improve teaching quality in our struggling schools.

Florida doesn’t know what it takes to cure its school inequity problem because we’ve never approached an education budget using a needs-based model. Judge Reynolds has the opportunity to change all of that with an order declaring the Legislature’s reform actions unconstitutional.

Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Read the original April 27, 2016 post in Context Florida.

FL & the ALEC preemption scheme to silence locally elected voices


“We are in danger of losing our locally elected voice.  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushes model templates for many of the laws pushed by legislators. Among the worst are “preemption laws” in which legislatures pass overarching bans to prevent local municipalities from passing certain laws. This session the Fracking fight was nasty. The bill contained language banning local municipalities from passing laws against fracking knowing that many had already passed their own bans on the practice. Get the picture? ALEC and state politicians want “local control” to stop at the state house. If that happens, we all lose.” 

This warning by Fund Education Now co-founder Kathleen Oropeza appeared in The Orlando Sentinel|Central Florida 100, April 10, 2016.  It’s important to note that privatizing services such as public education relies on diminishing the power of local authorities as witnessed by the Charter War on School Boards legislation pushed during the 2016 Florida Legislature. That’s why public education advocates must pay attention to preemption laws.  Imagine what could happen if campus open carry gun laws passed at the state level could preempt a local ordinance?  

The ALEC Fracking bill, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodriques for the fourth year in a row, died in the Senate. If it had passed, the bill would have overridden local laws in 32 counties and 48 Florida cities banning the practice.  Our state is not alone; ALEC has helped “preemption” gain traction in multiple states. In Florida lawmakers use preemption laws to stomp out urban initiatives, Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm expands on this ALEC model legislation and the multiple ways it’s being used in Florida to preempt local authority and undermine the authority of duly elected officials:

Florida mayors would recognize the scenario that led to so much turmoil in North Carolina: A city government passed a progressive ordinance that offended conservative sensibilities out in the hinterlands. The state legislature reacts. And to hell with local autonomy.

After Charlotte, the state’s largest city, passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that, among other things, allowed transgender people to use public bathrooms according to their gender identity, North Carolina’s Republican majority called a special session of the legislature. As if the state was in the throes of a real emergency.

The legislators went into full-scale preemption mode. Not only did they bar anyone in North Carolina from using public bathrooms not designated for their birth gender, but cities were flat out prohibited from adopting their own discrimination policies.

Just for good measure, the legislature tossed in an amendment that prohibits local governments from raising the minimum wage above the state level.

Preemption had struck again. It has become a favorite tool of conservative state legislatures bent on stifling urban sensibilities — especially in Florida, where right-wing lawmakers regularly pass laws to undo South Florida’s local government initiatives.

Just last month, they passed a bill that prohibits city and county governments from passing new ordinances that regulate the Styrofoam containers that litter our beaches, parks and streets. (Styrofoam bans on the books before January were not affected.)

Over the years, the good ol’ boys in Tallahassee have passed preemption laws that make sure that cities and counties can’t prohibit smoking in music venues, patio dining areas, parks and beaches. Local governments can’t demand that restaurants disclose the nutritional content of drinks and dishes. They can’t keep bio-medical waste out of city dumps.

In 2008, local governments were pre-empted from passing ordinances that prohibited or even taxed plastic bags until the state could come up with its own regulations on those environmental nuisances. We’re still waiting on the regs.

Local governments can no longer raise the minimum wage or tweak worker benefits (though Miami-Dade and Broward County living-wage laws weren’t affected.) Cities and counties can’t regulate beekeeping or prohibit homeowners from owning exotic animals, even jungle cats or cobras. Other than Miami-Dade County, which has a special home-rule exemption in the Florida Constitution, local governments can’t ban pit pulls.

The NRA has shoved a passel of the onerous preemption laws through our shoot-em-up Legislature. Local governments can’t prohibit concealed weapons in parks or playgrounds or libraries or other public buildings. They can’t regulate the sale or possession of ammunition. They can’t mess with firing ranges. They can’t sue firearms companies. City and county elected officials risk a $5,000 and removal from office if they “knowingly and willfully violate” the preemption gun laws.

Florida’s many preemption laws wreak of hypocrisy, coming from right-wingers who constantly rail about federal interference in state prerogatives. From politicians who’d rather see their constituents suffer without health care than bend to a Washington mandate.

Besides, they know best. Just look how well preemption is working out for North Carolina.

Read full article here

Thomas Kennedy: Citrus FL School Board member pulls the curtain back on Competency Based Testing


Governor Scott signed the controversial Competency Based Education/Testing (CBE) Pilot into law allowing Pinellas, Lake, Palm Beach and Seminole counties to participate over a five- year period. Pinellas ($2.5 M) and Lake ($7.3M) have been moving toward CBE since 2014, thanks to funding from the Gates Foundation.  CBE was heavily lobbied during Florida’s 2016 session by Jeb’s Foundations whose biggest donor is the Gates Foundation. 

There are growing concerns about CBE used in conjunction with computers. As children move at their own pace, learning from the computer and taking adaptive tests, two things happen. The vendor who owns the program is collecting continuous detailed personal student data without parental consent and the human teacher steps to the background to provide technical assistance. Teachers no longer devise tests, computers do. This makes the entire CBE process high stakes, able to move students forward skipping an entire grade or bump them backward for poor performance.

The Gates Foundation uses a synthesis study by VanLehn to sell the notion that that there is no difference between one-on-one tutoring from a human teacher and an intelligent computer. This is digital education with the goal of achieving an “economy of scale” by eventually removing the very expensive element of human teachers.

Citrus County School Board Member Thomas Kennedy fully understands the threat posed by CBE/Testing to public education, as this excellent piece published in the Citrus Chronicle proves. Please read and share:

Behind the curtain – Competency Based Testing: More trickery from the wizards of public school education

 Toward the end of the “Wizard of Oz,” while Dorothy and her friends are being addressed by the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, the dog Toto runs off to the side, pulls back the curtain, and reveals a man operating cranks and levers. The Wizard orders them to “pay the man no attention” but has to give up when he realizes he has been seen for what he really is.

In a similar manner, the wizards of education — the same entities that gave you Common Core — are now trying to convince parents, teachers and communities that they want to reduce testing and do away with testing as we know it by replacing it with something called “Competency Based Testing” (CBT). CBTs are being “sold” to the public as a better way to assess our students and their teachers. However, the public has looked behind the curtain and realized on their journey down education’s yellow brick road they have been tricked and are about to be tricked again.

Formative assessments are used by teachers to help determine where their students are at in understanding a concept; teachers also use data from formative assessments to help them adjust curriculum, assignments and content so they can better meet students’ needs. Who benefits from formative assessments? Teachers and students. There is no grade promotion or punitive consequence associated with the results of formative assessments. Data is used so teachers teach what is necessary and students have an opportunity to spend time only on what they need to learn. Legislators have decided to seize this valuable tool, relabel formative assessments CBTs and use them as high-stakes tests that will determine students’ promotion and teachers’ evaluations. Legislators, along with curriculum publishers (aka textbook companies), and lobbyists are selling these CBTs as the fix to high-stakes testing. These people — the same people that promoted high-stakes tests in the first place — are telling us they have the solution. Really?

Many parent groups are already lining up to voice their concern about CBTs. United for Florida Children founder Laura McCrary recently wrote, “I am going to be blunt here. If parents don’t wake up and take a stand right now, this year, we will only have ourselves to blame. Ask yourself this. How do you see education in four to six years? I can promise you it won’t be the friendly teacher-driven classrooms we are seeing today. Changes are being made from the top down right now as you are reading this, and it isn’t pretty. It is called Competency Based Education (also known as Competency Based Learning, Outcome Based Education, Personalized Learning, and Performance Based Education to name a few).” Please read the rest of her column which gives a great deal of background and information on CBTs.

Here are two recent articles regarding concerns of CBTs by  Dr. Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. Florida Stop Common Core Coalition a statewide organization by parents, grandparents, teachers, small business owners, and concerned citizens voice their concerns about CBTs.

So how fast is this issue developing? On Friday, March 25, 2016, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law The Competency-Based Education Pilot Program. The bill creates a Competency-Based Education Pilot Program through HB 1365 and sets up a five-year pilot program in certain Florida counties with the goal of letting students advance through school if they can prove they’ve mastered what they should be learning. This means these CBTs are replacing the Florida Standards Assessment (Common Core assessment) that the legislators themselves passed into law. Will CBTs be testing Common Core standards? Yes, the pilot Florida CBTs will test Florida Standards, which are Common Core standards. Again, the legislators are trying to mislead the public. They want to give an illusion they have done away with testing. They haven’t; they have done something worse. They are taking an excellent classroom tool — formative assessment — bastardizing it, and calling it Competency Based Testing.

What the legislators should be doing when it comes to Florida public education and state-mandated testing is stopping the regulation and over-regulation of public education. If the Legislature truly wants to reduce the number of mandated test students take then they need to do just that. Right now the Legislature claims they have reduced the number of mandated tests. Really what they have done is reduced state-mandated tests in some cases, but then required that teachers’ evaluations are based on their students’ test scores. The Legislature can claim they haven’t mandated the test, but they in reality did mandate a test be used. The Florida Legislature has for a number of years asserted for private businesses to grow more jobs and for businesses to be more successful, more deregulation of mandated laws needs occur. Yet these same legislators take the very opposite approach when it comes to public education. It is a testament to our public schools they have succeeded over and over operating under the most stringent of laws.

Many of the most successful countries in the world in math and sciences have learned that for education to be successful teachers (not politicians) need to be at the center of learning and assessments. It is time that Florida’s next generation of Legislators take this same approach. We have seen behind the curtain and are not impressed.

Thomas Kennedy is a School Board Member for Citrus County School District. Read his blog, Thomas Talks . Read this article, originally published by the Citrus Chronicle on April 9, 2016 here.