Friday, September 11, 2015

Alternet: "How Jeb Bush's Florida Plan for School 'Choice' Created an Industry of Corruption and Chaos" ... by gimleteye

Alternet/ Jeff Bryant recently published an important investigation of one of Jeb Bush's keystone issues: charter schools.

Midway through the article, Bryant notes the influence of Academica, the Miami-Dade based school-for-profit empire that we have written about at EOM. Charter schools are the great example how outsourcing of (formerly) public services has created a cabal of special interests that have overtaken government by and for the people. What is worse: as special interests have become ingrown and infiltrated government services, they have enlisted state legislators -- who by virtue of term limits often use public office to line up their next jobs in regulated industries -- for the express purpose of putting government services and personnel, like those represented by unions, at a disadvantage to private industry.
With nearly 100 schools in Florida "and well over $150 million in annual revenue," Academica has been a key player in charter school expansions in the state since 1999. And Bush has shown an affinity for the schools for years. "As governor,” Hensley-Clancy reports, “Bush visited Academica schools several times, his emails show.”

But Academica has a long history of financial wheeling and dealing, so much so the organization is now the target of "an ongoing federal probe into its real estate dealings," as the Miami Herald reported in 2014. While the 1996 law allowing charters to operate in Florida restricted applicants to nonprofit groups only, profit-minded charter businesses like Academica have skirted that restriction. A report written by Patricia W. Hall for the Florida League of Women Voters explains how the scheme works:

"Although charter schools must, by Florida law, be overseen by a non-profit board of directors, there are many ways in which for-profit organizations have begun to highjack the charter school movement. For-profit management companies frequently provide everything from back office operations including payroll, contracting with vendors for food services, textbook, etc., to hiring principals and teachers and curriculum control."

Hall goes on to explain how real estate deals have become another form of profit-making in the Florida charter school business model. According to Hall, for-profit management companies such as Academica that manage charter schools receive "a variety of grants, loans and tax credits for building a charter school." Then they can charge the school district exorbitant rents and leases for the use of the building. This results in an "ever escalating" revenue stream of taxpayer dollars flowing to the charter school management company. Should the charter management company decide to eventually sell the building to another entity, it "reaps the profits," Hall writes.

These sorts of charter school-related real estate schemes led to a firestorm of land deals in Florida during the Bush years, according to an investigation by Alec MacGillis in the New Yorker. "Developers of new subdivisions teamed up with companies that were opening up charter schools less as a means to innovate than as a way to benefit from Florida’s boom,” MacGillis writes.

EOM has focused on Miami-Dade legislator, Erik Fresen; indifferent to state laws governing financial disclosure of elected officials, who carried the water for serial efforts to legalize gaming in Florida, and who is related by marriage to the founder of Academica and receives a six-figure sinecure from the corporation:
In 2011 Shill of the Year: Erik Fresen was detailed in a Miami Herald expose on Academica, Fresen's brother-in-law's charter school empire. Erik earns $150,000 a year as a land-use consultant for Civica. They just happen to build schools for Academica. Since when do architectural firms hire land-use consultants?

Anyway, more to the point, State Rep. Fresen has a local legislative office. It is located at 6255 Bird Road, Miami. In 1993 that space was purchased by Excel Bird LTD. Excel Bird LTD has a mailing address of 6340 Sunset Dr. … which happens to be the same address for Academica, his brother-in-law’s charter school company. Excel Bird LTD shows as its officers Bargello Holdings Corp. The officers of Bargello Holdings Corp. are Fernando Zulueta and Ignacio Zulueta. Academica's owners coincidentally are also named Fernando and Ignacio Zulueta. The legislative office is in an Academica owned building.
The point for voters to remember: when Jeb Bush was governor of Florida he put into practice with ruthless efficiency the notion that there is nothing that government can do that private industry cannot do better. But that is not only what Jeb Bush believed: he also believed that wherever possible, it was necessary to follow the edict of shrinking government and let the profit motive help people.

The Jeb Bush strain of conservatism doesn't just believe that public education, water management, running prisons, health care or making wars belongs in the private sector; it also believes that those who are bright enough to game the system deserve by the fact of wealth to control the levers of government.

1 comment:

Janis Lentz said...

Thank you Gimleteye for posting this story. Floridians AND every voter they know need to know the truth about Jeb! Especially the damage he did to our public school system.