Sunday, October 11, 2015

Charter Schools. And A Lot More.






It wasn't our idea, Joe. You brought it up. In what should be the least surprising revelation yet about Campaign 2016, Politico last week found

Joe Biden has been making his 2016 deliberations all about his late son since August.
Aug. 1, to be exact — the day renowned Hillary Clinton-critic Maureen Dowd published a column that marked a turning point in the presidential speculation.

According to multiple sources, it was Biden himself who talked to her, painting a tragic portrait of a dying son, Beau’s face partially paralyzed, sitting his father down and trying to make him promise to run for president because "the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”

It was no coincidence that the preliminary pieces around a prospective campaign started moving right after that column. People read Dowd and started reaching out, those around the vice president would say by way of defensive explanation. He was just answering the phone and listening.

But in truth, Biden had effectively placed an ad in The New York Times, asking them to call.
Before that moment and since, Biden has told the Beau story to others. Sometimes details change — the setting, the exact words. The version he gave Dowd delivered the strongest punch to the gut, making the clearest swipe at Clinton by enshrining the idea of a campaign against her in the words of a son so beloved nationally that his advice is now beyond politics. This campaign wouldn’t be about her or her email controversy, the story suggests, but connected to righteousness on some higher plane.

Politicians have been using their families for an excuse since time immemorial. It's particularly common when one has been criticized and complains that he himself is not hurt, but his wife and children should not have to be subjected to such personal attack.  And so the discovery that Biden himself leaked the story, or even legitimate speculation that a son's dying words might not have been about love for his son or his own family but "go for it, dad!", is not a hanging offense.

Still, Biden's family connections may be worth exploring.  In July, 2013, the Sun-Sentinel reported that an Ocean Ridge, Florida resident named Frank at the time was

president of Mavericks Charter High Schools, which operates seven charter schools, mainly in South Florida. Like his brother, Vice President Joe Biden, he's an unabashed Democrat. His schools serve mainly minority students. Many have criminal records, or deal with addiction problems. Most failed miserably in the traditional public school environment. The Mavericks charter schools tailor education programs to individual students' circumstances, and at least give them a chance at success.

"These kids have made a choice to give education another go," Biden said, with the passion of a true believer. "Education is their civil rights issue. These kids have a right to the same education others receive." Biden and the Mavericks schools have been a source of controversy. Among other things, critics claim graduation rates aren't good enough. Still, these schools are dealing with a student population that had been written off by the rest of society.

Frank Biden at that time had in Washington two powerful friends, one of whom recently resigned. Not surprising then, that the Sun-Sentinel, would ask  "what about those who claim charter schools are failing in their mission?" and Biden would respond "if they sat down with Arnie Duncan, my brother and the president and told them that, they'd be laughed out of the room."

Ha, ha! We all laughed, too!  In a perverse way, Frank was right- charter schools are not failing in their mission.   Unfortunately, that mission has nothing to do  with civil rights or those "kids" but about profit for a few.  The invaluable Diane Ravitch refers us to an article (part of an ongoing series about Florida charter schools) by Karen Yi and Amy Shipley in which we learn

Mavericks in Education Florida launched a network of charter schools more than five years ago, drumming up publicity with prominent pitchmen and pledging to turn dropouts into graduates.

But more than a thousand pages of public records obtained by the Sun Sentinel raise questions about the private company's management of its six charter high schools, including five in South Florida, which are publicly funded but independently operated.

Many of the company's schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:

But more than a thousand pages of public records obtained by the Sun Sentinel raise questions about the private company’s management of its six charter high schools, including five in South Florida, which are publicly funded but independently operated.

Many of the company’s schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:

• Overcharging taxpayers $2 million by overstating attendance and hours taught. The involved schools have appealed the findings.

 Submitting questionable low-income school meal applications to improperly collect $350,000 in state dollars at two now-closed Pinellas County schools.

• Frequent academic errors that include skipping state tests for special-needs students, failing to provide textbooks and using outdated material...

(Jim) Pegg, who oversees charter schools for the Palm Beach County school district, said problems with Mavericks in Education have frustrated district officials. State charter-school laws do not address the performance of management companies.

"The statute doesn't give any kind of authority to hold those management companies accountable; we can only hold the schools accountable," Pegg said. "We need to be able to have some authority with [management companies]. They are the ones taking the tax dollars."

Mavericks in Education is the management company for five schools in South Florida and another in Kissimmee in central Florida. That school has not been cited for any major violations, records show. Mavericks also operated two schools in Pinellas County and one in Leon County that recently closed.

John Ellis Bush, who championed charter schools and continues to tout them in his pitiful presidential campaign, by far is the character who most needs to be held accountable for the deterioration of the public school system in Florida.  But Joe Biden wants to  exploit (though not as much as his Super Pac) his family's tragedy for political gain and his brother's involvement in Florida's charter school debacle is a legitimate topic of inquiry.  

If and when he announces for the Democratic nomination for the presidency he refers to Beau, Joe Biden should be asked about Frank in the context of the vice-president's support of public schools. At some point, he also ought to be asked about undercutting Harry Reid and progressive tax and budget interests; about his differences with Senator Warren about bankruptcy and financial regulation generally (video below); about believing a woman's choice to have an abortion never is justified; and about putting Clarence Thomas on the United States Supreme Court. It should be good for a lot of laughs.















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