Hillsborough County restarts the COVID-paused revolt against Florida school privatization's exploitation of kids and communities

America's 7th largest district does a Tuesday night massacre of scammy charter school businesses. What now? How will the state mafia retaliate? Who will stand with the local board and public?

Mr. Ness, everybody knows where the [charter scams] are. The problem isn’t finding it. The problem is who wants to cross [Corcoran]. If you walk through this door now, you’re walking into a world of trouble. There’s no turning back. You understand?

The Hillsborough County School Board had an “Untouchables” moment Tuesday night.

A shifting coalition of Hillsborough board members — pushed by organized assertive pro-public education activists — rejected creation or expansion of a number of charter businesses and real estate ventures. You can get a sense of the reasons why in these few tweets from Tampa Bay Times reporter Marlene Sokol, who live-tweeted the meeting. Full feed here. But the common thread is that these schools all put getting paid ahead of serving kids.

I don’t fully understand all the Hillsborough-specific board politics at work here.

But I’m told that Dr. Stacy Hahn is a “conservative” close to voucher godfather John Kirtley. And even she is tearing into charter real estate ventures and businesses over ESE segregation and failure to provide ESE services, citing federal law.

Anybody who knows anything about charter schools knows that they chronically exclude or fail to serve ESE kids — in Hillsborough and elsewhere. Florida “choice” schools really don’t do ESE. That is their most open vulnerability to law in a state where there really is no charter law. Good for Hillsborough for fighting on that strong legal, moral, and political ground.

A true popular movement reasserts itself over the COVID noise

The anti-privatization, anti-fraud, pro-human being approach to public education in Florida — of which I’m proud to have been an early advocate — was politically ascendant in this state at the community level when COVID struck and temporarily overshadowed it.

Now it’s back, thanks to Hillsborough; and it’s much more consequential than the performative battles over 2024 presidential election talking points currently making the most news.

This movement elected me in 2016 in Polk County. It got rid of former Senate President Joe Negron’s wife a couple years ago. It purged a number of voucher-loving Democrats in recent primaries. It helped Karen Castor Dentel in Orange County win 72 percent of the vote in August after the charter industry labeled her “Public Enemy Number 1.” (They also labeled me “Public Enemy Number 1,” which is the name of this newsletter now. Yes, they had two number 1s.)

The movement helped Tom Edwards beat an incumbent in Sarasota County who outspent him $220,000 to $24,000.

“Everyone was saying not to compromise values. It’s understandable that we all have different policies, but not different values,” Edwards said. “I did this on a $30,000 budget. I am so proud of my campaign team, I can’t begin to tell you.” 

He campaigned heavily on his opposition to “privatization,” a term that tends to lump in charter schools, voucher programs and taxpayer money going to nontraditional schools.

And the movement has helped every local school tax referendum in Florida since 2012 succeed. Floridians are tired of Richard Corcoran and the state education mafia squandering their investments in their children and community schools on scams like vouchers and charter real estate schemes.

Indeed, I think I can safely say that I am the only electoral setback the entire pro-public school movement has suffered in the last five years. And that wasn’t because of the ideas I pursued; that was because the entire old school local political and business leadership class of Polk County organized against me with a bunch of culture war lies because I criticized their mediocrity. And I still got 48 percent of the vote in a Trump-voting county.

Pro-public education, anti-fraud and grift is good policy and good politics. Embrace it.

The state mafia can probably jam all these schools down Hillsborough’s throat. So make them do it.

So this is a good fight for the Hillsborough Board and activists to pick. I thank them for it.

But grift does not surrender easily. And state power will do whatever it can to keep the grift going. Hillsborough’s brave board members and activists need our help and support. Power is going to threaten legal action and complain about the cost of fighting and pursue political and personal retribution in a myriad of ways.

Now would be a great time for someone like Congresswoman Kathy Castor — sister to “Public Enemy Number 1” Karen Castor Dentel — to issue a statement of support for the Hillsborough board, especially as it relates to clear violations of federal law that ESE exclusion and service failure represents.

Make Richard Corcoran and DeSantis use their raw power openly and nakedly in the service of grifters and anti-humane charter businesses. Power used under duress is power diminished.

The Hillsborough Board has told the state that it will not be complicit in the destruction of public schools for the benefit of scammers. I’m super proud of them. They have my full support.

They should have yours too — because they’ve crossed Capone and they’re going to need it.