Who is paying for those low energy robocalls interrupting your late evening at 8:45 p.m. on behalf of 16-year incumbent Kay Fields? And why? The first question is easy to answer. The second is less clear, but much more important.
A political action committee (PAC) called "Inform Florida" is paying for the robocalls. "Inform Florida" is funded primarily by the for-profit charter school industry and other businesses looking to cash in on compulsory public education. Its top recent donor is "Academica," a for-profit charter chain, which gave $14,000 on October 5, just a few days before the robocalls began. See the image above from the State Elections Office.
"Academica" employs Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah. Diaz is arguably the most powerful education figure in the Florida House; and now he's running for Senate.
Diaz and Kelli Stargel are close allies in harming traditional public schools and teachers in order to benefit for-profit businesses. They are the Tallahassee educational establishment. They both staunchly supported House Bill 7069 in 2017, which mandated that cash-strapped local districts transfer your money to Manny Diaz's business to help with construction costs. 7069 is one of the reasons our sales tax renewal is so important.
My friend Sue "Accountabaloney" Woltanski, newly elected Monroe County School Board member, wrote about the direct benefit that Academica and Kelli Stargel's close ally Manny Diaz, Jr. receive from 7069.
If my calculations are correct, this year’s total Local Capital Improvement Revenue (LCIR) for Academica Schools is $22,852,055; Almost $23 million dollars of new annual revenue to Academica as a result of Rep. Diaz’ HB7069!
If you subtract the PECO money (Public Education Capital Outlay) coming from the state, you get the Charter School LCIR Allocation for Academica’s Charter Schools = 13,248,796; meaning over $13 million must be transferred from local school districts to Academica, a for-profit entity. Such a transfer of local property taxes will occur every single year.
These are the people who hurt your kids, teachers, and bus drivers
Perhaps more importantly, the legislative supporters of the for-profit charter industry are the number one purveyor of active harm for the kids and teachers in Florida's destructive model.
7069 created the Kelli Stargel/Manny Diaz school kill list, which led to all the drama last year about closing or relinquishing control of schools with school grades that aren't high enough on the state's fraudulent grade scale. But it was just a logical progression of the long-standing attack on the people of public education led by Diaz and Stargel and the rest of the Tallahassee establishment. This includes:
Strangled budgets that cause teacher and bus driver shortages
Endless, pointless testing
Punishing teachers with the discredited VAM equation
All the punitive "turnaround" measures built into 7069
The failed Amendment 8 that would have exempted charter schools from democratic oversight
Mandate after mandate that drives up local administrative costs
As a whole, Kay Fields' term on the Polk School Board has coincided with an endless attack on the quality of life and educational experience for kids and teachers in traditional neighborhood schools. Kelli Stargel and Manny Diaz despise neighborhood schools. Discrediting them is important to Academica's marketing. It's easier to sell a product if you can actively harm and then publicly trash the competition.
Will they expect Kay Fields to join in this effort if she wins thanks to their money?
What voters should ask Kay Fields
Kay's opponent in this election, Jennifer Sabin, makes very good points about 7069 and Kay's robocalls in this Facebook post.
In short, she reminds voters that your Polk County School Board, including Kay Fields, voted unanimously last year to join many other districts and sue the Florida state government over 7069, arguing that it is unconstitutional. That vote is one of my proudest votes. We are still in court over it. It was an important legal and political moment and marker.
It signaled that local districts and communities have had enough of Diaz and Stargel and Tallahassee harming our kids and teachers. If Andrew Gillum wins in 2018, it will be because of 7069 and a generation of Tallahassee teacher hate.
So why would Manny Diaz's Academica think it's a good investment to drop $14,000 into a PAC running robocalls for Kay Fields, a Polk School Board member currently suing over 7069? Maybe folks should ask Kay. Here are three specific questions to ask:
Do you plan to withdraw Polk County from the 7069 lawsuit?
Do you support the punitive, anti-teacher "turnaround school" policies that Manny Diaz and Kelli Stargel champion?
Do you think local School Boards should have meaningful oversight over charter schools?
I can assure you that Yes, Yes, and No, are the answers that Inform Florida hopes to receive.
A deeper question of transparency and morale
Let me be very clear: I have no problem with Academica spending to advance its interests with Kay Fields through the democratic process. Political competition is important. Manny Diaz and Kelli Stargel can endorse whoever they want, just like me.
Let's just all be open and honest about where we stand. And let the best arguments win.
I'm endorsing Jennifer Sabin in her race with Kay Fields. Here's why. And I'm endorsing long-time neighborhood school teacher Sarah Fortney in the other race. Here's why. Improving the working conditions and morale for teachers and staff is big, big part of my support for both Jennifer and Sarah.
It's my understanding that Kay Fields has begun to talk, a bit, about improving stakeholder morale and district culture on the campaign trail. But it's not clear to me what she plans to do in the next four years that she couldn't have done in the last 16.
And it's also not clear to me how a political alliance with the people bent on harming the kids, teachers, bus drivers, and stakeholders she represents will help morale. Perhaps that's another question she should answer.