Your state Board of Education is coming to Lakeland. How will you engage them? Here are some ideas.

Your Florida Board of Education, the worst state-level public education governing body in America, is coming to Polk State College’s Lakeland campus on July 17. The meeting starts at 8 a.m. in the Technology building.

The Board of Education is the state School Board, except that it never has to face the voters. The governor appoints its members. And of course, that’s a problem because Florida has a state-centered, not locally-centered, school system.

Most education governing power is concentrated in Tallahassee. The Legislature and BoE determine budgets and punishments. The endless high stakes tests your kids take are state tests. The BoE does not allow local boards to raise or lower taxes on their own. Most Polk staff are essentially state employees. Local board policies must conform to state law and BoE rules.

So, as a public education student, parent, or stakeholder, it’s in your interest to treat your Board of Education and your Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran like your local School Board. You don’t get to vote on them; so it’s important to engage them in other ways. Wednesday offers you a chance, on multiple levels.

You can demonstrate

A group of state activists are taking this opportunity to picket the meeting. They will be demonstrating over BoE’s terrible stewardship of Florida’s public education system and the leadership of Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who has been a relentless enemy of public education and the people who participate and work in it.

As an anti-public education legislator and staff, Corcoran is one of the key reasons Florida has a worsening teacher shortage. He is one the main reasons your kids spend a month on high stakes tests that do not help them or prepare them for anything.

Here is the link to the event page. I have no idea how many people will come. The activists see this as the beginning of a presence at every BoE meeting — the beginning of real engagement with the unelected body that holds all the power in Florida education. You have to start somewhere. And they’re starting in Polk. I welcome that.

You can try to speak to the BoE

Now let’s be clear. The BoE does not want the public to engage its members or Corcoran. The last time I attended a BoE meeting, as a parent and School Board candidate in 2016, they sicced a bouncer on me. Why?

I had to nerve to speak about my then 8th grade son’s “turnaround” school, which was literally on the BoE meeting agenda. I wanted to avoid mass forced teacher transfers that would take away my choice as a parent. And I wanted to provide the BoE with a parent’s perspective on their destructive policies toward these “turnaround” schools.

To avoid hearing from me, BoE took Polk County schools off the agenda and then tried to prevent me from talking about it. I still managed to talk before a burly dude tapped me on the shoulder. It made for good theater of the absurd. And it showed how deeply full of nonsense everything Florida’s education leadership says about empowering parents actually is. It demonstrated how they do not respect the “choice” of most parents, at all. Full video below.

At the Polk School Board level, we give members of the public five minutes to speak on any matter.

We are their elected representatives on education matters; and they should have to chance to come to us for redress. The state BoE does not believe in that basic element of representative government. There is no public comment portion of the meeting for matters not specifically on the agenda.

So I don’t know if your Board of Education, appointed by your elected governor, who oversees your tax money, which pays for your public schools, will let anyone from the public anywhere near it.

You can watch and learn and develop questions

But even if there’s no ability to speak or question, these meetings are valuable for the public in learning about the absurd complexities of education governance. Just watching may help spark good questions and deeper understanding of what we need to change. And you never know who might decide to talk to you in a break or other circumstance.

I certainly intend to show up and see if I can find a way to ask BoE or Corcoran some questions. Here are a few, in rough subject matter buckets.

Concerning Ralph Arza and the BridgePrep real estate venture/charter school

  1. Can Corcoran give an on-the-record account of what he discussed with criminal witness tamperer, noted racist, and leading for-profit charter school advocate Ralph Arza about the BridgePrep charter school vote in Polk County? Full background here. 
  2. If Arza was literally too racist and toxic for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign, why does he have such easy access to Florida’s most powerful education official. Why does Gov. DeSantis tolerate that?
  3. Do Corcoran and Arza have a personal friendship?
  4. Why has the Florida Charter School Alliance made Ralph Arza the public face of the charter school/real estate venture movement in Florida? Why does the BoE not insist on dealing with more savory people?
  5. Has Corcoran, anyone from the BoE, or FCSA President Lynn Norman-Teck listened to this tape of Arza and his cousin “Tatico?”
  6. Could Arza’s obsession with the word “bitch” explain why he singled out Polk School Board Members Sarah Fortney and Lisa Miller for aggressive pressure, but ignored me? Does Ralph Arza seem repentant about his past as a drunken criminal witness tamperer fond of the word “bitch,” among many others.
  7. Why are Kelli Stargel, Manny Diaz, Step up for Students, and so many other figures in Florida’s so-called “choice movement” so allied with Ralph Arza?
  8. What does it say about the morality of that movement?

Concerning Kingdom Prep, Pastor Tiger, and Step up for Students voucher oversight

  1. Who can parents of Florida’s voucher schools call to get help when something terrible happens at their voucher school, or when their school implodes, as happens quite often? Can we please have a name? In real public schools, parents and taxpayers can call me and then vote me out of office if they don’t like how I’ve tried to address their concerns. Where is that accountability for vouchers? Who is the equivalent of me for voucher schools in Polk County?
  2. In his online bio, former journalist Jon East describes himself as “director of policy and public affairs for Step up for Students, a nonprofit scholarship organization that oversees the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income children.” What does “oversees” mean? How does it differ from BoE’s role, if any, in “overseeing” voucher schools?
  3. Step up for Students recently announced that 38 of the 1,800 schools it “oversees” express “disapproval of homosexuality.” Where is that list? Is is it “disapproval” or is it “makes it grounds for expulsion?” What is the Board of Education’s point of view on that?
  4. Did anyone with BoE or Step up for Students ever perform any oversight of Kingdom Prep? Was Pastor Tiger required to have any credentials? Or undergo any government scrutiny at any time prior to his arrest?

The fraudulent Florida model

  1. How is it that 70 percent of Polk students are supposedly “proficient” on the Civics test when 47 percent are supposedly “proficient” in Reading. A Civics test is a reading comprehension test. We don’t take it with pictures.
  2. How is it that graduation rates are up across the state at the same time that college remediation requirements are up?
  3. Florida has reduced inflation-adjusted spending on its schools by 23 percent since 2008. Why?
  4. Why is BoE indifferent to the teacher shortage?
  5. Why does Florida use gamed 1-5 “achievement levels,” rather than actual test scores to define proficiency and growth.
  6. Why has the BoE or Richard Corcoran never acknowledged Florida nation’s worst individual student test score growth, according to a Stanford University study?
  7. Do they understand the difference between proficiency and growth, as test score measures?
  8. Why do Richard Corcoran and BoE fear competition from public schools so much that they will not allow them 5 percent of the “freedom” that voucher schools have?
  9. Why do Corcoran and BoE think public school parents are too stupid to assess their child’s experience at a public school without a fraudulent school grade?
  10. Why do public school parents not receive the same trust and respect that voucher and choice school parents do?

Obviously, I’ll be lucky to ask any of these questions. But I think they’re all worthy of answers. And I’d love to hear from the public about questions you would like to ask your state education leaders.

And I’d encourage you to begin thinking of the BoE as your state School Board — because they are. And they are extremely important — and quite harmful today — in providing a vibrant, humane education system that helps prepare kids for life.