March 4, 2021

Billy Townsend: Segregation Factories in Florida (Part 1)

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Billy Townsend has been a feisty, vocal critic of Florida’s assault on public education. In this piece, he looks at how “Florida’s Low Capital, Jim Crow Voucher and ESA programs imitate pre-Brown American education – only worse.” It’s a longer read, but painstakingly detailed and a rough reminder of how Florida is, as he called it elsewhere, “the state that put the nation at risk.”

Taken with permission from his substack, Public Enemy Number 1, which you can subscribe to here.

I count 65 Step Up for Students (SUFS) voucher schools in Polk County — my Florida county. Of those schools, 16 have enrollments with more than 76 percent black children. Twelve of the 16 schools are 95 percent black or greater. 876 black children in Polk County attend those 16 schools. See screenshot of my spreadsheet below.

Your elected School Board has no oversight at all over these schools, which are directly and indirectly funded by money withheld from real public schools. If you’re a parent, don’t bother calling anybody with a voucher problem. The elected School Board can’t help; and Step up for Students, the unelected state voucher School Board, won’t help.

None of these all-black or virtually all black Polk schools have been “accredited by at least one agency.” Not one of the 16. No black child, not one, among the 876 in those 16 schools attends an accredited school.See the screenshot below from the SUFS online profile of A’kelynn’s Angels, which has 201 kids, according to SUFS. Here’s a link to the insane A’kelynn’s Angels saga of dysfunction from the last couple years. Most, if not all, students at A’kelynn’s Angels pay the school with some form of state voucher.

The school pictured below, “Preparing the Way Academy” in Lakeland, has onestudent, who is black. But it’s certainly recruiting. The sign on the left of the picture touts “free scholarship funding” from any of the state’s five voucher programs — two of which (Gardiner and McKay) are supposed to encourage specialized, personal care of children of disabilities.Do you think children with disabilities will get personalized, competent services here? We will get into the truly horrifying ESE picture SUFS schools produce in part 2. It’s even worse than the racial segregation; although it overlaps.

This is the type of educational service Kelli Stargel and Manny Diaz and Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran want to force you to buy (especially if you’re a parent or child of color) with an Educational Savings Account (ESA) by dismantling your real public schools through political testing, over-regulation, and funding strangulation. Kate Wallace and Lakeland Leads think “Preparing the Way” is a vital part of their “portfolio model” of education or something.So-called “liberal reformers,” including Barack Obama, through their obsession with useless metrics, tortured data, and empty language about “equity” served as crucial bipartisan enablers of this open effort to de-capitalize the schools children of color attend. Congrats.Florida’s ESA plan, percolating in Tallahassee now, would combine the five voucher programs on the “Preparing the Way” poster. Those voucher programs have almost nothing to do with each other beyond grift. But grift is always the point in Florida education; and ESAs will become a giant bubbling cauldron of liquid grift.When I say ESAs are dollar store debit cards for education grifting, “Preparing the Way Academy” is what I mean. This is the “education supermarket” they want you to buy from after they dismantle real public schools.

High capital private schools are white and accredited and exclusive; and they carefully limit voucher kids

A’Kelynn’s Angels and Preparing the Way Academy and Endtime Christian School of Excellence (yes, that’s really the name) make for telling contrast with real private schools.

They make a telling contrast with Lakeland Christian School, Resurrection Catholic School, St. Paul Lutheran School, All Saints Academy, St. Anthony Catholic School, and Santa Fe Catholic High School.

These are the big, established, institutional names in Polk County private schools. Each has a black enrollment population of 10 percent or less. (Lakeland’s St. Paul is at 1 percent). See screenshot below. Black enrollment percentage in green.

Each of the institutional schools I named (but not all the non-black schools on the screenshot) have accreditation “by at least one agency.”

Here’s Lakeland Christian’s SUFS profile:

Each institutional, exclusive private school takes some number of vouchers; but they rely more on private tuition, private giving, and (in some cases) Catholic Diocesan funding to build meaningful educational capacity for their schools. Vouchers don’t cover the costs of operation.

[I can’t be as precise as I’d like here because I don’t have voucher numbers as percentage of voucher school’s enrollment for all vouchers and all schools. That’s because SUFS and state government don’t want anyone to have this information easily at hand. They hate transparency because they don’t want people pointing out the hideous, racist grift I’m pointing out here. It’s not complicated. Really. ]

But I do have Lakeland Christian’s (and a few other schools) Florida Tax Credit (FTC) voucher for low income kids number — thanks to this Ledger article from last year.

Low income FTC vouchers were 10 percent of Lakeland Christian’s 1,075-person, 80 percent white enrollment at the time of that story last year. I would bet — and LCS is welcome to correct me — that it has a hard cap on vouchers at 10 percent of enrollment. The LCS “community” buys and expects exclusivity — not marketing material for SUFS’ grifting. I suspect it tolerates some tokens for its own marketing; but not more than that.

[Update: Someone familiar with the LCS community has already responded to me on this, which I appreciate. This person says there is no hard cap; but this person also recognizes that SUFS vouchers don’t cover the cost of LCS tuition, which likely has the same type of limiting effect. More precision as I get it.]

By contrast, low income FTC vouchers alone (not counting the other four vouchers that the schools also take) account for 67 percent of A’Kelynn’s Angels enrollment and 88 percent of The Christian Academy of Winter Haven’s enrollment.

319 v. 161. Look at it

Here’s what institutional, high capital, mostly white private schools that take vouchers in Polk look like…

Lakeland Christian, 10 percent black, roughly 107 kids of 1075

All Saints Academy, 8 percent black, roughly 44 kids of 545

Resurrection Catholic, 2 percent black, roughly 10 kids of 500

Compare those images to the visual reality of overwhelmingly black — or all black — voucher schools…

Preparing the Way, 100 percent black. 1 child

Greater St. Paul Academy, 99 percent black, 127 kids…

A’Kelynn’s Angels, 95 percent black, roughly 191 kids…

That’s 319 black children enrolled in the Ron DeSantis/Manny Diaz/Kelli Stargel’s Low Capital Voucher Jim Crow schools versus 161 black kids enrolled in the three private schools with arguably the most power and capital of any three in Polk County.

319 vs. 161. In American capitalism, capital is life and the chance for a future. It remains brutally segregated, by design.

The view from Brown v Board of Education

Now take a look at this. These pictures are from the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Site in Topeka, Kansas, which I visited in 2019. I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area. This is the school the Brown family wanted to escape in order to attend a similarly equipped school closer to their home.

This is a classroom in that school, as it looked in the 50s.

I don’t know about you; but that looks pretty damn good, considering what my kids grew up with in Florida.

School segregation and integration are among the hardest, most complex issues in our society — if not the most complex. People don’t even agree on their definitions.

In my experience, human beings want to attend schools with other humans who share their community characteristics; they want ease of access and to avoid busing; they want equality — or advantage — in resources; they (often) want diversity in faculty and fellow students; and they want to be in the majority of a school population.

People want all of this at the same time in the same school. Good luck with that. That is complexity, personified. I’m pretty good at governing; but I’m not that good. And any “solution” will be imperfect at best.

By contrast, what I’m showing you today is not complex — not at all. It’s just hidden — in plain site.

Some crucial thoughts/context about Low Capital Jim Crow Vouchers

Here are a few crucial points of context, as you consider how to react to Low Capital Jim Crow.

1) Low Capital Voucher Jim Crow exists at scale in every county and community in Florida. It’s not a Polk-specific issue. The Orlando Sentinel’s Pulitzer-deserving “Schools without Rules” reporting makes that clear. It took me about four hours to do the data entry here and sort it. You should do the same in your community. It will show you the same thing. You can search schools by zip code on the SUFS site.

2) Kids are not really “choosing” these Low Capital Jim Crow schools. They’re being herded into them by over-testing and its punishments, particularly the impact of mass 3rd grade retention. All private schools, voucher and otherwise, are excluded from all Florida’s public school testing and “accountability” measures. Testing is the most crucial marketing weapon vouchers have.

Again, the Sentinel’s reporting is clear. Florida’s political testing program isn’t designed to help your child; it’s marketing designed to serve segregation factory grifters. Sentinel sum up:

Escaping high-stakes testing is such a scholarship selling point that one private school administrator refers to students as “testing refugees.”

There are very very few spots available at Lakeland Christian for test refugees; and I’ll bet they don’t want them anyway and screen them out.

3) The FTC voucher program has a 61 percent 2-year dropout rate. And a 75-percent 3-year dropout rate. What role do you think the Jeb Bush/Ron DeSantis Low Capital Jim Crow academies play in that?

4) Florida as a whole has America’s worst state-level test results when measured by growth, if you care about that. No one in power or institutional media will tell you this because of Jeb; but it’s absolutely true. Jeb’s Low Capital Jim Crow voucher academies contribute powerfully to that because of #3.

5) Low Capital Voucher Jim Crow isn’t really a separate, parallel system — also because of #3. Polk charter systems like McKeel and Berkley and Lake Wales Charter and district-run magnet schools are their own separate trees in the education orchard, competing for life and fertilizer. Voucher kids generally don’t go back and forth with fellow “choice” charter and magnet systems because they aren’t wanted in magnet and choice schools and can’t get in.

Low Capital Voucher Jim Crow is more like a fungus on the tree of traditional public education. The kids pass back and forth from compulsory education zoned schools constantly and organically. The voucher programs are parasitic; they live off the public school tree while slowly sickening it. And what they produce themselves is ugly and fetid.

6) One can argue that today’s Low Capital Jim Crow Vouchers are educationally worse than the original. Why would I say that? The only “advantage” for students of historic legal segregation was that talented black teachers were forced to teach in segregated schools. While facilities and resources were substandard compared to white schools, segregated black schools did have a large cadre of excellent, talented teachers who taught students well.

Today, of course, no teacher is forced to teach in a specific school because of his or her race or background. Nor should they be, obviously. Talented black teachers — like talented teachers as a whole — are in massive demand for public schools and private schools with capital. There’s a national teacher shortage, after all. Therefore, there is no captive workforce to staff the Low Capital Jim Crow Voucher Academies. Just cheap computer terminals.

7) One voucher school in Polk County is attempting to replicate the capital of All Saints and Lakeland Christian for the kids of A’kelynn’s Angels — explicitly seeking to provide elite private school capital to kids without capital. Lakeland’s Academy Prep is funded by the Jenkins Foundation — by the joint largesse of the Barnett/Fancelli families of Publix fame. Roughly 46 of its 76 kids (60 percent) are black.

Yet, failed Florida Voucher Superintendent Doug Tuthill and failed unelected Voucher School Board Step up for Students make no effort, at all, to distinguish between A’Kelynn’s Angels and Academy Prep — both of which use Step Up vouchers.

And A’Kelynn’s Angels enrolls roughly five times (191) as many black children as Academy Prep. I have no idea why Barney and Wesley and Nick and Gregory and Julie tolerate such a waste of their capital from Step Up. “The market decides,” I guess. Doug Tuthill is still getting paid whenever a kid goes to either — and paid a lot.

8) Step up for Students’ publicly available data is unverifiable garbage; but it’s all we have. There is no systemic checking of teacher credentialing or anything else. All information available to parents on the SUFS website is self-reported by the schools themselves. I found a number of oddities and holes in demographic data. Caveat emptor.

9) Democrats should make Doug Tuthill and Step Up for Students famous in the 2022 governor campaign as the superintendent and unelected school board of the failure factory, low capital, test-marketed, 61-percent drop out rate, Jim Crow academies that poison our state.

That path of argument — like any path of argument — is unlikely to beat DeSantis in 2022 for reasons that have nothing to do with education; but Low Capital Jim Crow Vouchers and Florida’s failed education system are the single most potent weapon available to turn on DeSantis in 2022 and especially when he runs for president afterward, which he will. Florida education will hurt him badly, if used.

Failure to do so is political and moral malpractice. But what else is new? This is Florida.

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