February 19, 2024

Sue Kingery Woltanski: Florida Legislature Poised to Give Preferential Treatment to Charter Schools With Conservative Political Agendas

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Only a small number of Florida charters are “classical” schools, but the legislature is getting set to give those schools a special advantage, Sue Kingery Woltanski has the story. Why? Well…

Many of Florida’s Classical Charter Schools have connections to the politically powerful.

In 2011, Anne Corcoran, the wife of former House Speaker and Commissioner of Education, now President of New College of Florida, Richard Corcoran, wrote the original charter application for Classical Preparatory Academy in Spring Hill, Florida. Classical Prep now has two campuses. Mrs. Corcoran also served as a director and board member of Tallahassee Classical School, which was created as part of the  “Barney Charter School Initiative.”

Jennifer Diaz, the wife of current Commissioner of Education, Manny Diaz, Jr., is the former vice-chair of the governing board of the Tallahassee Classical School. Tallahassee Classical made national news when its principal was forced to resign after a parent complained a Renaissance art lesson, featuring Michelangelo’s David, was pornographic.

Former Rep. Michael Bileca, the former Chair of the House Education Committee under Corcoran, founded True North Classical Academies, a network of four classical charter schools in Miami-Dade County. Bileca now serves as the Chair of the Florida Charter Institute (FCI) at Miami Dade College.

Erika Donalds, who was appointed to the Constitutional Revision Commission by Corcoran and is married to former state representative, now Congressman, Byron Donalds, launched OptimaEd, a for-profit company with the explicit intention of expanding Hillsdale’s network of schools. OptimaEd helps to establish classical charters and then manages them, for a fee, of course. Currently, OptimaEd was operates five classical charters in Florida and has plans to open four more in the next 2 years. Mrs. Donalds also founded Optima Academy Online, a remote-only classical charter school educates students through virtual reality headsets. Erika serves Moms for Liberty’s advisory board.

Let’s see: two schools founded by Anne Corcoran, another one associated with both Anne Corcoran and Jennifer Diaz, four founded by Mike Bileca, five by Erika Donalds… that accounts for 12 of the current 18 classical charters in Florida…

Suffice it to say, there are many politically connected individuals interested in the expansion of classical charter schools in Florida. Now, HB1285 and SB996 are poised to offer special privileges to those schools. Both bill sponsors, Rep. Jennifer Canady and Senator Danny Burgess, suggested that their bills would “further cement Florida as the premier state in the country for education.”

Read the full piece here. 

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