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rotten apple

The Florida government's push for more charter schools with less oversight is leading to some horrible corruptions of the meaning of public education, and terrible uses of public money. Most recently, the Tampa Bay Times reported on the Life Force Arts and Technology Academy, which has essentially been taken over by Scientology and the Nation of Islam.

Life Force was going into bankruptcy, and hired a management company run by Hanan Islam to reorganize it during that process. Islam has pushed Scientology study methods, made teachers attend Scientology teaching methods training sessions, and passed out Scientology study materials. At a Christmas party for students held in a Scientology church, "children were fed candy and pizza, given Scientology books and DVDs, and shown a performance of a play written by Scientology's late founder, L. Ron Hubbard." Islam, whose supposed academic credentials come from a school known as a diploma mill and an "institute" that the Tampa Bay Times couldn't confirm exists, appointed a Nation of Islam student minister as chairman of the school's board and had the Rev. Alfreddie Johnson, who "was called 'the liaison between the Church of Scientology and the Nation of Islam' last October by the Nation's official newspaper, The Final Call," give a speech at a school fundraiser.

The school, which receives $800,000 in public funding, is in bankruptcy, not paying teachers for months at a time, canceling bus service, and not providing the most basic classroom materials. Newt Gingrich would be happy—young students have been punished for misbehavior by being forced to scrub bathrooms and mop floors. Meanwhile under Islam's management, the school "funneled tens of thousands of dollars more to Islam's business interests than she told the bankruptcy court she would charge." The bankruptcy process is protecting the school from being shut down by educational authorities.

This is an extreme case, even for a Florida charter school. But this year, a Christian school in the state turned itself into a charter, keeping the same faculty and administration and many of the same students, but getting public funding and no longer charging tuition. Severely disabled children are excluded from 86 percent of Florida schools, and many also serve low numbers of poor children. And using a charter school to funnel large sums of money to a management company is a widespread practice among unscrupulous charter operators, including in Florida. Meanwhile, the legislature's preference for charter schools is such that this year, the state budgeted $55 million for construction and maintenance of the state's 350 charter schools, and nothing for its 3,000 public schools.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM PST.

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