Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Death of Florida's First Charter School

by Paul Moore

The Miami-Dade School Board put Florida's first charter school out of its misery today. Buried under a mountain of debt and suffering from gross neglect the Liberty Charter School will close its doors for good at the end of this school year.
When the end finally came for their history making showcase school its founding fathers were in hiding. Oh, what a difference twelve years makes! Remember the bells Jeb Bush rang and whistles T. Willard Fair blew when they brought forth in this fair state their Liberty Charter School. ''Our opening had national implications,'' Principal Katrina Wilson-Davis recalled. ``I remember CNN and MSNBC coming down to our school site. Everybody wanted to see what accountability was all about. We were leading the charge.''
Liberty Charter would be the shining school of choice on the hill for inner-city victims of the public schools. Turns out it was just an electoral device and the African-American children inside were just props in a campaign photo-op. You see in 1994 Jeb Bush ran for governor for the first time. He came very close but Lawton Chiles bested him by less than two percentage points. The fact that Bush got only 4% of the Black vote was probably the difference. Jeb realized that when asked during the campaign what a Bush Administration would do for Black Floridians it was unwise to have answered, “Probably nothing.”
So in his second run for Florida’s top job, Jeb set out to polish up his image with the Black community. He got together with T. Willard Fair and established the first charter school in Florida in 1996. They set their school up near Liberty City and called it Liberty Charter School. In a paper co-authored by Bush and Fair called A New Lease On Learning: Florida’s First Charter School they promised the school “will be different from other public schools in many ways. For one, the total student body and class sizes will be small to maintain a human, loving environment. In addition, it will focus much more on character and discipline then (sic) most public schools. Our children will know the difference between right and wrong. The curriculum will reflect this with games, exercises and discussions about virtues such as honesty and integrity.”
Sincere or not, the Liberty Charter School proved to be an effective electoral strategy. In the 1998 election Jeb Bush got 17% of the Black vote and swamped Buddy McKay to become the governor of Florida. Shortly after taking office, Bush severed his ties with Liberty and appointed T. Willard Fair to the Florida Department of Education. The two men have grown quite fond of one another since. Fair recently regaled Bush with, "In my judgment, there is no greater person on this Earth than you. I love you."
The Miami Herald sought reaction from Jeb Bush and T. Willard Fair as their baby was faced with a life or death vote. Fair refused to comment at all but Bush wrote back, `I am not aware of what this is about. I do know that the school was an A-[rated] school, which warmed my heart.'' In fact the school that Jeb built was a C-[rated] school when it failed.
Paul A. Moore
Miami Carol City Public High School

No comments: