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Florida’s 2018 Education Savings Accounts a Vehicle for “A La Carte” Education

February 3, 2018

The following information is from veteran Ohio art teacher and public education activist, Laura H. Chapman and was included as a comment to my post, “USDOE’s New Idea: Student Loan Debit Cards.”

Chapman’s comment concerns the use of education savings accounts (ESAs), a “back door” voucher program in which public money is deposited into “government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses.”

It seems that Florida is taking the market-based ed reform idea a step further in allowing how ESA money is spent beginning in 2018.

Below is a slightly-edited version on Chapman’s original comment, including a number of links added:

Educations Savings Accounts, promoted by Jeb Bush, Betsy DeVos, and others are being migrated into a platform for a la carte education.

This year (January 2018) Florida will have in place an on-line user-friendly marketplace for education with a catalog of products and services eligible for purchase by parents and authorized caregivers. The platform, called MyScholarShop, will resemble Amazon, complete with parent/caregiver reviews of the authorized fare. It is not yet clear who is in charge of approving the products and services in the on-line catalog. The press release says parents: “will simply go online to the pre-approved catalog and “Pick It, Click It, Ship It.” The cost will be taken directly from their education savings account. Supplies, if ordered, will be delivered to customer-provided address.

This project has been in the works with (and is trademarked by) Step Up For Students, the Florida agency that distributes money earmarked for Gardiner Scholarships. These state-funded scholarships are for special education—nearly 10,000 students (autism spectrum disorder, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and spina bifida) who, on average, are allocated $10,000 each per year. These approved services include private school tuition and fees, private tutoring, occupational therapy, instructional materials and other services.

Step Up For Students also manages the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Students qualify if they participate in the national free or reduced-price lunch program. Students may also qualify if they are homeless, in foster or out-of-home care. These scholarships can be used to offset the transportation cost to an out-of-district public school or for help with tuition to a private school. When those students are included (no date indicated, but in the school year 2017-2018) the MyScholarShop direct-pay platform will serve about 115,000 students with the prospect of saving the labor and cost of printing about 500,000 checks under the old system.

The system will include a product and service-provider rating system “so families can assist each other in making appropriate selections for their children.”
The MyScholarShop platform is described as a Partnership with SAP Ariba and Premikati.

SAP Ariba is a cloud-based system of business management, with analytics that track inventory (supplier information), performance (sales), software solutions for creating digital invoices, and tracking cash flow. Features of SAP Ariba are available in four pricing tiers. All tiers have transaction fees, based on the volume of annual financial transactions with customers. All tiers also have a subscription fee, based on the number of documents in your annual transactions with customers, and your use of technology. SAP Ariba is designed to help “suppliers connect with profitable customers’ among other business services (provided in 190 countries, with three million companies).

Premikati, Inc. provides services that cut red tape for users of the SAP Ariba platform (e.g., planning, financial, contract management, legal). According to the website, Premikati has a new line of business (see footnote), a national Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) for K-12 education and for non-profits. A GPO is designed to secure discounts with select vendors by leveraging the collective purchasing power of its members.

States that are legislating vouchers, scholarships, tax credits, and other per-student payment systems are likely to see the MyScholarShop platform as an efficient way to manage the distribution of funds and with a digital trail of who spends the allotted funds on which products and services. So far, it is not clear whether student privacy is protected. Big data could be sold (made into gold).

The MyScholarShop has the potential of becoming the go-to place for parents/caregivers/students to spend public money—vouchers, tax credits, scholarships, per-student allocations of public funds in addition to discounted merchandise that might be organized by brands (e.g., Montessori). Some charter schools have formed non-profits functioning much like GPOs (e.g., Summit) and some entrepreneurs (e.g. Alt-School, WeWork ) want to sell their patched together curriculum materials and/or software.

I think MyScholarShop is ripe for corruption. I have not found information about who qualifies as a “vendor” and how. If customer ratings enter into an approval/endorsement process, then some additional criteria should be in place to prevent rigging the ratings (e.g., “If you give me a great rating, I will give you three free lessons on the guitar”).

I can imagine an expansion of MyScholarShop into the marketing space called Great Schools.org. Data on school performance, including on-line programs is posted there with a convoluted rating scheme for “school quality.” For a fee, companies can lease the data and push products. In addition to charter schools networks, Zillow pays to lease the data (perpetuating redlining). For a minimum fee of $5000 you can put custom ads that target options such as zip code, grade level and content. Advertisements for education related ballot issues can be purchased, subject to approval.

Major “supporters” and funders of Greatschools.org are known for being friendly to market-based education: Walton Family Foundation, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, the Leona M. and Harry B Hemsley Charitable Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Those are the biggies, but there are 14 others.

To gain a sense of GreatSchools.org as an ed reform vehicle, consider that Peter Cunningham is on its board of directors:

Peter Cunningham is the Executive Director of Education Post, a Chicago-based non-profit communications organization promoting efforts to improve public education. Previously, Peter was President of Cunningham Communications, a Chicago-based communications company serving public, private and non-profit sector clients. He is also affiliated with Whiteboard Advisors, a DC-based education policy and research firm. He recently served as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama Administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. For several years Peter was affiliated with the political consulting firm Axelrod and Associates, and also served for five years in the administration of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

MyScholarShop and GreatSchools.org are helping approved advertisers reach parents and students. In theory “the market” decides which products and services are “worthy” of purchase, even if these have little documented value or are outright quackery.

As this taxpayer-funded, education storefront proceeds, the public will also learn (possibly via costly lesson) just how much quackery it will vend in the name of *choice.*

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I wrote a few books. Here’s one on the history of charter schools and vouchers:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

And here are two more: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. Swell stuff.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

6 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Thanks for the edits, links, and context. Perhaps an elder activist, but not retired.

  2. Duane E Swacker permalink

    Laura H. Chapman is one of the best education writers these days, bar none (well have to include you, Mercedes, in with Laura, no doubt).

  3. Step Up For Students is the biggest scam. Everything always, ALWAYS points back to the #1 company behind everything education in the US and that is AIR (American Institutes for Research) who is SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium – what’s left of it). From the Step Up For Students website: https://www.stepupforstudents.org/office-of-student-learning/measures-of-academic-progress/ NWEA is an affiliate of AIR and also responsible for MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) which was forced into most if not all the schools in Florida and is absolutely horrible. MAP was “tested” from 2008-2010 and here is the finding: “Although the MAP program is used extensively in school districts across the United States, there is no experimental evidence on its impact on student outcomes.” They are pushing this MAP testing on K’s and 1st graders. It’s sickening. It’s nothing more than massive data collection. MAP does not and never has done what it claims to do. MAP is supposed to monitor students proficiency towards state standards and inform instruction. They claim their MAP test “incorporates procedures to align MAP test items with state content standards and maintain the test’s high reliability and validity for predicting state achievement test performance.” It’s flat out fraud. The FL state test – the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment) had NEVER been deemed “valid” or “reliable”. Even the fraudulent paid “validity study” stated the FSA did NOT align to the FL standards. Not too mention – take a look at the Executive Directors and Board of Directors for NWEA…..Ronald Blocker is the president and CEO of FL Virtual School (all fraud and scams come out of FL) and the CEO is Chris Minnich of CCSSO fame. All the other people on the board and who are listed as “executives” are all financial people. As usual. No educators, no education backgrounds and no educational related experience. Yet these people are writing these “assessments” for our kids.

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