Saturday, October 21, 2017

‘What real journalism looks like’: Orlando Sentinel exposes Florida’s $1 billion school voucher scam

20 OCT 2017 AT 18:56 ET                 

The Orlando Sentinel is being praised for a months long investigation on Florida’s school voucher program, inspecting fifty percent more schools than state education officials inspected in all of last year.

The newspapers three-part, Schools Without Rules expose on the state’s nearly $1 billion tax credit scholarship program.

“That is what real journalism looks like — a team of journalists doing shoe-leather reporting, conducting the kind of inspections, investigations and interviews that even the state’s education officials don’t,” Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell explained. “This little-regulated system needs an overhaul. And the world needs more real journalists.”

Reporters Beth Kassab, Leslie Postal and Annie Martin reported that “private schools in Florida will collect nearly $1 billion in state-backed scholarships this year through a system so weakly regulated that some schools hire teachers without college degrees, hold classes in aging strip malls and falsify fire-safety and health records.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos refused to visit any public schools during an August trip to Florida. In March, DeVos joined President Donald Trump in touring a voucher school.
“The number of children using the scholarship programs has tripled in the past decade to 140,000 students at nearly 2,000 private schools. Many of those schools, which are subject to little state oversight, are heavily reliant on the state scholarship programs to keep their doors open,” the Sentinel found.
The Sentinal discovered an alarming lack of oversight.
“After Palm Bay Police began investigating principal Samuel Vidal Jr., who was accused last year of lifting the shirt of a 15-year-old student and putting his mouth on her breast, Vidal shut down his private Christian school,” the Sentinel found. “But the police investigation didn’t stop Vidal, 41, from winning approval from the Florida Department of Education to open a new private school in Palm Bay and collect nearly $200,000 in state-backed scholarships. And even after Vidal was charged with felony lewd or lascivious molestation, prompting the state to pull scholarships from the second school, it approved yet another school this year with ties to Vidal.”
Maxwell, who writes the Sentinel‘s “Taking Names” column, was openly disgusted by the response to the series by voucher supports.
“If voucher supporters actually cared about the safety and education of these children, they wouldn’t make excuses for all the problems exposed here. They wouldn’t attack the journalists who discovered them,” Maxwell noted. “Whining that the media ignored swell schools to focus on problematic ones is like whining that the media ignore planes that fly safely to report on ones that crash.”
After touring a voucher school with Secretary DeVos, President Trump said he wanted to expand the “great success” of Florida’s program nationwide.

Read the entire Orlando Sentinel expose on Florida’s Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and Step Up for Students, which administers most of the scholarships.


On "you know that this could happen when you signed up for it ...”

So Donald Trump said something stupid, thoughtless, insensitive and vile to the family of dead American soldier. I wish I could say I was surprised. But I can’t.

But people, your outrage needs to go MUCH beyond Donald Trump.

See, Trump was saying exactly – and I mean EXACTLY – what most Americans think when they hear soldiers have died.

At least since the start of the Afghanistan War (almost exactly 16 !! years ago) –   whatever Americans say on hearing a soldier has died, e.g., “Sorry for your loss,” or “thanks for your service,” damn near every American really THINKS, “well, they signed up. They volunteered. They knew this could happen.”

It is a sad side effect of the all-volunteer military that it allows us, the American people, to dismiss the pain and suffering of thousands of dead (mostly) young Americans, tens of thousands of physically and psychologically damaged (mostly) young Americans, and their millions of family and friends because, "you know that this could happen when you signed up for it.”

Somehow we have collectively decided that the fact that soldiers sign contracts volunteering to serve that somehow or another those (mostly) 18-20 year olds have made a sober, informed judgment about the ways they might get deployed, the wars to which they might get assigned, and the leaders they might be forced to serve under (both military and political) and so whatever happens to them is, basically, okay since “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it.” Rather than critiquing the stupid wars to which those (mostly) young Americans are sent, then, the American people’s job is to “support the troops” because, apparently, they want to go to war – after all, they signed a contract, and "you know that this could happen when you signed up for it.”

Donald Trump is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is our collective indifference … an indifference symbolized in the phrase, "you know that this could happen when you signed up for it.”


This is what happens when you lose credibility.

Dan Rather

This is what happens when you lie repeatedly about issues big and small. This is what happens when you foment divisions and show no remorse. This is what happens when your words have no meaning. You lose the benefit of the doubt.

Today John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff issued an emotional defense of President Donald Trump's phone call to the widow of a fallen soldier. He opened up about the death of his own son in combat. He claimed that Mr. Trump was being sensitive. He said he hadn't meant to criticize previous presidents when he said he wasn't sure if they made calls to the fallen. He criticised the conclusion of a Democratic congresswoman who shared her vantage point of the call. Everything that Mr. Kelly said may be true. Or maybe not. This could fall legitimately in the grey area of different interpretations, at least in cases where the president isn't Donald Trump.

Why did millions of Americans jump to the conclusion that Mr. Trump was criticizing President Obama with his words? Because that is what Mr. Trump always does, including questioning whether President Obama was a real American. Why did millions of Americans not trust Mr. Trump's denials about what he said and that he had proof? Because Mr. Trump repeatedly lies about what he says and what he means. Why did millions of Americans assume that Mr. Trump could not feel empathy for the death of Sgt. La David T. Johnson? Because he has shown no empathy for the people of Puerto Rico still suffering from a hurricane without power or safe drinking water. Why did millions of Americans think that Mr. Trump could disrespect American servicemen and women? Because he attacked a war hero and a Gold Star Family during the presidential campaign.

The impression of Mr. Trump that fueled the narrative around this phone call is one for which Mr. Trump has only himself to blame. General Kelly has served with distinction and honor. He has born grave personal sacrifices. He has every right to speak in the manner he did today. But he also has to understand that while millions of Americans may be inclined to believe his sincerity and character, they have long since given up on those attributes when it comes to his boss.

Yes elections have consequences. But so do words and deeds.

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