Ethical conduct is the moral glue that binds Americans to their government and ensures that there is public trust and confidence in our representative democracy.
A recent in-depth investigative piece from WLRN reporter Jessica Bakeman detailing the infrastructure of the charter school industrial complex exposes a startling dissolution of ethics by Florida State Senator Manny Diaz and State Senator Anitere Flores.
Both of these elected officials who have sworn an oath to the Florida Constitution and are charged with acting in the best interest of their constituents are instead passing laws that directly benefit the industry where they are paid salaries equivalent to more than the income of 90% of Americans.
According to the article, Senator Diaz sponsored and voted for a bill that created the charter school takeover of Jefferson County and then added another 2 million dollars to the effort to sweeten the pot.
In turn, Doral College, where Senator Diaz is the COO, was paid a consultancy fee by Somerset Academy which provides dual enrollment courses at those very charter schools in Jefferson County. Can you say tit for tat? Quid pro quo?
Senator Flores wrote the original legislation that directly benefited Somerset Academy as they launched their charter school incursions into the state. She then went on to work for Doral College herself. The foxes are truly guarding the hen house.
Unfortunately, budgeting is a zero sum game: funding of self-enriching charter school deals by Florida legislators results in underfunding of our public schools. Earlier this year, it was reported that the U.S. Department of Education lost more than $1 billion on charter school waste and fraud.
This is money that it is being stolen from our teachers and our children and that we, in Miami Dade County, had to supplement by proffering a local tax referendum that asked voters to finance safety and security in our schools and a much deserved teacher salary increase.
And in the end, all of these shameful, self-serving efforts by our state “representatives” result in a product that does not even make the grade. While our Miami Dade public schools continue to be A-rated, nationally-acclaimed and open to everyone, many of the charter schools are mired in mismanagement, staffed by unlicensed teachers, and exclusionary.
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that our own local elected officials are the ones taking us for a ride in Tallahassee, we fail to elect candidates who are truly pro public education and continue to vote in carpetbagger legislators.
As parents, teachers, and constituents we cannot become inured to these blatant conflicts of interest and brazen money grabs that corrode our democratic institutions and produce a product that often lacks merit and oversight. Our children, our families, and our state deserve better.
Karla Hernández-Mats is the president of United Teachers of Dade, the fourth largest teachers’ union in the country.