Florida FOIA Documents
Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson and Department of Education staff called on Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and her team on several occasions to craft policy on school grading, No Child Left Behind waivers, charter schools, and digital learning. Levesque and Robinson seem to consult on many matters: Levesque gave him her cell phone number and he emailed her to review documents with him to help him prepare for meetings.
FEE weighed in on legislation that would count the state test, known as FCAT, as more than 50 percent of the state's school accountability measure. Levesque wrote to a state official that she had negotiated the related language with state legislators, who were now "asking for the following which, the Foundation completely supports: FCAT shall be 'at least 50%, but no more than 60%' of a high school’s grade." Pearson, the company that holds the $250 million FCAT contract and sponsors FEE through its foundation, could stand to gain if the FCAT continues to be at the center of Florida's education accountability system. Later, Levesque provides updates on the status of legislation, relaying to Robinson concerns about the exclusion of some of the Foundation’s favored language in the bill. She says it was excluded because “the department could not explain the issue to them (Senator Montford or the Florida Association of District School Superintendents) when they were discussing the bill.” Levesque reports that Foundation staff met with the Superintendents to explain it and they agreed to compromise language which the Foundation would support and push to get included in the Senate version of the bill.
FEE staff weighed in on two types of legislation that might benefit Charter Schools USA, an FEE funder. In addition to sending an invitation to the state board of education to attend a press conference in support of parent trigger legislation, FEE staff was very much involved in legislation affecting the state's school turnaround procedures, which include converting some neighborhood schools to charter schools. Robinson emailed Levesque in December 2011 to review the Department of Education’s Differentiated Accountability Draft Legislation. Levesque writes, “I think we need to add a sec onto this bill to give you/the department authority to set a state‐approved list of charter operators or private providers so districts can’t pick poor performers to implement turnaround. Also, you/State Board should have more authority to enforce a strict timeline for turnaround models.2” If Charter Schools USA, the for-profit operator, were included on the "state approved list," it could improve the company's growth potential.
No Child Left Behind Waivers
Levesque made her and her team’s resources available in February 2012 to “help with any defense of Florida’s waiver, pushback on Ed Trust’s report.” (Education Trust's report, which rated each state's NCLB waiver application, noted that Florida's accountability system did little to address achievement gaps.) Chiefs for Change, another Jeb Bush-related education group, became aware of the report, because Paul Pastorek, who, as the former Louisiana state Superintendent, was a member of Chiefs for Change, attended a meeting about waivers at the Federal Department of Education as a representative of the Chiefs. New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s private response about the ratings to a representative from Education Trust was shared with Robinson by Levesque along with the note: “Did Gerard get his copy of their review? We would like to help respond.” Levesque and the Foundation were an integral part of the waiver process in Florida; at one point Robinson emailed a staffer saying “Please connect with patricia as you did before to discuss our latest draft document. Also, take a look at a document she sent to me about our waiver.”
Foundation for Excellence in Education “Scholarships”
The Foundation gave “scholarships” to pay for Florida Department of Education staffers to attend the Foundation’s annual summit. The only requirement of these “scholarships”— presumably funded by the Foundation's corporate donors--seems to be that a person work in the state education department. When the Department of Education emailed the Foundation asking, “Also, why do you think I was told that I could register Mike Kooi as a scholarship recipient?” the Foundation responded, “He was awarded the scholarship because he is an employee in the Florida Department of Education, and because of his close work with the Commissioner.” The Scholarship paid for registration, including five meals; up to three nights lodging; and reimbursement of travel expenses included round‐trip coach airfare and up to $250 for incidentals.