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Charter School Activists Under Attack In Florida

School Board Candidates Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds


Two charter school activists and education reform advocates, Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds, who are running for the Collier County School Board have found themselves under attack through a vicious and patently false whispering and letter writing campaign accusing them of having a conflict of interest for their involvement in the soon-to-open Mason Classical Academy charter school in Naples, Florida. (Mason Classical Academy is modeled on Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School)

Opponents say that Collier County District 1 candidate Kelly Lichter, the founding president of Mason Classical Academy in East Naples, and District 3 candidate Erika Donalds, who serves on the school’s advisory board, cannot be objective about charter schools and have conflicts of interest, according to reporting by Naples Daily News writer Claire Aronson.

But that is not true. Official state legal opinions hold that a conflict of interest does not exist because neither Lichter nor Donalds are paid for their charter school work reports Aronson.

“A 2011 opinion issued by the Florida Commission on Ethics states there would not be a prohibited conflict of interest or a voting conflict if district school board officers also served as unpaid members of the board of directors of a charter school sponsored by the district school board.

In a 1998 Attorney General’s Office advisory opinion, then-Attorney General Robert Butterworth wrote that members of a governing board of a charter school are not public officers for the purpose of the state constitution’s dual officeholding prohibition.”

But this hasn’t stopped charter school opponents and school choice opponents from attacking Donalds and Lichter.

That Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds are advocates of classical education would be enough for us to look favorably upon them, but in addition to their involvement in Mason Classical Academy both would bring topnotch education and professional backgrounds to the Collier County School Board.

Donalds is a CPA and controller and partner of an investment group who would bring much needed financial expertise to the Collier County School Board with its near-billion dollar budget. She is also the founder of Parents’ Rights Of Choice for Kids (Parents ROCK) a group of engaged parents on issues affecting the district, from after-school programs to placement of cell towers.

Lichter, a former social studies teacher at Palmetto Ridge High School who is closing in on her PhD, is very much in alignment with our own thinking on public education: “It is not about just producing a workforce,” Lichter has said. “I don’t think that’s what most people want. They keep talking about college and career readiness, but the more we talk about college and career readiness, the further we get from it.”

Lichter and Donalds are running for two open seats on the Board created by the retirements of our friend Board Chair Pat Carroll and principled conservative Board member Barbara Berry.

Mason Classical Academy charter school in Naples, Florida has all the elements necessary to make it a huge success and a national model – which may be why opponents of Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds have made so much of their involvement.

We urge our friends in Collier County Florida to vote for Lichter and Donalds in the upcoming August 26 primary.

To our readers outside of Collier County Florida we say these races have important national implications; the cause of education reform is too important to let these races be decided by a patently false whispering campaign. If you believe in the cause of education reform and you want to support two principled education reformers, no matter where you live click here to support Erika Donalds and click here to support Kelly Lichter.

Click here to read Kelly Lichter's op-ed "Dispelling the myths about the role of charter schools"


CHQ Editor George Rasley served as Assistant to the Chairman of the Indiana General Assembly's House Education Committee helping Chairman Phil Warner with some of America's first education reform legislation in 1977 and 1978.

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