Florida

Nation's First Vegan Charter School Hits Roadblocks

The Florida school is running into trouble with the USDA and the school district over anti-milk marketing and school choice politics.

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|||Alexandra Malyk/Dreamstime.com
Alexandra Malyk/Dreamstime.com

King Charter School, based in Pinellas County, Florida, hopes to become the nation's first public school serving a 100 percent plant-based diet and corresponding curriculum. The school's founder Maria Solanki, herself a vegan, set out to build the school more than a year ago after deciding other public schools in the district weren't the right fit for her five-year-old daughter. Solanki desired an educational curriculum for her child that was aligned with her vegan values. Not so fast, say the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the local education authorities.

Charter schools are publicly funded and privately run public schools. Just like any other public school, they are eligible for meal reimbursements under the USDA National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. But King Charter has struggled to ensure their eligibility for these reimbursements due to Federal Register regulations stipulating that program participants "must not directly or indirectly restrict the sale or marketing of fluid milk at any time or in any place on school premises or at any school-sponsored event."

This means King may not be able to receive federal meal reimbursements unless they make milk available to students. Naturally, doing so would run contrary to their founding principles. These regulations may also be a problem in the classroom since King plans to provide nutrition classes that reinforce veganism—which could qualify as "restricting the marketing of fluid milk" as well.

But stupid food regulations are not the only problem. Pinellas County, located near Tampa and around St. Petersburg, also happens to be an unusually difficult district for those who wish to start charter schools. In Florida, charter school applications are reviewed and approved by a special board that works for the school district where the charter is set to open. In an interview with Reason, Solanki expressed frustration over how the county's charter school board has treated King's application so far.

After reviewing an application over 400 pages long in February, the district representatives came back to Solanki and were prepared to reject her application because she had accidentally allocated five minute time slots between classes on the school day schedule—a very minor error. She says officials also claimed King's curriculum wasn't thorough enough—even though it was far more comprehensive than what state law requires and written by a board member who once served as the state's science curriculum expert. Solanki even caught one official misquoting a state law at her that allows applicants to revise technical errors. "I felt like he was just looking for reasons to turn down the application," Solanki told Reason.

There are reasons to believe Pinellas is especially hostile to charter schools; in 2017, the county joined a group of Florida districts that sued the state legislature over a bill that would have made it easier for charters to get authorized and raise facilities funding. Pinellas Superintendent Mike Grego claimed the district was "somewhat painted into a corner to follow this path to a lawsuit," adding that "there's tremendous resources taken from our children…diverted to other places." Grego failed to acknowledge that the charters his district authorized enroll many of the children he is advocating for.

A firsthand account further corroborates the idea that Pinellas is especially tough on charter schools. One charter consultant who has worked closely with charter schools to support their applications in districts all around Florida, who requested anonymity to preserve relationships with district officials, told Reason about a time he once helped a charter management organization submit nearly identical applications to four different school districts in the state.

"Palm Beach approved our application without an interview. Broward approved it after an interview. Hillsborough approved it, saying it was one of the best applications they had ever seen. Pinellas? They wanted to reject it. They have unreasonable expectations of charter applicants, and have never been held accountable by the state," he told Reason.

These circumstances highlight major shortcomings in Florida's education policies. The National Alliance for Public Charter schools, which evaluates states on the strength of their charter school laws, identifies a glaring weakness in Florida's charter authorizer laws: Not only is there no pathway for "independent authorizers" (governing bodies that can approve charters without the permission of a local school district), there's also inadequate accountability for school districts that do a poor job of fairly evaluating charter applications.

Without these important checks in place, it is no surprise that a district like Pinellas can get away with giving applicants such a hard time. To be sure, it's good when charter authorizers vet applications carefully. Tax dollars shouldn't be steered toward fraudulent or failing schools. But it's not as if the authorizers are the only ones holding charters accountable. Contrary to normal public schools, charter schools close if they underperform or fail to attract students. So instead of nitpicking applications, authorizers should let parents decide whether a charter deserves to stay open.

King's application will likely be denied, forcing the school to wait until next year to apply again. Solanki is trying to stay optimistic. "We are happy to receive a denial and work on things so we have a successful school, but when a school board doesn't even take the time to fully read our application or provide real issues for feedback, it becomes a them against us type of scenario instead of what is actually best for our children."

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  1. So she wants a publicly funded religious school? Can I open a Christian or Libertarian charter school and get federal funding? Legitimately asking.

    1. Yes. Next question.

      (I would stay away from Pinellas county, though – – )

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    3. If you ask for money from the government, expect to lose the ability to make choices.

  2. Willful malnutrition shouldn’t receive tax dollars.

      1. SOMETHING needs to be done about the squirrels…

    1. Abstaining from bovine lactate juice is considered malnutrition?

      1. No, but the junk science behind veganism has been thoroughly shredded, and veganism is absolutely a path to malnutrition.

        1. LOL!!!!…PURE NONSENSE!!!

        2. I reviewed your citation and did not find it compelling.

        3. Could we see some of that or have some links…waiting…3…2…1 and as I assumed…crickets!

  3. How can you know someone’s a vegan?

    Don’t worry, they’ll tell you, then make a blog post about it.

  4. Isn’t it better to get all the anti-vaxx kids in one, isolated place, like Vashon Island?

  5. Reason, once again, finding the oh-so-sweet ‘Fuck you, justified spending.’ story line and running with it.

  6. But if the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the local education authorities get their way, Solanki’s school will be forced to serve milk to students

    REALMILK, not that nut-juice you cosmo cucks so like to guzzle.

    1. Real bovine lactate juice? C’mon SIV, you’re a mammal and like all mammals you were weaned from your own mother’s lactate at a very early age. Once weaned you never need her lactate, or another species’ lactate, ever again. Backed by science!

    2. I got news for you, Pastuerized milk is NOT real milk either….All the good stuff has been boiled out…Real milk is RAW MILK from Grass-fed cows, preferably chomping on organic grass!

    3. @ SIV…yes RealMilk and dairy…the full fat kind that makes heart attacks happen and cardiologists smile! Dumb ass!

  7. It’s udderly ridiculous for the eating disorder charter school to think they could take federal school lunch funds w/o complying with the milk rule. I’m old enough to remember when school lunches were constructed wholly out of centrally planned subsidized over-production surplus American farm commodities. School lunches are a goddamn FARM SUBSIDY and you hippie freeloaders take what you get.

    1. Yes. And no.

      Its utterly ridiculous that that rule exists – and it does solely to pander to agricultural interests.

  8. That is very stupid. To reject a charter school application over something as stupid as whether milk is on the menu or not.

    1. chemjeff is Nicole

      1. Who is Nicole?

    2. I see you haven’t looked in the background for the Union thug.

  9. King Charter School, based in Pinellas County, Florida, hopes to become the nation’s first public school serving a 100 percent plant-based diet and corresponding curriculum.

    Somebody with a higher tolerance for bullshit is going to have to ask what the fuck the “corresponding curriculum” for veganism is. It’s not enough that you don’t consume animal products, it has to be a whole “lifestyle” thing? There’s vegan math and vegan geography and vegan history, is this what this is? Or is this a Jim Jones sort of indoctrination camp?

    1. That to me is the concern. I can even see a lesson about animal cruelty. However, what are they teaching that would require an entirely different curriculum?

    2. “Or is this a Jim Jones sort of indoctrination camp?”

      Well, the sugar in Kool-Aid is plant based. The citric acid is plant based.
      I suspect whatever is “artificial flavor” may not be plant based, however.

      1. Artificial flavor are esters which can be organic and obtained from plants, so maybe.

      2. It was Flavor Aid, damnit! Kool-Aid has suffered under this cloud of vicious slander for far too long.

    3. Walk down the vendor area of any homeschool conference and you’ll get a taste of how easily and completely curricula can be manipulated. Don’t like dinosaurs? They have a curriculum for that. Don’t like homosexuals? They have a curriculum for that. Don’t like Jews? They have a curriculum for that. And not just lessons about each one of these topics- all the math problems, history events, recipes, crafts, literature etc. will include indoctrination.

      1. As opposed to public schools that use taxpayer money to coordinate with the LGBT-loving NEA to invite in the GLSEN to brainwash the kids as to how normal & healthy & wonderful the LGBT lifestyle is & that people who disagree are intolerant, ignorant & hateful SOBs, especially the Christian kids…LGBT history is shoved down their throats so they can learn for example, what a great guy Harvey Milk was, even though he loved taking advantage of downtrodden young boys & how Mathew Shepherd was killed simply because he was a homo, even though his murder was due to drug deals gone bad, etc…..

        1. I never said that public schools are indoctrination free or that I agree with people using tax money for them. I was just pointing out that it is so easy to create a curriculum that indoctrinates that even people who don’t believe in dinosaurs (where did those huge bones come from, anyway?) or brain dead enough to be hateful Nazis can do it.

  10. Vegan Charter School

    Nice band name.

    1. Cannibal Charter School

      is better

      1. Asshole Fuckward Chorus & Kazoo ensemble?

  11. So tell the feds to kiss off, and serve what you think is best. The parents will either stay or go, and that will tell you if you are right.

    (By the way, this is the same Florida that says skim milk cannot be labeled “skim milk”)

    1. Or don’t be a charter school. Just be a private school that doesn’t take government funds.

      But the Venn diagram of hard-core vegans and socialists is close to being a circle.

  12. Charter schools are publicly funded and privately run public schools. Just like any other public school, they are eligible for meal reimbursements under the USDA National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. For King Charter to be eligible for federal reimbursement, it “must not directly or indirectly restrict the sale or marketing of fluid milk at any time or in any place on school premises or at any school-sponsored event.”

    OK, this rule is bullshit. But if you can afford to pick ‘vegan’ as one of the attributes you want your kid’s school to have you have enough money to buy them lunch without needing the rest of us to pick up the tab.

    1. A vegan school is dumb, but this blatant protectionism to the dairy industry is dumber

      1. and so the circle of stupidity is complete…next lesson?

  13. I was just curious about how you raise a child as a vegan. The article I found in a pediatric journal indicates it can be done if you know what you are doing. Couple things were that calcium is a big issue so you have to supplement that. Also B12 you would need to supplement.

    Interesting that some things like protein and iron will not absorb as well so a vegan would need more of those nutrients than an omnivore.

    On a more basic level children are picky eaters as it is. How you could get them to eat the variety of things they would need as a vegan I can’t imagine. Vegetarian would not be too hard because you can get them to eat cheese, ice cream and eggs.

    1. If your child has vegan friends feed them hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets or whatever other healthy foods they can’t eat in their abusive home. Oh, and honey, lots of honey from your bee plantation.

      1. Mine are grown now and have grandchildren but right? If it wasn’t for stuff like that along with fish sticks, Mac and cheese, pizza, I don’t think any of them would even exist.

        I know a couple vegans but they don’t even think of inflicting it on their families.

      2. I can get vegetarian kinda. For couple of months worked in a place that was vegetarian. The food in the cafeteria was actually very good and lots of it. Brought the family to eat there couple times when I was working long shifts.

        I don’t get vegan. Heck if you are unhappy about big farm conditions you can raise your own chickens in the backyard. People do that all the time in the suburbs. Then you have perfect fresh eggs.

        Milk and dairy. There are sources for happy cows, or even easier a couple goats don’t take that much land or trouble. The goats pretty much take care of themselves.

        I dunno people believe all kinds of things.

        1. Sheep milk tastes much better than goat milk.

          1. breast milk? asking for a friend…

            1. thinking about keeping a couple of strippers out back…

    2. When kids get hungry enough, they’ll eat anything. I had friends who were raw food vegans who homeschooled. The kids were more than happy to eat the only food available to them.

    3. I don’t have any vegan friends, but I do know a number of vegetarians who have kids. None of them raise them as vegans / vegetarians. Zero. They have a difficult enough time getting the young ones to agree to eat normal food, why make it harder on yourself?

  14. Veganism is child abuse. And it’s not what the kids want, it’s what the adults are telling them they want.

    Let the school say what they want, but make sure the children can add milk, cheesesticks, butter, and hardboiled eggs to their lunch tray and will.

    Let the children choose, not the vegan zealots or the government.

    1. Yeah, let the children choose! Fantastic idea. It works, too. They choose good ol’ American subsidized high-fructose corn syrup. Every time.

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  16. “These circumstances highlight major shortcomings in Florida’s education policies.”

    No, they highlight exactly what government policies were set up to- keep the real power in the hands of the government. Anyone who wants public funds should expect this and that includes charter schools and homeschoolers who expect money from the government.

    1. The second they stop charging me property taxes for their school projects is the second I stop having sympathy for the people who find they lack private education dollars.

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  19. The church of child abuse is a valid charter?

    Really?

    How do religious charters get okayed at all?

  20. Thank goodness the federal government is stopping these idiots from harming children…

    Veganism isn’t science, it’s a cult that actively causes harm – to the participants and to the environment.

  21. Nothing like the dairy lobby demanding that milk be sold AND not restricting its sale in schools…

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  23. She should start a private school instead. Problem(s) solved.

  24. How ’bout that awful-sounding vegan school not being the “right fit” for my kids. I’m looking for the pizza, burger, hot dog, chips, salads, and veggies charter school with all the chocolate milk, juice, and sodas the kids want. A real choice. A genuine balanced diet.

  25. Don’t put up with our corrupt school system. Just home school and feed your kids what you know is best, not what some on the take from the dairy board lazy bureaucrat!

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