TALLAHASSEE -- As the legislative session neared an end this month, state Rep. Erik Fresen found himself in an awkward position.
Just last year, Fresen helped keep a torrent of public money flowing to private tutoring firms.
But after revelations of fraud and lax oversight turned the program into a black eye for education reform, his new orders from House leadership were clear: End subsidized tutoring, and do it now.
Sen. Anitere Flores was ready to push back.
A friendly face from the upper chamber, Flores had much in common with Fresen. Both are Republicans from Miami. And both had backed subsidized tutoring without disclosing ties to the industry.
At stake: $100 million in federal education money cash that could, depending on how things played out, remain committed to private tutoring or be freed up for districts to spend as they liked.
As the session entered its final week, it was far from certain where the money would go.
Nothing to disclose
A year earlier, tutorings fate was equally undecided until Fresen stepped in.
In the last days of the 2012 session, records show, Fresen added subsidized tutoring to an essential education bill that came out of his subcommittee. It led to a compromise negotiated by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Private tutoring firms would get a cut of the money.
Fresen voted for the proposal, but records show he didnt disclose ties to the tutoring industry.
In 1998, Fresens brother-in-law, Fernando Zulueta, and sister, Magdalena Fresen, started a charter school firm that now doubles as a subsidized tutoring provider.
Last year, the business, Mater Academy Inc., won $380,000 in tutoring contracts from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
In an interview with the Herald/Times on Wednesday, Fresen downplayed his role in securing funding for the industry in 2012. He said he simply was following his committees plan when he amended a bill to include money for subsidized tutoring.
Fresen said he saw no need to disclose his family connection because his sister and brother-in-laws firm no longer controlled the charter school they founded more than a decade ago. Instead they were managing it on a contract basis, he said.
The schools independent board, he said, made its own decision to become a tutoring vendor, just as it made the decision to hire his familys management company.
He added that the only reason the school became a provider is because they were being forced to hire fly-by-night providers. At no point was it a profit-maker for Mater.
He said the school opposed subsidized tutoring and would shut down its tutoring arm as soon as the program died.
Flores, too, voted for the proposal last year but didnt disclose a connection: She works as CEO of Doral College Inc., a nonprofit charter school and private college company founded in 2001 by Zulueta and Magdalena Fresen. And, like Mater, Doral too is now run by Zuluetas management company.
The board that hired Flores in 2011 included business associates of Zuluetas. It now includes at least one person who has lobbied for him.
In a statement to the Times/Herald, Flores defended her record on subsidized tutoring, saying she supports it because it helps impoverished, minority children.
To imply that the reason for my support is in any way connected to my employment is ridiculous and baseless, Flores said in the statement. This is an issue that has been important to me since I was first elected because it directly affects the children in my district.