Paula Dockery Nails It!

legislation1In a Tampa Bay Times article, LWV Florida board member Paula Dockery lists her legislative priorities for 2016.  Extracted from the list are the following education priorities:


• Properly fund our traditional public schools for instructional costs and facility building, maintenance and repair before funding nonpublic assets.

• Drastically reduce the standardized testing in our schools and stop the practice of using test results for high-stakes purposes.

• Return the education commissioner to an elected position and member of the Cabinet by passing the joint resolution sponsored by state Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, and state Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

• Fully fund our colleges and universities to accommodate growth and facility needs.
If the legislature met these goals, perhaps the push to privatize our schools would diminish.


Kindergarten Achievement Gap

teacher-590109_1280Family income and student achievement rise together.  You know that.  The Economic Policy Institute published its top graphs of 2015 showing it once again, but one chart focuses just on preschool.

If you compare kindergarten readiness for the lowest income groups to the highest, there is a full standard deviation difference.  I wondered how many children were in the lowest groups, and how much money it would take to improve preschool education.

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FEA Challenges Teacher Bonus Plan

teacher-403004_1280 (1)The Florida Education Association (FEA) filed a complaint against the Best and Brightest bonus plan.  The complaint was filed with the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.  This is the $10,000 bonus for teachers with high SAT and/or ACT scores who received highly effective ratings.  Well, not exactly.  First year teachers were exempt from the teacher evaluation rating.  Not enough money was allocated to cover the $10,000 cost per qualified teacher.

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Schools Reflect Our Values

directory-281476_1280Poverty, race, and educational opportunity are intertwined. In a report by the National Educational Policy Center, housing is added to the mix.  The authors explain the interaction between where we live and the opportunities available to us.

Divided communities have greater inequities in access to quality education and employment.  Perceptions of the quality of schools based on the neighborhood income level become the reality.  The more divided our communities, the greater the problems become.  What can be done to reduce the inequities?

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LWV New Mexico Proposes Charter School Study

by Meredith Machen

bisti-939735_1280League of Women Voters of New Mexico Study

Charter School Regulations: Public School Funding, Accountability, and Transparency

Scope of Study: In the context of the growing emphasis of some governmental policy-makers on promoting charter schools, this study will review information regarding the regulations and policies from which charter schools are released to determine if the exemptions from regulations may impede the progress of traditional public schools and the sufficiency of funding for public schools.

Because charter schools are publicly funded, the study raises the question of whether they should be held to standards of accountability and transparency that are at least as rigorous as those of traditional public schools. The study will also examine the need for changes in charter school regulations regarding their missions (which now allow adults to get their high school credentials, have specialized curricula, and alternative assessments), their governing bodies (which are not publicly elected or complying with the Open Meetings Act), their  operations (which are not publicly audited), and rules for authorization and reauthorization.

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Making a Difference: We Are and You Can Too

by Richard McNeill

boy-717151_1920When you think the education scene is depressing, do something!  This is what we are doing in Alachua County to spread the word as the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit nears.  A mom and a grandfather started this.  I just help with background information.  They are working through the parent organizations to spread hope that it is possible to make a difference.    This is Richard’s announcement to the Alachua County School Board this week.  Read how they are going about their project.  You can help.

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New Mexico LWV Urges Moratorium on Charters

by Meredith Machen

New MexicoThe President of the New Mexico League of Women Voters calls for a moratorium on new charter schools.  She cites the Center for Public Education:  “46 State Education Agencies are cutting back on charter school funding because of their fiscal difficulties, the challenges of delivering adequate special education services, and the lack of staff available to provide proper oversight. We hope that NM will follow suit and impose a moratorium until the data demonstrates the need.”

Meredith supports her position with data.

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Charter School Real Estate Bubble Soon to Crash?

cash-burningHow much charter school debt is too much?  We may find out.

Most of us are not aware of how management companies finance charter facilities.  These companies form their own real estate companies from which they lease facilities.  These charter school buildings are privately owned, and if the charter closes, the buildings remain with the management companies.

Many of these charter facilities are financed through long term revenue and other types of bonds.  Funds  from the charter operating budget, financed by state tax dollars, is used to make principal and interest payments on these loans.  Building loans may be several million dollars, and lease payments are kept relatively small for several years.  Then, as the bonds become due, the schools face large balloon payments.  Where the money will come from is unclear.  It may be another form of  the construction bubble that burst in 2007.

These facility loan practices occur in many ways.  In School Finance 101, Bruce Baker provides graphs showing how this debt is mounting on purchases of public buildings by private firms that were initially paid for by tax dollars and in other startling ways.  However the financing occurs, the buildings are owned by private firms.  The public pays for them.  Some states have funding and financing guidelines.  Florida does not.


School Grades: Gaming the System

donkey-776511_640Charles Dickens wrote:  “The law is an ass”.  The point was that some laws defy common sense.  School grades fit that category.

The latest buzz is about the release of 2014-15 school grades without including students’ test score gains.  This decision is attributed to Governor Scott.  In a way, it makes sense. After all, we have a new state test.  How can you report gains on a new (FSA) more difficult test using scores from an old (FCAT 2 ) easier test?  Hard to spin those scores…let’s see ‘Down is Up”?

The real issue is the law on which the decision is based.  Continue reading

Taxpayers Lose Facilities When Charters Fail

payoffFlorida’s charter industry has received over $700 million in state tax dollars for facilities and capital expenses since 2000.  The Associated Press analysis reveals that closed charters received over $70 million since 2000 just for their buildings.  The money spent on closed charter facilities is lost.  The facilities are owned privately.

Many small private operators rely on state capital outlay dollars that they receive in addition to the per student funding that both public and charter schools receive for operating schools.  These funds, often called PECO (Public Education Capital Outlay) used to go to traditional public schools for renovation and maintenance.  For the last several years, the legislature designated most of the PECO funds to charter schools.  Districts feel the impact of the loss of funding as they try to upgrade aging traditional public school buildings.

Just to make the problem real, read a 2014 Ledger article from Polk County.  Alachua County has had similar concerns.  In today’s Gainesville Sun, Erin Jester reports that Alachua County received no PECO funds from 2011-2014, but its charter schools received over $163,000.  The article lists losses of over $1.2 million due to the closure of seven of the county’s 21 charter schools.