House Removes Charter Management Reform

legislation1Not a surprise that Erik Fresen removed the charter reform measures that Senator Gaetz included in SB 7029.  Instead there is a hodge podge of new proposals attacking  public schools.  It all should finish today.  Hopefully, the Senate will stand firm.  Perhaps the best outcome is that nothing will pass.

SB 7029 Passes in Senate

This bill is long and complicated.  Open enrollment, cap on school construction costs that limits ability to build auditorium etc. are included.  Stronger charter regulation is also there.

Now we have to see what happens in the house.  Clearly, Rep. Fresen is out for money for charter school facilities.  He published an opus in the Miami Herald.  It may be a stand off and nothing passes both chambers.  It is a question of who gets the 75 million in PECO funds that is in the budget.  money-40603_1280


LWVF Logo (better resolution?)

Take Action Now
HB 7029 School Choice passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate. Late on Friday night, Sen. Don Gaetz filed a strike-all amendment with good language that sets standards for charter schools. This language also bans charter schools from receiving capital funds for private enrichment. This one quote taken directly from the bill encapsulates the most reasonable position on charter school funding:
“It is the intent of the Legislature that the public interest be protected by prohibiting personal financial enrichment by owners, operators, managers, and other affiliated parties of charter schools.”
The language puts in place guidelines for charter schools receiving funding, including mandating that the charter school is owned and leased at a fair market value. The language provides additional funding to schools in which at least 75% of the population is eligible for free or reduced lunch, or at least 25% of the population has a disability.
This language has been added by Sen. Gaetz to another bill that deals with charter schools, HB 7043.
The Senate is in Session right now. Your immediate action can make the difference!

1. CONTACT your Senator and ask that they vote YES on HB 7029 and 7043. Click here to find your Senator.
In League,
Pamela Goodman
LWVF President
If you can, please help support our advocacy with your voice AND a much needed donation for administrative support at this crucial time! To help us to keep up the fight, click here to DONATE NOW to the League of Women Voters of Florida Advocacy Fund.
“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead
League of Women Voters of Florida, 540 Beverly Court, Tallahassee, FL 32301-7530

Florida Education on Trial

justicePublicity for the Florida Citizens for Strong Schools trial has begun.  The actual trial starts March 14th.  Here’s an extensive report with pictures:  Florida Education on Trial.  Take a look.

The arguments are outlined.  The people are identified.  When the actual trial starts, we will be sending out daily snippets on highlights.  Much depends on this trial.  Hope you tune in.

Senate Session has overlapping Education Bills

legislation1SB 524 has the same improved charter school management provisions embedded in HB 7029.  See line 1447 in HB 7029.

HB 7043  relates to performance standards for higher education, and it includes the Best and Brightest program.

The Senate is meeting this morning.  7029 was put on temporary postponement at about 11am.

The LWVF supports the improvement in charter school management in these bills.

Competency Based Education Questioned

by Laura McCrary

computers-332238_1280Competency based learning is not really new, but it is newly promoted.  Students use computer-based courses broken into chunks of content.  They can move at their own pace within a course and across grade levels.  Strategies vary.  Some programs grant credit for relevant experience.  Some combine online and in class instruction.  Many collect student data which is used to track progress.

The concerns raised relate to quality and intrusive data.  Opponents argue that competency based learning is really a cost saving tool with very questionable quality control.  The federal government supports projects.

We have an online charter high school that uses this approach.  Its graduation rate is about 17%.  We should pay attention.  Read Laura’s comment.

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Suspense Builds Over Governor’s Veto Pen

dollar-726881_1280The one plus billion dollar surplus Florida was expecting in 2016 is dwindling.  The latest estimate of new revenue is down by $400 million.  Governor Scott wanted to give the surplus away in corporate tax reduction.  He would also authorize more money for education, but it was supposed to come from local property taxes, not state revenue.   The legislature has other ideas.

The legislature wants part of the new state revenue for education.  The budget agreement that will go to the Governor increases the per student funding by about $50.

To complicate everything even more, money for school buildings comes from two other sources.  Districts can raise some from local property taxes.  Charter schools want access to that fund, but currently districts do not have to share the money.  Since charter schools are privately owned, the district would not own those facilities even if they were to close.  As a result, the legislature has been giving most of the state tax revenue on utilities to charters and public universities.  This fund, called PECO is drying up.

How then is the state to support school facilities without making property taxes so high that voters complain?  The latest idea reported in the News Service of Florida is for the state to issue bonds.  This means the state would take on the debt to pay off the bonds while the Governor pursues his quest to minimize corporate taxes and use surplus revenue for his pet projects.

The Governor may veto issuing bonds for school facilities.  Will he also veto the K12 per student funding increase?  A high quality educational system is key for attracting the new business the Governor seeks.  Yet, it is as if he wants something for nothing.

Volusia Claims Bait and Switch in Legislature

dollar-163473_1280Volusia citizens approved a 5 cent sales tax hike for school construction.  The legislature wants to take it away.  Why?  Cutting taxes, even those citizens want is the theme of this year’s legislature.  To justify the cuts, some legislatures claim that too many school facility projects exceeded state caps on spending.  They failed to mention that the cost basis for facilities is very out of date.  Moreover, some communities want an auditorium or similar feature that is not covered in the facility cost cap.  If they exceed the cap, the district is penalized financially.

To add to the problem, the current bill would require districts to share facility funding with charter schools.  In Volusia, there are only two charters, but the loss to the district is $300,000.  It is no surprise charters want the money.  They were supposed to be less expensive than traditional schools, but the lure of more money is always there.

At some point, the legislature will have to face the reality that competition is not saving money.  It is just going in different directions.  Public schools have many older buildings that need renovation.  Shifting money to charters makes a bad problem worse.  Think about it, if you have 600 students who could all fit in one school, and you take 300 of them and enroll them in another, you have two buildings to pay for instead of one.  Why are we doing this and calling it a good choice?