Remember when we publicized the $20,000 matching grant to support the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit? They are now only $ 2,177 away. If you can help, please do. The case has rested awaiting Judge Reynolds’ decision. The bills are rolling in for this three person law firm. You can donate HERE.
Having a true public interest law firm is a blessing. They receive no award for this case, win or lose. Let’s help.
Pinellas is taking on its failing schools. This blog reported on the Tampa Bay Times series on south Pinellas schools that had essentially been abandoned when federal desegregation regulations were lifted in 2007. I remember Judge Reynolds’ statement a week ago in the Citizens for Strong Schools case. He said he could not believe that the Florida DOE had not intervened when schools received an ‘F’ grade four years in a row.
Teach for America is shrinking. Not only is the number of applications going down, but placements are declining. Mercedes Schneider reports that the 5,800 TFA members were reduced to 4,100 last year. Given that there were 20,000 fewer applicants in 2016 than in 2013, TFA will have to make some organizational changes.
The President of TFA, Elisa Beard provides some interesting quotes.
Little things slip into legislation. The 2016 legislature is supporting a self described conservative group of school board members called the Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM). They do not want to pay their dues to the existing Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) that represents 65 of 67 county boards. The reason why is simple. Since majority rules in FSBA policy decisions, some want what one member called a ‘like minded association of their own’. It is the classic issue in a democracy. Majorities rule must protect the rights of minorities. How this is done is spelled out in law based on the constitution.
The FCSBM will have a legal right to redirect their dues if Governor Scott signs HB 7069, the School Choice bill. Rep. Kelli Stargel from Lakeland initially filed a bill that was later folded into the School Choice train bill. Rep. Erik Fresen requested a separate line item in the state budget that allocates $200,000 in training funds for the new group. Training already exists, but FCSB wants its own. Why the legislature should pay for this is subject to debate. The Florida constitution mandates that school boards be nonpartisan, but choice advocates argue that their policies are not political. They are, however, ideological.
Differences between the new FCSBM and the existing FSBA associations are clear. One supports school choice and the other supports choice within the traditional public school system. FCSBM opposed the lawsuit for Florida Tax Credit vouchers. The existing FSBA initially supported the lawsuit and then withdrew when Judge Reynolds dismissed the suit. FCSBM’s other 2016 legislative positions include supporting the use of test scores, value added model gain scores, and concordance scores. They also support raising Florida standards to NAEP proficiency levels and sharing capital outlay funds with charter schools.
Founding members include Rebecca Negron, the wife of incoming Senate President Joe Negron along with board members from Collier, Escambia, Indian River, Sarasota and Duval Counties. Fifty of the 356 locally elected school board members have now joined FSCBM. It appears the group has national aspirations. A web site called the American Coalition of School Board Members has been created. There is not much on it. They must be waiting for the funds from the 2016-17 budget to roll in.
The Florida Constitution requires the state to provide a “uniform, safe, efficient, and high quality system of free public schools”. Yet, there is a divide in the road ahead. We already know that what happens in schools mirrors what is happening in communities. Must our educational system splinter regardless of the cost? I hear echoes of the biblical phrase: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand’.
When President Lincoln used that phrase, he also said that he did not expect the house to fail, but he did expect the house to cease to be divided. What is the people’s choice? We have fought through differences through out our history. Once again we are putting our nation to the test. There has to be a better road than the one we are on. It goes in too many directions to be ‘uniform, safe, secure and high quality’.
Diane Ravitch posted a story from Michigan. It could have happened in Florida. I am reposting it here. When Senator Gaetz said it was time to end the private enrichment schemes in Florida’s charters, he was right. Unfortunately, his version of the choice bill did not make it through the 2016 legislature. It would have tied public money to public ownership of school facilities.
Michigan has a greater percentage of for-profit charters than does Florida. They have little oversight. The same is true here. We really do not want to play the ‘who has the greatest scandal’ game. We need to push our legislators to curb the exploitation of public funds.
The testimony and closing arguments have been made. Now both sides need to put their arguments in a particular format for the judge by April 25th. He then takes the arguments under consideration and will make a ruling. Win or lose, the decision is likely to be appealed.
When you listen to the two sides, a few points stand out:
PreK children miss out on needed funds. In this Orlando Sentinel article, you will read that for the third year in a row, state funds for little children remain stagnant. There are 169,000 Florida four year olds in VPK. This is about 78% of eligible children. The budget is $394 million or $2,437 per child. This is one of the largest number of children who receive state support for VPK in the nation, but it is one of the smallest amount of money per student. As you might expect, standards are low, and many teachers have no college education. Programs that can raise money in their communities, but the reality is that quality varies widely.
In 2014, Representative Marlene O’Toole sponsored a bill in the legislature to raise standards and improve quality. It died in session. Maybe next year will be a preK year. It is up to the voters to help the legislature set priorities. The League needs to get the word out.
She is speaking to the Oklahoma legislature, but she could be speaking to Florida’s. The message is the same; the problems are the same in Florida.
We have teaching testifying in the Citizens for Strong Schools trial that is going on in Tallahassee. Their voices and yours need to reach everyone.
Read this teacher’s message. Write your own and send it to me. Let’s tell it like it is. See the Open Letter to Oklahoma Voters and Lawmakers. It tells a story that cannot be ignored. If we want our schools to be better, our communities have to support ALL of our children or we all suffer.