Florida Senate Education Leaders Provide a Balance?

legislation1Senate President Joe Negron has announced his Education Committee members.  They appear to share a broader spectrum of interests than those in the Florida House.  The Senate Education Committee Chair will be Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Republican from Volusia County.  Volusia supports public schools and has relatively few charter schools.

 

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Education Law Center Tells What to Expect and What to Do

child speakingIf the Trump administration follows through on its pledge to gut public education, and the appointment of DeVos indicates it might, then it is time to circle the wagons.  Read the Education Law Center proposals on how to fight back.  In a state like Florida, we must take the case to the people; too many legislators may not listen.

 

 

 

 

What’s at stake?

  1. Civil rights enforcement; accelerated segregation

  2. Less funding for already underfunded public schools.

3. Ignoring needed charter management reform to control self dealing.

4. Shift of $20 billion in federal Title I funding from low income public schools to private sector charter and religious schools.

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November 29, 2016
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BUILDING FIREWALLS: PROTECTING PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN THE TRUMP ERA

By David G. Sciarra

With the selection of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, Donald Trump has made good on his promise to do everything possible to undermine and weaken America’s public education system. President-Elect Trump made few promises about his education agenda during the campaign, but what he did promise – $20 billion in federal funding taken from public schools to be used for private and religious school vouchers – foreshadowed his pick of a conservative billionaire who has donated considerable sums to promote charters and vouchers at the expense of the public schools and the children they serve.

Ms. DeVos’s track record in Michigan provides a clear picture of her priorities as Education Secretary. She and her husband have funded campaigns to increase the number of charter schools, including for-profit charters, especially in high poverty communities such as Detroit and Flint. They have funded this effort despite the fact that Michigan’s expansive charter sector is among the least accountable and worst performing in the nation. Ms. DeVos also bankrolled an attempt to bring vouchers to Michigan, but those efforts were stymied due to a constitutional amendment passed in 1971 prohibiting public funding for private schools.

The bottom line is this: the Trump Administration will do nothing to support public education across the country. Instead, federal funding will be used as a carrot, or perhaps a stick, to force states to accelerate the unregulated growth of charters and expand existing voucher programs or enact new ones to facilitate the flow of tax dollars from public schools to private and religious schools and other private providers.

What we can also expect is a wholesale retreat from federal enforcement of civil rights protections for vulnerable student populations, from LGBTQ to ELL students. In short, it is not an exaggeration to call the Trump-DeVos education agenda an all-out assault on our public schools, the centerpiece of which is the diversion of billions of dollars from public education to private spending.

What can the vast majority of Americans who care about public education do?

This is a good time to remind ourselves that public education has always been – and will continue to be – the obligation of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This obligation is embedded in the guarantee of a public education in state constitutions. It is the states, not the federal government, that control access, quality, governance, student rights and the bulk of funding for their public education systems.

A storm of policy and public relations to promote educational inequity and disparity across the nation will emanate from Washington under the new administration. But if we turn our full attention to the states, we can – and must – energize existing coalitions and campaigns of parents, educators, students and community organizations to protect and defend the public schools. Let’s start now to erect state and local firewalls to safeguard our schools.

Here are a few ways we can begin:

1) We must press our congressional delegations to oppose the Trump anti-public education agenda, starting with the DeVos appointment but continuing to block other proposals, from dismantling the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to diverting Title I funding for vouchers under the guise of “portability.”

2) If a state constitution prohibits the use of public funding for other purposes, it’s time for advocates and activists to get ready to stand behind it. Some state constitutions contain such prohibitions or have been interpreted by courts to do so. If state law is unclear, it’s time to propose a law to “lockbox” and protect public school funding. Most states already underfund their public schools, and what our children don’t need is the federal government trying to divert any amount of that funding to private and religious schools.

3) This is the right time to start state-level conversations about rejecting offers of federal funding that come at the price of defunding public education and causing even more inequity and disparity of opportunity for students, especially low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners and students of color.

4) Legislative campaigns for charter school reform must be reinvigorated. In many states, an overhaul of charter school laws is long overdue to ensure full accountability with regard to student access and school performance, as well as the use of public funds. Segregation of students based on disability, the need to learn English, academic risk or other factors must be fought in statehouses, including moratoriums to prevent funding loss and student segregation resulting from uncontrolled charter growth.

5) We must review state-level student and civil rights protections and develop an agenda to strengthen that critical framework. This must include enhancing anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws; school discipline reform; open admissions for homeless children, youth in foster care, and un-documented students; and other measures to safeguard the rights of students.

On the one hand, a Trump Administration offers the opportunity to join the many advocates laboring to ensure equal and quality education for all children in their states, often in extremely challenging political environments. On the other hand, Trump’s election is a wake-up call about a fundamental, enduring lesson: education equity advances or regresses primarily through state action on funding, essential resources and programs, and students rights. Actions taken by the federal government, even those intended to promote equity in the states, can only go so far. And sometimes those actions impede progress.

Let’s not get distracted by “inside the beltway” prognostications or rarefied debates over how bad things may be. Those of us working in the states know what’s coming. It’s time to renew and redouble efforts to protect public education in our states and communities. Millions of children are depending on us.

David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of the Education Law Center, where he serves as lead counsel in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation and directs ELC’s advocacy on behalf of the nation’s public school children.

Education Law Center Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel

Policy and Outreach Director

skrengel@edlawcenter.org

973-624-1815, x 24

 

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New Mexico: Charters Need Regulation

new-mexico
by Meredith Machen
LWVNM has a new charter school position that shows where we stand. We need to stand together to fight all attempts to drain essential resources from traditional public schools!
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LWVNM Charter School Regulation Position

Adopted by the LWVNM Board, November 12, 2016

The League of Women Voters of New Mexico believes that every student should have access to a high quality, publicly funded education regardless of race, ethnicity, family income, or geographical location.  The League believes in accountability, transparency, and equity in the use of public funds for education.

 Charter schools are discretionary programs intended to fill unmet needs and/or to test innovative instructional strategies to produce quality educational outcomes. Policy makers must ensure that adequate funds are available for traditional public schools and define how charter schools fill unmet needs.  Appropriate instructional and support services must be provided to meet the diverse needs of individual students in both traditional public and charter schools.

Regarding the mission of charter schools, the LWVNM believes the following:

  • A charter school should not be authorized unless

its mission would serve a need the traditional schools cannot;

funds are available;

there is a demonstrated need based on student population projections.

  • New Mexico should provide flexibility and supplemental funding for magnet programs and career academies within traditional public schools.
  • Charter school innovations demonstrated to be effective should be disseminated to improve the traditional public education system.
  • The state should establish a closure policy revoking the contract of a charter school that fails to meet minimum academic, financial, and organizational standards for two consecutive years or for two of the three most recent years.

 For the sake of assuring accountability and transparency and minimizing the fiscal impact, LWVNM recommends the following:  

  • A charter school’s finances should be available for public scrutiny, and budget processes should be similar to those for school districts, which require the public to be provided with an opportunity for input into decision-making.
  • Charter school governing council members should adhere to standards and best practices as delineated by the NM School Boards Association.
  • Funding to state-chartered schools should minimize the amount allocated to for-profit management and business operations with oversight provided by state-approved auditors.
  • The school funding formula should be equitable so as not to advantage charter schools over traditional public schools. 
  • NM should develop an effective performance-based accountability system for charter schools focused on increased proficiency, academic growth, and college/career readiness standards to ensure that charter schools demonstrate positive student outcomes. Charter schools that do not meet the established benchmarks should be put on time-limited improvement plans and not allowed to increase enrollment until they have met the benchmarks.

 

LWVNM believes that public funding for virtual schools should be less per student since the schools do not require brick and mortar facilities.

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For more information about the League’s formal two-year comprehensive Charter School Regulation Study and how this position was determined through research and member consensus, please contact president@lwvnm.org. This position will be incorporated into LWVNM’s complete Education position available at http://lwvnm.org/positions.html#education.

 

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Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education

power-money-trap-5441169For those of you who are concerned about the role of billionaire philanthropists in education, you have a bigger worry.  Betsy DeVos has been an avid advocate for private school vouchers.  DeVos is from Michigan, a state with rampant charter school scandals.  She was also chairwoman of Alliance for School Choice and the All Schools Matter PAC as well as a board member of a number of other education organizations.  She points to Florida as her biggest success with the American Federation for Children which supported the corporate tax credit scholarship program.  Her ties to Florida also include Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education where she is a board member.

Some people grow into a job, but DeVos’ past is likely to be her prologue.  She had experience with a private school where parents were working hard to help their children succeed.  From that beginning, she evidently generalized that private schools were better than public ones.  Parents who chose to leave public schools, one assumes, will try harder to help their children succeed.  The end result is increased segregation, less choice and little accountability.

Single Gender Charters in Trouble

boy-160168_640Duval County has four single gender charter schools; two for boys and two for girls.  Evidently, there are just not enough parents to make them viable.  Total enrollment for the four schools is 349 middle and high school students.  It is not enough, the schools are $333,000 in debt.  Staff cuts are being made and donors are being sought.

Superintendent Vitti doubts the non-profit management company, Profectus Learning Systems,  operating the schools can survive.  He said that even with cuts in staff, debts are likely to grow.  The schools may not be able to provide the required academic programs.

Many people like the idea of small schools.  Some children simply do better with more personal attention and less distraction.  Others thrive on the diversity and opportunities larger schools provide.  Providing an affordable balance is difficult.  Similar problems are  occurring in other communities where charters and private schools siphon off students from local public schools.  Soon, all schools are small and underfunded.

 

Who Controls Our Schools?

by Carole Hentscel

power-money-trap-5441169This is a profound piece of writing by the Independent Media Institute, read the complete report listed (e-book ).  It asks, I think, are we playing a shell game with education dollars by diverting them to charter chains, testing companies and construction?
pg 29 & 30  Tampa- addresses Charter Schools USA using tax exempt bonds to acquire land and build schools, but then its related management company rented those facilities back at exorbitant prices.  Charter Schools USA charged 5 percent management fee to local Charter School operators, but siphoned off 23 percent of one school’s budget  reported by local CBS TV affiliate.
pg 33 “Despite myriad reports detailing many conflicts of interest and examples of profiteering state legislators and congress have imposed few additional transparency and accountability requirements in Florida, Texas and California”.
pg 38 Recommendations:
1.  A moratorium on charter expansion
2.  Audit and account for all public funds granted to date
3.  Subject charter boards to public meetings and open records laws.
4.  Ban founders from hiring relatives and firms where they have ownership stakes.
5.  Require more evidence based school practices to obtain federal funds.
6.  Adopt national standards for competitive bidding and contracting by charter boards
7.  Restore elected/appointed school board oversight of charters in their district.
8.  Enforce open and inclusive enrollment practices.
9.  Require charter trade associations to disclose political donors and activities.
10.Ban on-line charters.  Except for carefully overseen pilot projects within districts, with clear evaluation, assessment, and sunset provisions, on-line charters must be abandoned.
The privatization of American public education is carefully explained in this just released report.  How a group of billionaires has aggressively pushed to privatize the traditional public school system is outlined step by step.

 

 

 

Federal Education Policy Changes Afoot?

creature-1529281_640I have avoided posting all of the speculation about possible changes in education leadership and policy in the new administration.  It is just plain hard on my peace of mind, especially when most of it will not happen.  I firmly believe that the real changes will be through the change in leadership in the Florida legislature.  As you know, I am not sanguine on those.   You can see previous posts.

This morning, however, I ran across an article that helps us think more realistically about what change at the federal level would take.  This Ed Week article reviews legislation that would have to be amended to redirect funding.  It also points toward a likely push for school choice funding in the Congress.  It is worth a read.

 

Florida State School Board 2017 Priorities

priority-1714375_640What is important to the Florida State Board of Education (SBE) this year?  According to this report, the SBE is focusing on capital outlay funding, charter expansion priorities, streamlining teacher preparation programs, and online education.  As priorities from different stake holders emerge, the negotiation with the legislature will intensify.

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Bright Futures not so Bright

power-money-trap-5441169I knew that the qualifications for Bright Futures scholarships had gone up.  Now I understand the impact.  In order for the State to save money, the rich get richer.  The Florida lottery supports these scholarships.  While the revenue for the lottery is still increasing, the percentage allocated to education is decreasing.  It would be interesting to know why and how much.

 

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