Attend Constitutional Revision Commission in Gainesville April 26

This is a time to ACT!  The Constitutional Revision Commission hearing is in Gainesville at the Phillips Performing Arts Center on April 26.  Doors open at 4 pm, so get there early.

This Commission is formed every twenty years to hear what the public wants to change in our Florida Constitution.  The members are picked by the Governor, the Legislature and the Judiciary.  We expect that there is a strong partisan group on the Commission who will push for privatizing our schools via vouchers.  There is a plan to abolish the separation of church and state clause that prohibits public money going to private schools.

This is a time for you to be vocal.  We will get a second chance at the ballot box in November, 2018 when the proposed amendments will be on the ballot.  In case any members are hard of hearing, we need to tell them what we think as often as possible.

If you can attend the hearing, bring a three minute speech.  You need a speakers form that you submit at the door.  You can down load it here:

You can fill out a speaker form in advance and turn it in when you arrive.

 

 

 

 

California Charters Are A Poor Investment

April 14, 2017; Salon

There are cracks in the charter school system in California.  I grew up there.  We used to be arrogant enough to think we got everything right.  The charter school explosion, however, has caused cracks in the system.

California has twice the numbers of charters than Florida.  They have enough to see the serious consequences when there is unregulated growth and little accountability.

Meredith Machen sent this Salon article.  It spells out the quandary in which California finds itself.  Florida and others states are going down this road.  Read it and don’t weep, tell people!

 

 

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Testing Bill Train is Forming

SB 926 (Flores) is moving down the road.  The bill still removes all but the Algebra I and Biology End of Course exam requirements for high schools. It provides for a study to find alternative nationally normed tests for these exams.  The ELA and math state assessments are moved to the last three weeks of the year.  Then, the bill gets more complicated.  It gets more and more difficult to figure out what is in the bill.  Additional baggage has been added to make this a train bill:

 

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A Step in the Right Direction

Have you ever been in a maze and had trouble finding the exit?  Tracking bills through the legislative process is like that.  Well, it is even worse because some bills get lost and others change their identity.  I tried to check on the Best and Brightest bills.   SB 1552 is no longer just about teacher recruitment bonuses.  It is also about school improvement.  But, school improvement used to be about Schools of Hope.  Forget all the old bill numbers; it is time to start anew.  Here’s what happened:

Senator Simmons filed an amendment to his Best and Brightest teacher recruitment bill SB 1552.  The bill incorporates many of the provisions in House bill 796 and broadens eligibility for scholarships.  It adds college level tests and grade point averages etc. to those high school SAT and ACT scores that seemed such a bizarre way to select and reward teachers.  The new bills are not perfect but are an improvement.  They could help make teaching a more attractive option in this time of teacher shortages.  At least the bill provides multiple and diverse ways to qualify for salary bonuses.

Yesterday, SB 1552 changed again.  Senator Simmons filed another amendment to insert some School Improvement language from HB 5105.   The League was unhappy with HB 5105 last week.  It promoted Schools of Hope that took control of struggling schools away from districts.  Pulling students out of the district simply weakens all schools.

Senator Simmons’ amendment not only eliminates Schools of Hope funding, it maintains district control.  It provides support and flexibility that has long been needed.  Schools receiving grades below a “C” will have turn around support that includes:

  • An additional  hour of instruction.
  • Wrap around community support services provided by a non-profit entity that includes health services, after school programs, drug prevention, college and career readiness and food and clothing banks.
  • Principal autonomy mostly in the curriculum.

Traditional public schools that fail to improve after three years of intensive support still face a choice to either reassign students, close the school and reopen as a charter, or contract either as a conversion charter school or with an outside agency to run the school.

 SB 1552 addresses two crucial needs.  The first is to attract more teachers to Florida’s schools who are beginning to feel the teacher shortage.  The second is to help districts receive the resources and support to make a difference in schools that are struggling.
We can all wish that more could be done, but this bill is the beginning of a break through.  The Senate is addressing the problems that districts face and providing support rather than wresting away control.  It does not assume that the private sector can somehow ‘do it better’ when the evidence has repeatedly shown it does not.
 Sometimes there simply is not a straight line to the exit.  Hopefully, the exit leads to a better place.
 

 

 

Politifact: Bush is Mostly Wrong

Jeb Bush is pushing privatization in New Hampshire.  In this latest move, all parents would receive a voucher to attend a school of choice–private or public.  Bush argues that competition from vouchers make public schools better.  He cites research in Florida conducted by David Figlio.  Figlio himself says that the number of students he studied was small, and it makes sense that public schools were able to make modest gains because they had not lost that much revenue.

(In the long run, public schools had lost some low achieving students to private, small and mostly religious schools in early grades, half of whom in middle school, returned.)

 

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Be Aware: Don’t be shut out

Why are the House and Senate education committees operating differently this year?  There has been relatively little discussion about differences in the policies offered by each chamber.  All of a sudden, bills in the Senate have replaced House  bills.  There are no committee hearings open to the public on these changes.  Instead, the House and Senate bills go to the conference committee that includes leaders from each chamber.  They negotiate the final bills in secret.

The Miami Herald published an article questioning this approach.  They are skeptical that any real input from the public will be heard.

The differences in policy have huge financial impact.  For example:

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Horse Trading Time

The House and the Senate are at the horse trading part of the session.  The Senate bills by and large are supportive of public schools (except for SB 796).  The House bills support charter school expansion.   Both chambers are concerned with struggling schools.  The House wants to shift these schools to the private sector.  Senate bills focus on making it possible for public schools to improve.

Remember our Action Alert on 5101, 5103 and 5105? Everything is now different.   Some things are better, at least for now.  Here’s the latest:

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Happy Today

Last night, SB 376 (Simmons) replaced HB 5103.  The amended version of SB 376 by Senator Farmer had all we hoped for.  It inserted language that gave districts’ discretion on whether to share local facility capital outlay with charters.  It controlled the mismanagement and self enrichment due to charter real estate practices.

Now the bill goes to the conference committee to negotiate with the House.  Will SB 376 survive?  Who knows.  Be happy today.

Money, money. Who gets it?

Wednesday the House (HB 5001) and Senate (SB 2500) budgets are aired.  They are very different when it comes to education.  Money for school facilities is at the heart of the issue.

The House bill provides $100 million dollars for about 650 charter school facilities and $20 million for the over 4,000 public schools.  The Senate bill provides $75 million each for public and charter schools.  Remember that charters are called public schools, but their buildings are privately owned.

The priority of the House is to expand charters.  Originally, charters were intended to be low-cost alternatives to meet Florida’s population growth, and the need, at that time, for more schools.  Now, nearly forty percent of charters are run by for-profit companies that make most of their money from real estate.  Rents and leases often are excessive.  The House wants local districts to share local funds with charters, and they want more state PECO funds to go to charters.

There is very little PECO money.  The funding sources are drying up.  The Senate wants to float bonds.  The House does not.  Where will the House get the money for these privately owned facilities charters use?  It wants to take over public school facilities.  See this News4Jax article for more insight.

Some charters fill a legitimate need.  Too many simply duplicate what public schools offer.  Instead of putting money into real estate, the legislature should put money into instruction.  Schools need to offer extended days and summer programs.  They need funding to improve aging schools.  They do not need charters whose only purpose is to make money.