Florida Senate Caves in to House…Again

Yesterday, February 27, the Senate lost its identity. No longer is their version of SCB 7055 a responsible alternative to the House education policy. There have been 72 amendments to this bill. The latest strike all amendment reinserts much of the original House bill. The Reading Scholarships are back, public ownership of charter school facilities is gone. Language to curb teacher unions is back. The Legislative analysis is here.

The Senate version passed the Appropriations Committee by an 11-7 margin. The meeting lasted seven hours. It looks like the legislature is working for itself, not our schools.

New House Give Away Program

Everything up to now in the Florida House has been a distraction. The real battle is money–where does it come from and where does it go. HB7087 creates a Sales Tax Credit Scholarship Program for private schools. Sales taxes are the real source of state money. The House wants to spend it to privatize our public schools. This is supposed to be unconstitutional, but tax credits are a work a round.

Of course, Florida already uses corporate tax credit rebates to fund scholarships to private schools. Corporations pay a flat 5.5% income tax to the State. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program is estimated to cost about a billion dollars this coming year. It comes from that pot of money. Now, the House wants to add a sales tax credit program on top.

There is another major demand on school funding due to the Douglas High School shooting. The legislative response was estimated to cost about $400 million for school safety and mental health measures being proposed. This is funding not included in current budget estimates. It comes on top of reduced revenue estimates from corporate taxes of $167 million dollars.

The Governor’s long term strategy has been to eliminate the corporate tax on income. The legislature has resisted. Is shifting private school funding to sales taxes a ploy to win the Governor’s approval? It is all speculation at this point.

Where will the money come from and where will it go? It will be decided by March 9th when the session is scheduled to close.

Florida’s constitution prohibits state funding to private schools. These tax credit programs are work a rounds. The Constitutional Revision Commission has filed proposals to amend the constitution to allow direct voucher payments so the hypocrisy of tax credits is eliminated. The voters will have their say on changes to the constitution, but if they allow more tax credits, private schools will get their billion dollars or more.

The legislative train is going down hill. Will it gather speed and crush our schools? Who will stop the train?

Letter to Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rican legislature is considering its first cbarter school bills. As part of a national coalition, I was asked to write a letter to the legislature. These are my views. The letter is not from the League.
………………………………………………………………………………………………… To: Members of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico
From: Sue Legg, Ph.D., University of Florida, emerita
Re Senate Bill 825 and House Bill 14441

I write as an expert in Research, Measurement and Evaluation who has been actively involved in studies of school choice in Florida. For over thirty years, I was a major contractor for the Florida Department of Education in assessment and evaluation. More recently, I headed the statewide study of charter schools for the Florida League of Women Voters.

There are lessons to be learned from the Florida school choice experience. Not only did the U.S. Department of Education officially recognize (in 2014) the increased racial and economic segregation of schools in Florida due to charter expansion policies, the unregulated expansion of the industry also has resulted in unparalleled corruption.

Mismanagement of charters in Florida takes many forms. In the current Florida legislative session, the Senate has issued a proposal (CSB 7055) to prohibit financial enrichment by charter school owners and managers and their associated real estate companies. Charter school buildings that receive state funding for supplemental services must be transferred to a district, governmental entity, college or university if the charter closes. Charter closures due to poor academic achievement and management are the highest in the nation.

This legislation, if it passes, is long overdue. Millions upon millions of public dollars remain in the hands of the owners of privately run charter schools. Equally alarming are the number of legislators on key education committees with personal interests in charter schools e.g. the Speaker of the House.

The impact of unparalleled growth in the charter sector has contributed not only to the deterioration of neighborhoods as schools become more stratified by income and race, but also to the physical deterioration of facilities. Districts have joined together to file lawsuits due to their inability to maintain school buildings as funds are syphoned off. As the State reduces funding to pay the costs of charter and private school expansion, costs are shifted from the State to local communities. Local sales tax and property tax initiatives attempt to pick up the slack. Their ability to do so is dependent upon the wealth of the local community, and the specter of increased inequity increases.

There may be a need to offer school districts some flexibility in school management. The lack of oversight and strategic planning in a free market system based on competition for students, however, fails to serve students. Achievement gains in Florida are largely a myth fostered by well financed school choice advocates. NAEP scores have been flat for a decade. The highly touted growth in fourth grade reading scores reflects the high rate of third grade retention, not teaching and learning strategies.

This is a cautionary tale. There are social, political, and economic costs that must be weighed in this debate. Even the National Alliance for Charter Schools reported in 2016: “Despite consistent growth by charter schools in Florida, the schools have lagged on quality, diversity and innovation”.

I have watched and seen first hand what happens as schools open and close and children are shuffled around. It is not a pretty sight.

Compare the Policies: This is a real choice

The Florida House passed its version of HB7055. The Senate version has the same bill number but different content. It is moving forward. Compare the two versions.

Private School Expansion. Both legislative chambers would expand the corporate tax credit scholarships to students who could demonstrate they were bullied or otherwise harassed. Tax credits on new car sales would fund these private school scholarships, but the House would allow $105 per sale and the Senate would provide an option for buyers to donate $20 per sale. The Senate also proposes stronger fiscal audits and background checks for private schools and would raise standards for teachers who now are not required to have baccalaureate degrees from accredited colleges and universities.

Charter School Expansion. The House proposes converting public schools to privately managed charters and organizes charter school districts. These charters have governing boards appointed by private charter companies. The Senate proposes district-run charters that allow districts a more level playing field. Public school districts could be freed of stringent facility and staffing regulations, as charters currently are. Locally elected school boards, however, retain the responsibility of district-run charters.
In a long awaited move, the Senate bill takes aim at charter school profiteering. It prohibits financial enrichment by charter school owners and managers and their associated real estate companies. Charter school buildings that receive state funding for supplemental services must be transferred to a district, governmental entity, college or university if the charter closes.

Support for Low Performing Students. The House bill awards $400 per student who fails the third grade English Language Arts exam. Additional services would be funded by sales tax revenue. Families would be on their own to find a private tutor or other instructional materials. The Senate creates Hope Supplemental Services as part of current educational funding to school districts. These services provide $2000 per student for tutorial and after school programs as well as student and parent counseling and nutrition education. In addition, the Senate proposes an intensive mental health program be initiated in public schools.

Yes, the Senate threw a bone to the House by including a small amount of funding for the ‘bully bill’, but on balance, it is a much better bill. It gives districts control of charters that it decides to create. It puts meaningful control on charter profiteering. It supports struggling students in low performing public schools.

There is more to come. Watch for the House Ways and Means bill HB7087. They will continue to try to get more money to the private sector. The bill creates the Florida Sales Tax Credit Program. This is all a prelude for the November 2018 election when the pro choice advocates will attack the Florida Constitution to allow vouchers.

Co-Founder of KIPP Forced to Resign

Do we really want to privatize our schools? Charter management is not transparent. KIPP is supposed to be the exemplar for high quality charter schools. Charter school teachers are hired ‘at will’, that is, they can be fired for no reason. Evidentiary hearings are not required.

It is clearly unacceptable that it has taken so long to remedy. Sexual harassment of teachers or anyone else who has no mechanism to defend themselves is beyond ugly.

Key differences between latest House and Senate education bills

Senate Education Committee did a ‘strike all’ amendment on HB 7055, the House mega bill. Basically, the Senate took out the House language and put in its own. There are some key differences. This article is worth a read. Those personal reading scholarships are gone. Reduction in sales tax funding have been made to the ‘bully’ bill. Senator Simmons’ provision to strengthen accountability for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship programs are included. Teachers in those FTC schools would at least have to have a college degree!

The Senate Education Committee is meeting now. This is all about strategy. On Thursday, a new bill will arise. What should the Education Committee do with the strike all amendment? What will the Governor sign.

Call for Counselors

There is something we all can do right now. Contact the Florida Senate Education Committee. Let them know that their proposals in SB2508 to support struggling students and to fund a significant mental health program are worth fighting for. The House gives parents $400 and tells them to go shopping for help that may not be there.

There is no escape from the troubled neighbor’s child or the mentally ill family member, but there can be more help. We can build programs where it is safe for children to seek help and to alert others when a child needs help.

Contact Senator Dorothy Hukill and ask her to fight for our children. Don’t bargain away the educational services children need.

Teenage Males and School Shootings: Some Perspectives

by Tom Erney

Tom is a retired family therapist who spent his 45+ years sitting with teenage males as they shared with me their personal worldviews/ their unique “instruction books on life”. He said “Perhaps my vision of what fuels the desire of school shooters may shed some light on such a horrific, tragic topic. I’ll also mention some concrete steps our community could take to decrease the probability of school shootings.”

The inner conflict and confusion that most adolescent males experience is unsettling, and can prove to be profoundly toxic. Along with the fundamental human wonderings related to personal identity…”who am I , and what is worth my time and energy?”…is added the immediacy of figuring out how to become a man. Hence, the ultimate validation among the guys is: ” You are the MAN!!!” So, boys wishing to become men look to three primary socializing institutions for guidance: their family, their peers, and society in general.
Breakdowns and contradictions in any of these three influencing forces complicate, and can even derail, the teens’ personal-social development.

Our most basic calling as humans is to find some pathway(s) to become heroic…to feel secure in the knowledge that we are both visible and valued. We long to see ourselves as participating in something of lasting worth. Oscar Wilde said it in this manner: ” To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist…that is all”. Yet, our consciousness as humans will not allow us to settle- to not matter. To not be visible and valued! We must sort out some pathway(s) to seeing ourselves as heroic( “the Man”).

This search for a personal identity that allows us to perceive ourselves as visible and valued is difficult and painful under the best of circumstances. When any/ all of the three socializing institutions in males’ lives break down( family/ peers/ society in general) around a teen male, he aches for some solid ground midst all the conflict and confusion. Many teen males learn to channel almost all of their unpleasant emotions into anger…for anger is not seen as weak in male culture. Anxiety and depression often accompany the outward expressions of anger. The inner dialogue seeking to convince you that you are helpless, hopeless, and powerless must be altered…by any means necessary: sports, drugs and alcohol, sex, comedy, music, attempting to be perfect, computer games, driving fast, etc. All these attempts are hollow, for they rarely ever provide a pathway to being truly heroic( ” I truly matter.”)

Given an American culture that has been in a stunning transformation over the past 50-60 years, there exists no clear pathway to seeing yourself as important…that your existence matters. Where is there anything that is stable, consistent, predictable? I experienced firsthand in my office the loss of almost any certainty in the lives of the teens I counseled. The impact: young men no longer need to be mentally ill to commit horrific acts. Since Columbine, shooting up your school has become a pathway to becoming visible and valued…for the demonic rage that is being expressed is a rage against their impotence and unworthiness. ” NOW you will have to pay attention to me. I will not be ignored! My existence matters!”

Their actions reflect back to us as adults that we have failed to support them in their search for personal meaning. They are the symptom…we are the problem.

Steps To Take: 1) Double the number of school counselors. Offer them on-going training and supervision as they provide a sanctuary for today’s youth. don’t burden them with responsibilities for testing, etc. Presently, most school counselors are not allowed to truly work with students and their families. 2) Personalize, not mechanize, the educational process. Presently, students feel like objects that are expected to produce desired outcomes for their parents and teachers/ the school system. 3) Establish peer programs at every school. train and supervise these youth throughout the school year. NO SCHOOL SHOOTING TAKES PLACE WITHOUT OTHER TEENS KNOWING THAT THEIR SCHOOL BEING ATTACKED IS A REAL POSSIBILITY. TEEN BOYS TALK TO OTHER TEENS. There will never be enough adults to prevent this from happening. Only the kids can do this. They have access to the social media, etc. They know the rumors.

As I have written before, we do know what to do! We choose not to do what we know. Until adults and adult social institutions begin being responsible and consistent, young people will continue to cry out for help…by any means necessary. This is on us…not on them. They will struggle mightily, and more will die needlessly, until we grow up.

PTA Candle Light Vigil Monday

Join your local PTA candlelight vigil for Douglas High School Students. The Alachua County vigil is Monday, February 19th from 7-8pm at the Alachua County School District Office. 620 E. University Ave. Gainesville. If you can wear Douglas school colors, maroon and silver, please do.

Sales Taxes for Private Schools Proposed

Another $154 million, funded by sales taxes, would go to private school with this bill. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program already sends $873 million in corporate tax credits to schools that simply churn students in and out of public schools.

A few facts to memorize:

  1. 37% of FTC students are gone in one year and 61% in two years.
  2. Students who leave FTC schools are those who struggle the most.
  3. FTC schools are becoming more racially and economically segregated.

The House representative sponsoring the bill is Paul Renner from Palm Coast.