Is a Revolt Brewing Over 4 Day School Weeks?

Florida’s isn’t at the bottom of the state education funding ranking; it hovers around 42nd. At the bottom are states like Utah, Idaho and Oklahoma. What’s it like for schools there? Schools are trying to cut costs by holding school four days a week. It does save some transportation and food costs but not much else. The school days are longer; thus teacher salaries remain the same.

According to former Republican Governor Keating, parents are rebelling. They view the legislature as dysfunctional. They are voting out those they blame. The Atlantic calls it ‘The Red State Revolt‘. It is over the constant cuts in education that have resulted in teacher shortages and larger class sizes. In Oklahoma, one-fourth of the schools are open only four days. Maybe there is a point where parents say enough is enough to cuts in education spending. Will Florida’s legislature listen? It has not yet restored funding at pre recession levels.

Can Florida afford to do any better for its children? A new report by the Education Law Center says ‘Yes’. The 2017 ELC report ranks state by funding level, how funds are distributed based on student need, effort related to economic capacity, and fairness based on percentage of students in public vs. private schools. These ratings are very revealing for Florida.

“California and Florida are positioned very poorly on all four fairness measures, receiving an “F” in Funding Effort” and a “C” in Funding Distribution”. On all other indicators, Florida ranks between 40th and 50th in the nation. The data show that Florida can afford to do better for its public schools. It also shows the growing emphasis on sending children to private schools which are becoming increasingly dependent upon public funding through tax credits and vouchers.

The choices that Florida’s legislators are making may well run into the same wall of rebellion by the citizens of Florida who want more for their children. The State can afford to do more, but it is choosing not to. Our funding levels are just above Oklahoma, and current attacks on public school funding due to HB 7069 will only make things worse. The ‘choice’ bubble in Florida may well burst as it appears to be in Oklahoma.

Parents Fight Back over Voucher Expansion

Save Our Schools in Arizona is doing exactly that. They have filed 111,540 petitions to put Arizona Proposition 305 on the ballot. P 305 will let voters decide whether to use state funds for vouchers called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. The legislature’s plan for vouchers is on hold. Note that these accounts are simply expansion of similar accounts now designated for students with disabilities. Florida has such a program called Personal Learning Accounts.

The big money behind the expansion of vouchers is no secret. The Center for Media and Democracy describes the funders: Koch, Americans for Prosperity; DeVos American Federation for Children; Jeb Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education; Arizona Free Enterprise Club; advocates for religious schools and members of the Bradley Foundation.

Voucher advocates have formed a coalition targeting Hispanics called the Libre Institute They have filed suits and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into their pro voucher ad campaigns.
Libre is active in Florida. The expansion of vouchers in Florida is projected to be the focus of Florida’s November 2018 election campaign.

Separation of Church and State Under Siege

Roberto Martinez filed P4 to end the ban on public funding for religious schools. In a 5-1 vote yesterday, the Constitutional Revision Commission sub committee on Declaration of Rights agreed. The provision in question, commonly known as the Blaine amendment, has been in the Florida Constitution for over a 100 years.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Martinez says he supports separation of church and state and public schools. He just thinks banning money from religious institutions is wrong.

This argument is as old as our country. The voters will have to decide once again. Florida’s Supreme Court supported the Blaine amendment is 2006. A ballot measure to allow private school funding was defeated in 2008, The voters rejected a subsequent to fund private schools in 2012.

Once again, it is time to stand up to the values in our Florida constitution. They have withstood the test of time. Some variation of this latest attack on the separation of church and state will appear on the November 2018 ballot. Voters once again will have to reinforce the distance between an impartial public school system and individual religious preferences.

The CRC Wrecking Crew

In 1998, the Constitutional Revision Commission strengthened Florida’s education system. Twenty years later, the current CRC is called a wrecking crew in the Orlando Sentinel editorial.

What is at stake?

Martinez proposes to end the separation of church and state. Can you believe this: The Chair of the State Board of Education, Marva Johnson, is proposing to abolish the prohibition to fund private schools with public money. Other CRC members would allow public funds to be used for services in private schools. Even more unbelievable is the proposal by a member of the Collier County school board, Erika Donalds, to allow charters without having school board approval. And then, Martinez would totally get rid of the provision for a uniform system by creating charter school districts.

There’s more. The only hopeful thing is that Florida’s voters have rejected many of these same ideas before, more than once. Voters will have to turn out in droves in November 2018 to say once more that all children must have access to a free, high quality education.

New Tallahassee Community School

What’s a community school, you ask? It’s one where whole families can congregate. The best example in Florida is Evans High School in Orlando. It went from a ‘D’ to a ‘B’ school by engaging families, not dismissing them. The concept is sponsored by Children’s Home Society (CHS). They provide a director, and three staff for coordinating health, parent engagement and after school care.

At Evans, there is a health clinic that serves the school staff and the families. There is onsite counseling and food pantries. There is a Parent Resource center and after school programs. CHS has launched nine of these community schools, and it is a partnership. The legislature provides some funding, but local businesses and universities pitch in to support the staffing.

The CHS staff coordinate services; the principal is in charge of academics. They all work together. Now, Tallahassee will have a community school. It is a practical, impactful approach to supporting children’s needs.

Check out their website. When CHS came to Gainesville, at Howard Bishop Middle School, the League celebrated. It is not easy to pull all the resources together, but it is a worthwhile effort. We are doing what we can to spread the word and build support.

It’s a concept to build, not divide, communities.

Quick fix solutions are merely demons in disguise

Do term limits get rid of a bureaucratic establishment and allow new people with great ideas to enter the scene? This is the argument put forth by CRC member Erika Donalds from Collier County’s school board. Her proposal to limit school board members to two terms passed the CRC education panel yesterday. She also argued for appointed superintendents. This is a term limit too in a sense. Appointed superintendents tend to last about three years and move on. An account of the arguments was reported by the News Service today. It made me go searching for an answer to the question: What really happens to the legislative process when term limits are introduced. The answer? Power shifts to consultants who wave the possibilities for future jobs at legislators.

I found a story about how power shifts told by a promoter of term limits, Gina Loudon, who had a front row seat in its impact. Here are her observations:

  1. Absolute power does not dissipate, it transfers…not to the young legislators but to those not elected i.e. the staff, consultants, and lobbyists.
  2. Knowledge is power. Knowledge of the political process is critical for effective legislating. Term limits eradicate that knowledge.
  3. Freshmen legislators now trade their votes for jobs they were promised when they were elected.
  4. Leadership in the legislature is controlled by lobbyists. Even individual staff members may be assigned to legislators by the leadership. Legislators spend their time jockeying for positions not on advocating for their constituents. Legislators are smart; they know where their bread is buttered.

The corruption is now more insidious, greedier, and more controlling, and there is nothing the voters can do about it. She says “You can’t defeat lobbyists, consultants and staffers in an election”. The answer to political corruption is not term limits. The answer is voter involvement. She concludes that citizen engagement matters more now than ever in American history.

How will this play out at the local school board level? Take a look at Los Angeles where pro charter forces banded together to promote candidates favorable to privatization. There’s a lot of money connected to education, and privatizers want access to it. School board races set a record for expenditures. The three candidates raised over $2 million and outside money reached $14.3 million.

The adversaries were The California Charter School Association Advocates and the Los Angeles teacher’s union. We know who the teachers are. Who backs the CCSAA is not so clear, but one investigator uncovered large donations from Doris Fisher of The Gap, Alice Walton from Walmart, Lauren Jobs from Apple, and Michael Bloomberg from Wall Street. Should they be controlling Los Angeles school board races?

We the voters will decide in November 2018 which amendments to the Florida constitution will pass. Remember that term limits, however appealing on the surface, shifts power from the voters to the corporate sector where money is king and the voters lose.

Scott Cites Budget Surplus

Once again there are promises on the table. As last year, Governor Scott’s budget calls for education funding increases. He would push for a $200 per child funding increase and increased revenue from property taxes. Will anything come of it?

The battle in the legislature will be over privatization once again. Proposed changes to the Florida constitution would eliminate the separation of church and state and expand vouchers. Charter school districts would create a separate school system. Expansion of who can approve new charter schools beyond elected school boards would create a back room bargaining network that would be impossible to manage.

Class sizes will continue to grow as limits disappear in proposed legislation from the Bush Foundation’s Patricia Levesque. Just think, the legislative session has not even begun, and we already are shaking our heads in disbelief. Governor Scott has a projected budget surplus with which to bargain. Let’s hope it will not be the Faustian bargain it was last year.

Gutting Class Size Limits

The latest from the Bush foundation is to gut the class size limits. Yes, the legislature has been doing this for years by exempting almost all classes. Any ‘elective’ is exempt, like American literature, marine biology, AP classes…or any school choice magnet programs, so those classes are much larger. Basic reading, writing and math courses are still covered. Scott Maxwell describes the persistent effort by the Bush ‘Excellence? in Education’ foundation to equate excellence with cheap. It’s a hard case to make, but Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Bush foundation is doing her best. Let’s hope it is not good enough to further erode the quality of our public schools.

Think about the impact of large class sizes for young children. Think about the impact of large classes we now have for children learning languages. You know more examples.

Levesque and Bobby Martinez, co-members of the Constitutional Revision Commission have filed an amendment to the Florida constitution. The voters have the final say at the November 2018 election. Read Scott Maxwell’s article and decide how you will vote.

NPE: Charter Management Exposed

The Network for Public Education summarized the dangers inherent in charter school practices that hurt children and communities. They give detailed examples. Here’s a quick list of problems and an important list of recommendations to manage the chaos that the choice system has created. Adherence to a free-market, no regulation philosophy is not necessary to have reasonable choices for children. Unregulated school choice is creating a monstrous problem with:

Charters that are not free public schools.
Charter students who need not attend school to graduate.
Charters for the wealthy..
Charters with secret profits
Seedy charters in storefronts.
Charters paying kids.
Religious charters.
Charters for political parties.
Charters faking achievement data.
Charters shedding students.
Shady charter business practices.
Charters that exacerbate segregation.
Charters that exclude students with disabilities.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE. The NPE list of recommendations represent a growing consensus:

Impose a moratorium on charter expansion.
Ban for-profit charters and charter chains.

Make charter management companies’ accounting systems transparent.
Ensure students’ due process rights in admission and dismissals.
Ensure enrollments are representative of community demographics.
Require openly disclosed bidding processes.
Review property leases and bond issues for appropriate costs.
Revert ownership of closed charter facilities to districts.
Strengthen local district authorization and oversight of charters.

With little or no oversight, abuse is given free rein. Which is the greater evil, reasonable rules or exploiting students and families for personal gain?

Tampa Teachers are Angry: Promises Not Kept

Education is the billionaires playground, and they are making a mess of it. The school choice movement is based on the theory that competition among schools and pressure on teachers will make students learn. In 2010, Bill Gates (Microsoft) came to Tampa to show how it is done. He promised $100 million dollars if the school board would try out his teacher evaluation system. The teachers and the district bought in. It’s a pay to play system. Teachers whose ratings were satisfactory would eventually be given raises…maybe.

Gates decided his system did not work. He pulled out and took his money with him. Twenty million dollars for salary raises disappeared. In 2015, his system was scrapped.

It gets worse. The Superintendent was fired in spite of being a finalist for national superintendent of the year. She was fired because she and some pro choice members of the Tampa school board did not get along. Some are currently under fire for taking campaign money from for-profit charter schools. The public would have to fire them.

Superintendent Elia did alright; Elia was hired as New York’s State Superintendent.

The education reform system put Hillsborough schools in financial trouble. More charters have opened. More children are in low quality private schools. Now, the teacher raises promised three years ago were cancelled. Students have walked out to support their teachers. The teachers came out in the hundreds this week to protest to the school board.

The public has been duped by the reform movement. Beware of strangers bearing gifts. Beware of school board members who accept them. Beware of the myth of cheap charters. It does not take a financial wizard to recognize that if you pool your resources, you have more funding. If you divide funds into charters, private schools and district run schools, you have less.

Now the public has a choice. Support your teachers or lose them. Support more charters and vouchers, lose not only quality in the classroom, but also the quality of the classrooms. Florida already has one of the lowest cost education systems in the country. The billionaires like Gates, Waltons (Walmart) and Koch (oil) know about making money. In Florida, they are figuring out how to bleed a turnip. The public gets what is left when they are through. In Tampa, it is a mess.