Public Education, Our Children, and the American Dream

Here’s a letter from the Florida League about our children’s future under HB 7069. Take the time to feel the impact. It has been submitted to the Miami Herald.

HB 7069, which passed the Florida Legislature has been described as “harsh, severe, and promises to undermine not only the economic viability of our school system, but the long-term stability of public education in our community and across the state,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

While the bill has some good aspects, especially recess for K-5 students, there are many parts which negatively impact our public schools, and children and families in our Florida communities.

We all agree that our children deserve a public funded (no cost) education so they can achieve their full potential. That is what distinguishes our country from countries around the world. This is a core American value; the foundation of the American Dream.  HB7069 does exactly the opposite. It was crafted in the middle of night, behind closed doors, with little public input, or access to the language of the bill; it was presented as take-it-or-leave-it.

The League of Women Voters of Florida believe that HB7069 needs serious revisions: public schools must have access to tax dollars to maintain and construct our schools; fiscal and academic accountability should be the same for all schools receiving public funds; state standardized testing should continue to be reduced; funds for parental involvement activities should be restored; the role of our communities and parents in local schools be reinforced and not diminished or eliminated; that free play recess be guaranteed to all K-5 students in all schools, public and charter; that school choice by parents be strengthened by providing teacher and student attrition data to school performance information for all schools (public and charters equally); that because charters receive our tax dollars, parents should have access to charter management company profits and guidelines for lease and management fees; and that school authority reside with locally-elected school boards who are accountable to local communities, to us, the taxpayers and voters.

We believe that with access to a public education, our children, especially of working families, or from poor homes, or with disabilities, or with other challenges, can become the very best they can be and grow up to contribute to our communities, as future working adults, paying taxes, and making our communities across Florida better places to live.  Any child can enroll in our schools and get a public education, no matter our child’s economic status, or race, or religion, or any other category. When my family arrived from Russia, or my friends came from Cuba or Haiti, or from name the country, our families’ children were welcomed by the neighborhood public school. That is America and Florida and Miami.

With HB7069, all that we believe is at risk. While charter schools provide parents a choice, let’s remember that the source of charter schools’ funding is our local tax dollars. The very first line of your County 2017-18 Proposed Tax Bill is for school taxes; the taxes that support our core value, a public education.

When it comes to allocating our hard earned tax dollars to public schools, we expect that this money will be spent responsibly to meet the needs of our children.  Indeed, that is at the heart of any elected official’s responsibility – to make sound spending decisions regarding our public dollars, with accountability and transparency.

This is what we must strive for in our school system for Miami and across Florida, for all our children and the very future of our communities.  “The word that comes to mind is courage,” said Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, School Board Member, “We’ve got to have the courage to do what is right.”

Pamela S. Goodman, President
League of Women Voters Florida

Behind the Scenes on HB7069: Text Messages Revealed

If you are a legislature junky, this is an article for you. Politico got access to text messages by key legislators while they worked through the education bill HB 7069. Remember that the entire 300 page bill was not released until the last day of the session. The session was extended over the weekend, and we all wondered what was in store.

A few key people calculated that Governor Scott would veto the bill. Many thought the bill had provisions that were unconstitutional. Now five districts have filed a lawsuit and 14 more are planning similar strategies. In the Senate, Senator Simmons Educator Chair worked to get the bill revised. Senate President had his own agenda with SB 374 to promote higher education. Representative Corcoran was pushing for expansion of funding for charters and private schools. Senator Simmons was nearly replaced as the Senate Chair who is supposed to present the education bill. Add in the role of Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala who ‘got it wrong’ when he let the bill go ahead. Senator Galvano got ‘blindsided’ in the higher education preeminence discussion that would have meant millions of dollars to USF. House Speaker Corcoran held Negron’s higher bill hostage until he got the charter school money.

Even though most thought that the tension between Rep. Corcoran and Governor Scott would doom the badly flawed education bill, Governor Scott sided with Corcoran and signed the bill. Scott’s line item vetoes of other bills freed up money to fund the education funding he wanted, and Corcoran was able to keep the funding for charter schools and private schools. Strange bed fellows.

Tampa Bay Times Editorial Says It All

Take a look at this editorial. It cites HB 7069 as ‘gross audaciousness’ by the legislature. Heading the list are the provisions to expand charter schools, ‘religious liberty provision’, text book review, and most of all: USURPING LOCAL CONTROL OF OUR SCHOOLS.

Memorize these talking points. Say them loudly and often. Take back our schools.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-floridas-micromanaging-of-public-schools/2330479

Catching Up: Which bills are signed? Another look at the Court

Schoolhouse Consulting Group brings us up to date with federal and state education actions. Their take on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is less certain than the NEA’s. No doubt there are members of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission who will use this decision to attack the Blaine Amendment. Voters will have to decide if they want public money to cover vouchers to private schools. Of course it indirectly does now through the tax credit scholarships. At some point citizens have to decide if all those standards and tests required for public schools should be required for private schools. What’s the expression? Isn’t it ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’?

Here’s the summary from Schoolhouse:

Federal
 
The U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a Missouri law that could have ramifications for Florida’s Constitutional prohibition of state or local funds being used directly or indirectly in the aid of any church, religious denomination or sectarian institution, the so-called “Blaine Amendment.”
 
The 7-2 ruling case involves denial of state funds to a church as a grant to use shredded scrap material from tires for its playground. The high court ruled the Missouri Blaine Amendment language violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling can be viewed here.
 
In Florida, efforts to create scholarships or vouchers for students to attend sectarian schools began in 1999 with passage of the A+ Plan. A 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision ruled “opportunity scholarships” unconstitutional, but not based on Article 1, section 3. In 2012, voters defeated (44.5 “yes” vote with 60% needed to be adopted) Amendment 8 that read: (Article 1, Section 3) There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution. Underlined wording was new and strike-though language would have been removed.
 
Both U.S. Education Secretary Betsy deVos and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were quick to hail the ruling. For Florida, it will likely lend support to a renewed effort to put something similar to Amendment 8 on the 2018 ballot, either through the Legislature or Constitutional Revision Commission. It may also spur some in Congress to re-open Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and seek a scholarship/voucher-like program in the coming months. In addition to Florida and Missouri, 37 other states have similar constitutional language.
 
State
 
Governor Rick Scott has now signed nearly all education bills that passed the regular and special sessions. Today, of note, he signed HB3A which is the special session bill appropriating an additional $100/students in the Florida Education Finance program. He also signed:
 
HB 0015 Relating to Educational Options (Sullivan) – expanded Gardiner and Florida Tax Credit scholarships
HB 0781 Relating to Designation of School Grades (Porter) – defined how school centers having grades K-3 will be graded
HB 0899 Relating to Comprehensive Transitional Education Programs (Stevenson) – Authorizes Agency for Persons with Disabilities to petition for appointment of receiver for comprehensive transitional education program
HB 0989 Relating to Instructional Materials (Donalds) – clarifies right of parents and residents to provide input to district selection/adoption of instructional materials and sets appeals process to be conducted by a hearing officer
HB 1079 Relating to Pub. Rec. and Meetings/Campus Emergency Response for Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions (Rommel) – Provides exemption from public records requirements for specified portions of campus emergency response for public postsecondary educational institutions;
HB 1109 Relating to Private School Student Participation in Extracurricular Activities (Antone) – allows students at non-FHSAA schools to be eligible to play for local FHSAA schools
HB 1239 Relating to School Bus Safety (Eagle) -Provides for mandatory noncriminal penalties, fine, driver license suspension, & driver license points for certain violations resulting in serious bodily injury to/death of another person.
 

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.

 

 

 

 

Religious Freedom Bill: Can it pass the Lemon Test?

There are two bills in the Florida legislature ‘that purport to support’  freedom of religious expression in schools.  Federal and state constitutions already support religious expression.  Why does Florida need a law?

SB 436 requires districts to comply with federal requirements in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Is there a need for a law to guarantee rights that are already protected in the constitution?  This new law prohibits,

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Religion in schools, how much is too much?

by Pat Drago

For many of us, our faith permeates our lives. Religion, however, not only comes in many forms, it is based on strong emotions, and controversy is as old as mankind.  In modern times, waves of immigration brought people together whose religious faiths differed.  During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the issue came to a head over how to teach religion in schools.  President Grant and Senator Blaine proposed a solution, keep schools and religion separate.   A U.S. constitutional amendment failed, but 38 states passed their own version of the Blaine amendment to separate church and state. Florida was one of those states.

Public opinion wafts and wanes over how best to keep a moral center for our children.  The issue has once again reached the Florida legislature when HB 303 Daniels and SB 436 Baxley were filed to allow religious expression in schools.  The bills are framed to prevent districts from penalizing parents, teachers or students who express their religious beliefs in course work, artwork, or other assignments.  The bill goes on to authorize students to pray, organize prayer groups and religious events, and states that districts may not prohibit teachers from participating in student initiated religious activities.

Pat Drago, who was a former senior executive in Volusia County schools, offers some background on the role of religion in schools.

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Plan to Revise the Constitution: Take the Public Out of Public Education

Can you imagine that the Florida House and Senate would support the repeal of the Fair Districting amendments, making the redistricting process secret, as well as rescinding constitutional bans on state support for private, religious schools?   The Miami Herald reports that these are the major goals of the legislative leaders. Florida’s constitution would have to be changed, and the process is now in place.  We need to know about this; it is real.

 

 

 

 

 

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Washington’s Charter Shell Game and Another Lawsuit

justiceThe League is in a new lawsuit in the state of Washington.  Charters were approved by the voters in 2012, but the League of Women Voters called the move unconstitutional.  The Charter School Case filed by the League et al in 2013 was appealed all the way to the state’s Supreme Court.  In 2015, the Court ruled that charter schools violated the Washington constitution.  Charters were not public schools.  In order for the legislature to fund charters, they must be governed by elected school boards, and of course, they were not.

The  legislature was not deterred.

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Opt Out Parents Lawsuit Going Federal?

justiceThere is a new and very interesting twist to the Florida opt out lawsuit.  Parents whose children were retained in third grade solely because they did not take the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) brought a lawsuit.  Some districts retained these children who would otherwise be promoted to fourth grade and others did not.  It sounds like a basic fairness issue, but it is more complicated.  Who is responsible for this policy, the State or the federal government?  If only 16 states require third grade retention, why would the federal law be involved?

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