Massive Last Minute Education Bill Emerges

A new mega bill HB 7069 for education was released last night–278 pages long.   It combined provisions from other bills.  The funding is dismal; for most districts there will be less money next year.  Local district capital outlay funds do not increase and must be shared with charters which seriously harms districts.

Other provisions impact teacher bonuses and scholarships and expansion of charter schools by taking over schools in low income areas without requiring district oversight.

Testing and accountability have minor changes–Algebra II EOC is no longer required and the testing window is pushed back by allowing paper and pencil test for grades 3-6.  Districts may determine data for teacher evaluations.

Schools of Excellence and Schools of Hope are created.  It seems as though current state regulations now apply only to schools earning a grade of ‘B’ or ‘C’.  The others are granted flexibility.   The logic is flawed there.  The needs for the middle (or most students) are ignored.

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Education Budget Disaster

According to FADDS, the education budget is out.  The State base per student funding decreases by $27 per student.  This base funding amounts to about one half of the operating funds for schools.  The remainder comes from local property taxes.  Increases in funding from property taxes covers expected growth in student enrollment and higher rates for the Florida Retirement System.  What is left, about $5.32 per student, may not even cover increases in health care and other costs.

Categorical funds for things like transportation, Safe Schools, exceptional students, supplemental instruction, and instructional materials, all remain below 2010 funding.

This budget is much lower than either the Senate budget or the budget offered by Governor Scott.  He is rumored to be considering a veto for this budget.  Perhaps we should encourage Governor Scott to be resolute.

New and Improved?? Testing Bill

SB 926 may be dead!  Arising from the ashes is a new version of HB 549.  Senators Stargel and Flores filed a strike all and insert 72 page amendment last night.  Will it be heard today??

K-5 recess is still there as are a number of other ideas being floated to support visits to and expansion of charter schools, shared use of school playgrounds and wearing sunscreen etc.  Some of the bill actually relates to testing reform.

 

 

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PreK bill focuses on training

SB 468 Stargel will provide funds for training for early learning program teachers, principals and reading coaches.  These are the Voluntary PreK programs for four-year olds.  Children will be screened for pre reading and math skills and will be eligible for repeating the VPK program if the parents agree.  Parents will be given pre and post readiness test results.

N. Y. Times: Who Needs Charters When You Have Schools Like This!

Ask children, teachers, and parents about time.  They will likely say:  “There’s not enough time in a day to do what needs to be done”.    There are ways to do something about it.  We in Alachua County have been talking about how to reorganize the day to fit in pre school, hands on academic programs, school activities, and after school activities in a semi rational way.  We are asking if it is possible, without large influxes of money, to make an 8-5 school day.  Could all of these activities happen in one place without driving teachers to distraction??  Our local league will study examples of how this could be done.

Professor David Kirp, University of California, Berkeley, already has some successful examples.  In Tulsa, Oklahoma the  Union school district has implemented a community-based school program that has defied the demographic odds. School attendance has soared, achievement has risen, and suspensions have plummeted.  We need schools like that here.

We have one school, Howard Bishop, that has been identified as a community school.  It is just starting in that direction this year, and has not expanded to the full eight hour day.  The community social services support, however,  are centered not in various offices in town, but in the school.  They have a ways to go to catch up with the Union school district, but the Children’s Home Society is helping them.

We all need to help community schools make progress.  If nothing else, you can help financially.  It is not all about money, though.  Oklahoma has lower per student funding than Florida, and this district has found a way to expand the day and still make ends meet.  Let’s find out how.

With community support we can begin to dream of a world where the lack of time does not manage us; we manage time!  Let’s see if we can make our public schools the envy of the world of choice.

 

Talk to Little Children: Don’t dehumanize them

by Susan Bowles

This article was written in response to a Gainesville Sun commentary about pushing math skills on preschoolers to raise U.S. PISA scores.  Bowles is a kindergarten teacher who calls attention to the need for age appropriate teaching and learning strategies.  Simply pushing the mastery of high level skills on younger and younger children is ineffective and unfair.

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PreK Quantity or Quality?

child speakingPreK children miss out on needed funds.  In this Orlando Sentinel article, you will read that for the third year in a row, state funds for little children remain stagnant.   There are 169,000 Florida four year olds in VPK.  This is about 78% of eligible children.  The budget is $394 million or $2,437 per child.  This is one of the largest number of children who receive state support for VPK in the nation, but it is one of the smallest amount of money per student.  As  you might expect, standards are low, and many teachers have no college education.  Programs that can raise money in their communities, but the reality is that quality varies widely.

In 2014, Representative Marlene O’Toole sponsored a bill in the legislature to raise standards and improve quality.  It died in session.  Maybe next year will be a preK year.  It is up to the voters to help the legislature set priorities.  The League needs to get the word out.