Would you like a summary of what happened in the Florida Legislature this week? See The Capital Report.
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.
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 differences in policy have huge financial impact. For example:
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:
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.
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.
House Speaker Corcoran wants ‘Schools of Hope’, but those charters, like KIPP and SEED, have little interest in coming to Florida. According to an article in Politico, KIPP likes to recruit one grade at a time and keep those who survive their no nonsense program. SEED is a boarding school. Schools like these do not turn around struggling public schools, they select the more promising children and leave the rest.
It’s that time in the legislative session. The proposed budgets are out. The bargaining begins. The Florida House wants money for charter schools. The Senate wants money for public schools.
Many legislators want money to expand tuition payments to private, mostly religious schools. HB 15 adds children of military families to the tax credit voucher program. The per student increases from 80 to 88% of the FEFP public school amount for elementary students. Middle school funding increases to 92% and high school to 96% of FEFP. The pretense that the Florida tax credit scholarship program saves money is gone. Corporate taxes that could help Floridians go to private schools that have little accountability and uncertified teachers.
Charter school bills feature getting a share of local property taxes for facilities, taking over struggling public schools, and creating a separate charter school system. In addition, they allow uncertified teachers in charters and require public school facilities be given to charters. There is more.
SB 964: Montford, Garcia and Lee, has teeth. This bill would have a significant impact by reducing the number of state required tests as well as reducing the negative impact on instruction because it:
- allows SAT/ACT for 10th grade language arts and deletes the FSA 9th grade language arts, civics, algebra II, geometry and U.S. history exams. The FSA for grades three to eight remain along with Algebra I and biology.
- allows paper and pencil administration of online tests.
- eliminates the Florida DOE supervision of teacher evaluations and rules that tie evaluations to student test score results.
Two other bills would only move testing to the end of the school year instead of beginning state wide testing in February.
- HB 773 Cortes, Donalds, Eagle, Fischer, and Gruthers. The language of this bill is very similar to the language of the SB926 thus is a companion bill.
- SB926 Flores and Bradley moves testing to the end of the year but allows students expected to be proficient based on proficiency measures to take the state assessment once per quarter during the year. It authorizes a comparison of SAT and ACT content with the FSA English Language Arts and Mathematics tests at the high school level.
While moving the exam period to the end of the year has some advantages, it does little to reduce the amount of testing or the time required to conduct testing. Given that requirements to base a large percentage of teacher evaluations on student test results, the focus on drill and practice and test prep rather than on more effective, long range student learning remains.
The House Committee on PK12 Quality held a thoughtful meeting.
State Rep. Matt Willhite asked “Could we do without school grading?” “When we have school grades with continuous failing grades, are we benefiting the child telling them they are in a failing school?
Sen. Jake Rayburn R. Lithia, stated that whether you give an F or not, you have to figure out what to do with low performing schools.
Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R. The Villages asked ‘If there is any benefit (from testing)? He said that the most frequent complaint he heard was about the stress and time taken away from other academic efforts at the schools.
The State School Superintendents requested a return to paper and pencil testing which take much less time to administer than testing in limited space computer labs. Removing test scores from teacher evaluations would allow districts to develop their own assessment strategies.
Of course we need to test to see how children are learning. It is a matter of how much testing is needed and how scores are used. Hitting teachers, students, and schools over the head with school grades just makes everyone frustrated and destroys neighborhoods.
Missing from the discussion was the growing evidence that over the last 15 years of school choice, many neighborhoods have gone into a downward spiral, much like in Gainesville where four low income area schools used to have grades with A, B, and Cs. Now one school is closed and the three remaining post Ds and Fs. Teachers and students leave. Socio economic data show that charters in the area do not take or keep the difficult problems. It is hard to swallow but giving parents choice has created more problems than it has solved. The charters here fail more often than the public schools.
The bottom line is that folks want to make things better, but the stronger the focus is on schools rather than kids, the bigger the problem is. Bad problems get worse. Everyone blames everyone else. Grading schools and teachers highlight problems but do not fix them.
Making schools more equal could help depending upon how it was done. Now, the three struggling schools receive $1.5 million in federal funding to support extra time and wrap around services. The money helps but does not eliminate the failing stigma. It does nothing for similar students who are dispersed in schools across the district. Once we had an extra hour and summer school, funded by the State, to help children who start school behind and stay behind. Once we had high quality early Head Start. Once we had teachers who loved their schools. Gone, all gone. But, at least people are talking.