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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LWV Action Alert on Education

This is a critical time to make your support for public education heard.  Please contact your House and Senate representatives.  Whether you are a League member or not, share our ACTION ALERT to as many people/groups as possible.  We have a chance right now to make a difference.  See:

ACTION ALERT – EDUCATION
The Florida House wants Charter Schools of Hope. The Senate wants to support public schools. The two chambers are about to go to conference committee to bargain. We do not want a Faustian bargain! If the House succeeds in privatizing schools, every one of us loses. This affects all schools and all communities. It could affect your child.
We ask you to call your Representative and Senator in your district. Ask them to support:
  • SB 1552 that funds districts, not charters, to help struggling schools.
  • the Senate budget proposal for per student funding at $7,414.26.
  • the Senate proposal to restore local capital outlay funding for district school facilities. Sharing this funding with charters that duplicate traditional schools is neither cost efficient nor cost effective.
  • SB 926 that reduces the number of tests required for graduation and moves testing to the end of the year where it belongs.
This is a battle over privatizing our schools. The House would rather create a $3 billion slush fund than to fix our aging school buildings or to help districts turn around schools. This is not about money; it is about who controls our schools. We do not want private companies to run our schools. We have elected school boards to do that. 
 
IT IS TIME TO TAKE A STAND. THE HOUSE NEEDS TO HEAR US. THE SENATE NEEDS SUPPORT TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR OUR CHILDREN.
In League,
Pamela Goodman
President, LWV of Florida
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Push Back to Protect Schools Makes Opportunities

It is time to think out of the box.

The jockeying continues.  According to Politico, Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron are negotiating over a plan to make the Schools of Hope funding competitive AND INCLUDE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  This has some logic to it.   Districts that are serious about providing the support and supervision to turn around failing schools can participate.

There is no question that these schools need fresh ideas, new funding, and constant oversight.  Changing the status quo is a community effort.  Outside charter schools can’t do it.  It will take some thoughts about zoning, racial and socio economic balance, after school programs, health and behavioral support services and extending the school day.  It will take creative solutions to teacher and principal assignments.

Some changes have to reflect how people live.  They work one or two jobs.  Where are the children while parents work–not just poor children, all children.  How can schools and communities work together to make life less complicated? Can we create a school day that allows time for serious academics, recess, physical activities, hands on learning, and exciting cultural activities?  Why can’t this all happen on a school campus?  How can we structure our teacher’s time more flexibly?  Who can provide supervision for an extended day?   We need to ask what is the quality of our after school programs?   It is mostly a matter of coordination and thinking differently.  Are we up to it?

The League is sending out a BLAST to everyone.  WATCH FOR IT!  We need citizens to make a stand to protect our public schools and help them evolve to meet the needs of the future.  We need everyone to think out of the box.  This is an opportunity to make a difference.

Negron Trades Schools for Reservoir

A draft budget compromise has been reached that gives the House its Schools of Hope and provides no capital outlay increase for public school facilities.  In exchange, Joe Negron gets the reservoir in South Florida.  If the Senate approves, public schools are left in the lurch once again.

No real details are out, but no reason to cheer.

Budget Bills Clash: Holding Schools Hostage

It is Thursday.  According to reports, the Senate and House must convene their conference committees by Monday if they hope to finish the legislative session by May 5th.  Negotiations between House Leader Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron fell apart Sunday.  Now they are calling one another names.  What is at issue?

Reports in the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times see it this way:

 

 

 

 

 

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A Step in the Right Direction

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.

 SB 1552 addresses two crucial needs.  The first is to attract more teachers to Florida’s schools who are beginning to feel the teacher shortage.  The second is to help districts receive the resources and support to make a difference in schools that are struggling.
We can all wish that more could be done, but this bill is the beginning of a break through.  The Senate is addressing the problems that districts face and providing support rather than wresting away control.  It does not assume that the private sector can somehow ‘do it better’ when the evidence has repeatedly shown it does not.
 Sometimes there simply is not a straight line to the exit.  Hopefully, the exit leads to a better place.
 

 

 

Be Aware: Don’t be shut out

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 Miami Herald published an article questioning this approach.  They are skeptical that any real input from the public will be heard.

The differences in policy have huge financial impact.  For example:

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