Proposed Education Budgets May Force Cost Cutting Again

Once again what looks like more money is not. The House and Senate 2020-21 budgets provide Alachua County with $50 or $40 more per student. The mandated increased cost for the Florida Retirement System is $80 more per student (in Alachua County). The districts must also pay for new students and the Teacher Salary Supplement. The district must cut its budget for 2020-21. The total reduction for Alachua County in the House bill is $3,487,197 and the Senate total is $2,564,352

The House (HB 5001) and Senate (SB 2500) budgets differ in priorities. The House budget includes more funding for teacher salary supplements but less than the Senate’s allocation for turnaround schools, students with disabilities, digital technology, and support for poorer districts. Both chambers include the mandate for districts to fund increased costs for the Florida Retirement System (FRS). The two bills must be reconciled in a joint conference.

The FRS increased cost is due to an auditor’s analysis that the FRS estimated rate of return on its investments should be lowered. While the current income on investments exceeds expectations, it has not completely recovered from the 2007 recession, see kic restoration. The FRS includes 643,00 state, local, and school district employees. Their contributions support pensions for 416,000 retirees. Teachers and other district employees are nearly one-half of all participants.

Florida Legislators at Work….For Themselves

Remember when the three Jefferson County schools were closed and taken over by Academica, the largest for-profit charter management company in the state?  The story makes your hair curl.  Here is a report by WLRN news that details where the money came from and where it went. Find out how Academica works and how the students fared.

New funding included a $2.5 million special appropriation from the Florida Legislature, $2 million from federal startup grant funds, and a $1.9 million interest free loan from Academica’s Somerset division.  This was funding denied unless it became a charter district. Academica received $327,000 in fees in 2017-18 to manage the fewer than 800 student K12 school.  The per student cost rose to $16,600 which school leaders recognize cannot be sustained.  The state pays much less.

The behind the scenes orchestrators for the takeover were Senators Manny Diaz and Anitere Flores, both of whom have close ties to Academica. Diaz is an administrator at Doral College and is Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  Flores is deputy Majority Leader for the Florida Senate and moved from being the head of Doral College to the Academica foundation.  The current Doral College president, Rodriquez,  was named to supervise the transition of the Jefferson County schools to Academica.

In previous posts, I reported on a series of misdeeds associated with Diaz and Flores related to their association with Doral College.  The college was bankrupt and had no students or faculty when Academica took it on.  It now offers online courses to Academica students.  The credit was worthless because the college had no accreditation.  Diaz worked to get a private school accreditation agency to recognize the college.  Diaz’s personal interest is noted here.  

What is the result of the takeover?  Behavioral specialists were hired to help students, teacher salaries increased, and the physical facilities were improved. Initially, the school grades rose to a ‘C’, but the elementary school has now reverted to a ‘D’.  The increase in the percentage of students passing the FSA state examinations in order to raise the school grades may have had as much to do with discipline policies as with learning strategies.  The charter school policy created a 45 day suspension policy in which students were given a laptop and sent home.  They were to take online classes from Doral College.  Many students never returned.  It is one way to raise school grades…just limit which students take the tests.

There is no question that the years of neglect in Jefferson County created the abysmal schools.  Parents who could, mostly white, had left for private schools or for schools in nearby Leon County.  Those few students who remained had the greatest needs and the fewest resources.  No doubt some students and their families were grateful for the influx of new funding for the charter district, but it cannot last.    

This is the result of a choice system in which racial and economic segregation flourishes as described in ‘Tough Choices‘, a report sponsored by the Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University.  It has happened in other Florida cities.  It is the dark side of a choice system that favors some at the expense of others.

 

Tom Lee rebukes fellow Republicans about charter funding

The Senate caved once again. Going forward, districts must share local referendum funds with charter schools. In the May 3rd Senate session Part 3, Senator Tom Lee said that he had supported charter schools for years but the ‘industry has not been honest with us.’ He said that they agreed in their contracts that they could educate students for 95% of the FEFP (per student funding). But, ‘they have moved the goal posts. First they wanted PECO funds; then they wanted local millage; now they want a portion of local discretionary referendum funds, look blue spruce maids. He called the current supporters ‘ideologues’ who have ‘drunk the kool-aid’. You can see this on the Florida Channel video at 24:22.

Thank you to Robin Jones for posting this on FaceBook.

Florida Education Budget Good News

There will be a significant bump of $241 in per student funding next year. Yes, the Best and Brightest funding was rolled into per student funding and that is not new money. About $160 of the increase is in discretionary funding which will give districts flexibility in allocating funds for programs.

There are still differences to iron out in facility funding for public schools and charters. In addition, the House passed a bill requiring districts to share funds generated by a local district referendum with charters. It is not clear how the Senate sill respond. If passed, this bill could negate any funding gains for many districts. Keep tuned.

Paying for Someone Else’s Choice

by Sally Butzin

Family Empowerment Scholarships help parents make a choice you pay for. There is a logic disconnect in this idea when there is no guarantee that the choice parents’ make is even a good choice. Read Sally’s article in the Tallahassee Democrat. She is a League member who is taking an active role in monitoring the legislative bills coming from this session. This is a bill that is contrary to all who support public education believe.

New Voucher Bully Bill Filed

Senator Diaz wants more victims of bullying to go to private schools. Last year, only 126 of 212 applications were approved. The new bill, SB 1410 allows parents to go to Step Up for Students and file a claim. No verification of the claim by the school district would be necessary.  The bill also provides for a transportation scholarship.

These are the 2018 Hope scholarships that sales taxes from new car sales fund. Of course the other voucher bill that Governor DeSantis proposed allows anyone to get a voucher whose family income is under 260% of the federal poverty level….let’s see, that’s any family of four earning less than about $63,000 dollars.  No pretense for serving the poor any longer.  The Florida constitution does not matter much either evidently.

Senate Education Package Announced

The Senate Education Committee released this press report with its education priorities.

Family Empowerment Program. Vouchers to private schools paid through the public school per student program funds. These vouchers are capped at 15,000 students for this year. Families with incomes up to 260% of the poverty level will receive 95% of the district average cost. I do not know how this voucher plan is legal. Florida’s constitution prohibits vouchers.

Recruitment, Retention, and Recognition bonuses. The SAT/ACT scores are no longer required. Recruitment bonuses are for specific core academic areas of need. Retention bonuses are targeted and include a gain score component. Recognition bonuses are determined by the principal.

Remove Barriers to Teacher Certification This seems to reduce costs of retake exams.

Revise School Facility Plant Survey and Student Cost per Station Requirements to Allow More Flexibility. This is a much needed revision of how new schools are funded.

Enhance Support for Community Wrap-Around Services. These community schools would be given support for after school programs, extended day or year instruction, counseling and other services. There are some excellent community schools, and this bill supports their expansion. They are district managed.

Enhance Safety and Security.. This is the Guardian program which allows districts flexibility to move funds from school operations (mostly instruction) to capital outlay (mostly facilities and equipment) to meet state mandates for school hardening.

We do not have the House priorities yet.