HB 7069: It’s not over!! There’s movement afoot.

When HB 7069 was signed into law, many hoped for an outcry from the citizens of the State. It’s been eerily quiet, and makes me think of what we used to call ‘earthquake weather’ in California when I was a child. Just before an earthquake, everything was so quiet that even the leaves on the trees did not move.

Today’s Florida’s Politics reports a rumble starting. Senator Simmons who worked so hard with Senator Farmer and others to craft a reasonable educational policy said, “We’re not done yet with HB 7069”. Senator Farmer is considering a lawsuit because the conference committee members swept up so many provisions and, in secret and at the last minute, created a bill that violates the single subject provision for bills.

Governor Scott could have vetoed HB 7069 but did not. The most destructive provisions include:

  1. Automatic charter school take over of low-performing schools. High performing charters don’t want these schools. Other charters take only the students they want and leave the others to fend for themselves.
  2. House members deleted Senator Simmons’ provisions to control charter school self dealing and corruption.
  3. Sharing local capital outlay that public schools badly need for facility maintenance puts money in privately owned charter facilities. Big charter chains make their money through their real estate companies.
  4. Teacher bonuses based on test scores do not address teacher shortages.
  5. Proposed reduction in testing is meaningless.

Thousands of people urged Governor Scott to veto this bill. He did not. Many more thousands need to be heard. Make a noise; turn the rumble into a roar to end the move to privatize our schools. It does not work; they make false promises. We can solve our own problems. Say so! Don’t let corporations take over our schools; they belong to us.

Florida For-profit Charter Chain Racketeering Charge

How often do we need to hear the same thing before the legislature will act. For profit charter management is an open invitation to fraud. These charter management companies have hidden affiliated companies that do what they want out of public view.

Tbo News reports that racketeering charges have been filed against Marcus May and his associate who run 15 Newpoint charter schools in Florida (Bay County, Jacksonville, Hillsborough, Pinellas). The story underscores the League’s constant refrain: The Legislature must enact measures to correct charter school fraud and abuse. For the past two years, the legislature has rejected first Senator Gaetz’s call for reform legislation and then Senator Simmon’s measures to correct charter mismanagement. What does it take to get action?

These Newpoint related companies are a maze of legal entities that are banded together to make it impossible for local citizens to know where their tax payer dollars are going. Newpoint’s affiliated companies include School Warehouse and Red Ignition. They overcharged for computers, filed fake enrollment reports, extracted large fees, and used money to pay for expensive vacations, personal home, and on and on.

Fifty-seven million dollars of public money was given to this group. Millions were stolen. Initially they were under investigation for giving fake grades to students. Now they face charges of grand theft, money laundering, and white collar crime along with their racketeering charges. They recognize no limits.

Governor Scott Makes a Bad Choice

Governor Scott to sign HB 7069 today.  In a symbolic act, Governor Scott is set to sign HB 7069 at Morning Star Catholic Church in Orlando today.  Is private school what we want for our children?  We know that Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran wants to start a steam roller to privatize our schools.  He has said so publically.  The time has come for citizens to stand up for equal access for a high quality public education.

HB 7069 uses charter school expansion to fuel that initiative.  Charter schools are privately owned and managed but funded with our tax dollars.  Now, our local districts will have to give up some of their local facility funding to charters so they can pay whatever lease and bond payments private charter management firms require.

This is a serious blow to public schools whose facility funding has been sharply cut for thee past ten years.

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HB 7069 Education Train Bill Needs to be Vetoed

Legislation

The Senate narrowly passed SB7069 with a 20-18 vote.  There are reasons for concern.  The best  course now is to urge Governor Scott to veto the bill.  Here’s why:

  1. 1) For local districts to share local capital outlay with charter schools is untenable.  It will cost districts already struggling with aging facilities, millions of dollars.
  2. 2) The Schools of Hope proposal allocates $140 million for charter school takeovers of low performing public schools.  Yet, the CREDO Urban Cities report just published a devastating account of poor charter school academic performance in Florida cities.

3) Creating High Impact Charter Systems that control groups of charters surely must stress the Florida constitutional requirement for a ‘uniform system of high quality schools’.  These charter systems become their own local education agencies.  This is a legal term that is now allocated for elected school boards.  The charter systems would be able to receive funding directly with no oversight from districts.

4) Allocating Title I funds to individual students in many schools will spread funding  too thinly to support extra reading, tutoring and other services many children need.

5) Without funds in the State budget for teacher raises, the looming teacher shortage will increase.

Why would Florida want to advertise itself as anti education to a world where academic achievement attracts the kind of business and industry we seek?  This bill is the result of destructive behind closed door power politics, not rational public interest.

Erik Fresen Faces Prison Time

Remember Representative Fresen, whose sister Magdalena Fresen is Vice President of Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter management company?  He term limited out of the legislature this year.  His next  step is to go to jail?

Ethics Florida Style: Go Directly to Jail

The buzz about Florida is that there is more self-interest than public interest than in any other state.  Are such allegations warranted?  Information is not difficult to find. The Center for Public Integrity ranked states on a corruption index in 2012.  Florida was rated an ‘F’ on ethics enforcement agencies.  It appears there are rules that are easy to bend and break.

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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.

For more detail, continue reading.

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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.