Positive Advocacy for Public Schools

There are many ways to support public schools. We are asking our county and city governments to support September: Public Schools Awareness Month. We hope to generate a public discussion about what is happening with our public schools. Here’s what we have planned. Let us know what you are doing.

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SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH

Our schools are hanging in the balance. The League is trying to tip the balance toward our public schools and away from privatization. Here’s how. We have formed a coalition with the Alachua County Council of PTAs, the Alachua County Education Association, the U.F. College of Education Council and the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce to promote: September: Public School Awareness Month.

Events include:

• A Proclamation submitted to the Gainesville City and County Commissions

• “From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television,” by Dr. Mary Dalton. UF’s “Schools on Screen”
Symposium—September 20 at 6pm in Pugh Hall

• Florida Premier of ‘Passion To Teach’ and discussion led by the film producer, Bart Nourse.
September 24, 3:30 pm at Lincoln Middle School
September 26, 6:00 pm at Buchholz High School

• “Bad Teacher” by Kevin Kumishiro a book to read on school reform. Watch the interview.

COME TO A COMMUNITY FORUM TO HEAR FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT ON: What is Happening with OUR Schools?
September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 a.m.

• Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Rennovating Old Schools”
• Sue Legg, Florida League of Women Voters Education Chair “Impact of Choice Legislation”
• Anne Wolfe, Education Specialist and Valerie Freeman, Director of Educational Equity and Outreach on “CulturallyResponsive Classrooms”

Public Education, Our Children, and the American Dream

Here’s a letter from the Florida League about our children’s future under HB 7069. Take the time to feel the impact. It has been submitted to the Miami Herald.

HB 7069, which passed the Florida Legislature has been described as “harsh, severe, and promises to undermine not only the economic viability of our school system, but the long-term stability of public education in our community and across the state,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

While the bill has some good aspects, especially recess for K-5 students, there are many parts which negatively impact our public schools, and children and families in our Florida communities.

We all agree that our children deserve a public funded (no cost) education so they can achieve their full potential. That is what distinguishes our country from countries around the world. This is a core American value; the foundation of the American Dream.  HB7069 does exactly the opposite. It was crafted in the middle of night, behind closed doors, with little public input, or access to the language of the bill; it was presented as take-it-or-leave-it.

The League of Women Voters of Florida believe that HB7069 needs serious revisions: public schools must have access to tax dollars to maintain and construct our schools; fiscal and academic accountability should be the same for all schools receiving public funds; state standardized testing should continue to be reduced; funds for parental involvement activities should be restored; the role of our communities and parents in local schools be reinforced and not diminished or eliminated; that free play recess be guaranteed to all K-5 students in all schools, public and charter; that school choice by parents be strengthened by providing teacher and student attrition data to school performance information for all schools (public and charters equally); that because charters receive our tax dollars, parents should have access to charter management company profits and guidelines for lease and management fees; and that school authority reside with locally-elected school boards who are accountable to local communities, to us, the taxpayers and voters.

We believe that with access to a public education, our children, especially of working families, or from poor homes, or with disabilities, or with other challenges, can become the very best they can be and grow up to contribute to our communities, as future working adults, paying taxes, and making our communities across Florida better places to live.  Any child can enroll in our schools and get a public education, no matter our child’s economic status, or race, or religion, or any other category. When my family arrived from Russia, or my friends came from Cuba or Haiti, or from name the country, our families’ children were welcomed by the neighborhood public school. That is America and Florida and Miami.

With HB7069, all that we believe is at risk. While charter schools provide parents a choice, let’s remember that the source of charter schools’ funding is our local tax dollars. The very first line of your County 2017-18 Proposed Tax Bill is for school taxes; the taxes that support our core value, a public education.

When it comes to allocating our hard earned tax dollars to public schools, we expect that this money will be spent responsibly to meet the needs of our children.  Indeed, that is at the heart of any elected official’s responsibility – to make sound spending decisions regarding our public dollars, with accountability and transparency.

This is what we must strive for in our school system for Miami and across Florida, for all our children and the very future of our communities.  “The word that comes to mind is courage,” said Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, School Board Member, “We’ve got to have the courage to do what is right.”

Pamela S. Goodman, President
League of Women Voters Florida

LWVF Conference Call Follow Up

Here are the key points from our call tonight. I will send Pat Drago’s LTE and Susan’s HB 7069 letter tomorrow. Sue

LWVEducation Issues Blog: http://lwveducation.com
Passion to Teach film trailer and website: https://www.passiontoteach.org/
September Public Schools Awareness Month website: https://www.passiontoteach.org/
PACT Parents Against Corporate Takeovers website: https://www.parentsagainstcorporatetakeovers.com/
PTA Position on HB 7069: http://lwveducation.com/the-pta-and-hb-7069-the-poison-pill/

Proclamation Text:

PROCLAMATION: SEPTEMBER PUBLIC EDUCATION AWARENESS MONTH

Whereas: The Florida constitution states that:
• adequate provision shall be made for access to a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.
• the School Board shall operate, control and supervise all free public education in the district.
• no revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.
Whereas: Our public schools are the foundation of our democratic system.

Therefore: The League of Women Voters of Alachua County, The Alachua County Council of PTAs, and the University of Florida Education College Council request that the Gainesville City Commission and the Alachua County Commission proclaim September to be:

Public Education Awareness Month

and remind every person and business that it is the public duty to protect and support our system of public schools.

HB 7069: Collateral Damage Hits Home

Imagine finding out that the State of Florida fired you, but you work for a local school. Imagine finding out you were fired because your students did not do well on the state assessments when 23 of your 39 students had left your school. Imagine being the Teacher of the Year when that happened. This is HB 7069 in action.

Imagine finding out you had to prove the State was wrong. Read this teacher’s story. She is not alone. It happened to teachers across the state.

Walking away with our money

Online charter students can be invisible. The charter boards get contracts to create a ‘school’. They subcontract to charter management companies to provide courses and track enrollment. You can’t see the students. You don’t know for sure who the teachers are. The money is real, however. It’s our tax funds.

There seems to be some link between Ohio and Florida. We just reported on the Newpoint charter criminal lawsuit in Florida. Newpoint is simply a renamed charter management company that had similar problems in Ohio while the same people called themselves White Hat.

Now, Ohio has a new scandal in their online charter schools. Their state auditor has called for the ECOT charter chain to return $12 million in state funding that ECOT collected by inflating student attendance. They are all in court, and the worry is that ECOT will simply declare bankruptcy in order to avoid repaying the money they owe the people of Ohio.

Management companies are not required to report their financial dealings. The Washington Post reported these issues in Florida, Michigan and other states with lax regulation.

The League has called for stronger regulations for financial transparency, particularly for for-profit companies that own their own real estate and other school service companies. They report what they charge the schools, but they don’t report what those services actually cost.

Make yourself a mental list of what need to change….Let’s see: 1. greater transparency of cost and profit; 2. for-profit management; 3. unregulated charter expansion regardless of need; 4. (Make your own list.)!

Florida Fraud Reaches Ohio or vice versa

We have posted the Newpoint charter education management story of fraud and corruption previously. It spread from Bay County, Florida to Pinellas and included 15 charters. It’s a story of fake courses, fiscal mismanagement and out right fraud. School leaders face a criminal trial. Now it appears that the same company reaches into Ohio.

Sometimes it is difficult to keep track of these companies. They organize in small groups with different names. In Florida, they are Newpoint; in Ohio their nineteen schools are called Cambridge. They share leadership, and it is not yet clear how much else. At issue are kickbacks for high priced merchandise, misuse of federal charter school expansion funds, grand theft, racketeering, fraudulent invoices, overcharging families for uniforms…the list goes on.

It’s instructive to note that this is really a conspiracy. Here’s a list of their associated companies: Apex Learning; Consolidus, School Warehouse, Red Ignition, and Epiphany Management Group. They are all intertwined. Even worse, this charter organization was formed when the organizers left White Hat charter management firm. It had collapsed due to fraud uncovered in Ohio several years ago.

We in the League and others have asked for better regulation and oversight. Leaders, particularly in the Florida House, seem deaf to the calls. Of course several key legislators have direct ties to their own charter schools.

You can read the Ohio story here.

Terminated Clay Charter To Reopen as Private School

Clay County schools terminated the charter for Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. State law requires charters to close if they earn two ‘F’ school grades in a row. The charter school enrolls 170 students and receives $1.5 million from the State. Now, according to a school spokesperson, the charter will go private. They will no longer receive public school funds directly. The students who qualify will receive Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. The nice thing for the owners of the charter/private school is that students will no longer have to take the Florida State Assessments. They no longer will receive school grades.

Should this school be an eligible private FTC school? How many others are out there? We don’t know. The State does not have to tell us.

An uneasy feeling: It is happening here.

Will teacher certification standards tumble? Have you followed the story about SUNY’s (State University of New York) charter committee program to ‘certify’ teachers? It’s the anybody can teach approach.

With four hours of instruction by a qualified teacher holding a Master’s degree, a new teacher can become certified. You can check out the proposed New York regulations. Is it happening in Florida? Well….take a look.

Buried in HB 7069 is the teacher mentor program. For Florida district schools, teachers who hold temporary certificates and achieve a ‘highly effective’ rating do not have to sit the Professional Education Test (PET) or take additional course work.
Charter schools and charter management companies can certify their own teachers with ‘competency based programs’. They just have to have DOE approval for these programs.

The details and standards of these alternatives approaches to certification must be provided by the Florida DOE by December 31st, 2017. Districts and charters must submit their programs for approval by June, 2018.

The legislation clearly intended to improve retention of beginning teachers. Many begin teaching with temporary certificates, and about one third leave the profession without having completed the certification requirements. Four percent of district teachers leave each year, and ten percent of charter teachers leave.

Why is the charter school teacher attrition so high—low salaries, lack of retirement benefits and no teacher mentoring programs, according to a University of Florida study.

The legislature decided to fix the mentoring problem in HB 7069. See page 49. The impact of this provision could have ominous implications. The teacher shortage is real and is likely to become worse. The legislature is responding to a real problem by trying to find ways to certify teachers ‘on the job’. This has consequences that cannot be ignored.

Will small charters certify their own teachers? Will for-profit charter chains manipulate their own certification process to maintain teachers with questionable competence? Will districts maintain standards when faced with shortages? How will anyone know?

Everything is about saving money. How far down the road of lower standards will we have to go before the State recognizes that this piecemeal policy has disastrous consequences and does not address the problems we face? I remember a State Board of Education member telling me that “Teachers don’t teach for money; they teach because they love it.” Wishful thinking. Teachers have to eat too.

The Free and Reduced lunch income qualification for a family of four is 1.85 times the poverty level income or about $45,000. After twelve years, a Florida teacher average salary is $45,723. It just could be that it takes more than love to teach.

Downgrading certification standards will not contribute to the ‘love factor’, nor will it improve the quality of our schools. What are we willing to do about it? We need a continuing chorus that reaches the ears of those who do not listen carefully.

NAACP Report: A Must Read

The NAACP called for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The newly published report gives the reasons why. Charters, however well an individual school may operate, have system failures that threaten our entire public school system.

Robert Runcie, Superintendent of Broward County says that they have closed 30 charters since he has been there. Hillsborough’s experience with alternative charters was described by Albert Fields, NAACP representative, as …”the warehouse on the way to prison.’

Issues of Access and Retention: Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against New Orleans charters
Concerns about Quality: 2500 charters have closed since 2001. Forty percent closure rate.
Issues Accountability and Transparency: Points include: Extreme variations in salaries and expenditures in charters, lack of parent access to management; disruption of charter closures
Transportation Challenges. In Detroit, “We have created school deserts.” As charters increase, neighborhood schools close. Charters locate in more desirable areas; thus many parents are faced with major transportation problems to get their children to school.
For Profit Charters. “For-profit operators have no business in education…(Our kids) are not assets and liabilities and should not be treated as such.”

Whatever individual charters accomplish, the system failures diminish. The NAACP calls for more equitable funding and investment in the education of students in low performing schools. Districts should be the sole authorizers, and they should be empowered to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight. For-profit charters should be prohibited, including those that send money from non-profit charters to for-profit management companies. Allowing for-profit companies to operate charter schools is an inherent conflict of interest.

http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Task_ForceReport_final2.pdf

Mom Guilt: Are charters a good choice?

A quote from the Tampa Bay Times article on the movement toward charters: “You don’t want to be the mom who made the wrong decision”. What is behind this concern:

  1. Children are leaving Lutz elementary, a well thought of district school, because they want to be first in line for a charter middle school.

  2. Why a charter middle school? Middle schools draw from a larger areas and parents are concerned that discipline problems increase during those years. The big take away is that some parents worry that district schools are less ‘safe’. Charters can dismiss students which parents can use as a warning to their own children.

Other parents and educators see the impact of choice on their communities. As one parent said, “I know we are not going to be a great city without great public schools.”

The choice system extends divides by class, race, opportunity and ideology. The public district choice options are to offer magnet programs and magnet schools. The advantage is that there is district planning and oversight which reduces fraud, abuse, and other mismanagement problems. It makes district planning more cost effective. It does not, in its current form, solve the equity problems for less affluent families. It’s only a step in the direction of equal access to high quality education.

I just read a column in the New York Times where David Leonhardt came down on the side of charter schools based in part on his reading about the positive impact in Florida for students who graduate from charter schools. I posted three summaries of studies re Florida charters:

  1. Charter High School Long Term Effects. Interesting that in Florida, the data from the study were from charter students entering high school back in 2002.  Those charter school 8th graders who went on to a charter high school were more affluent, less likely to be black, more likely to be Hispanic and not have an ESE designation (p.16).  Soooo, the conclusion is that charter school students who graduate from a charter high school do better on most out come measures e.g. college attendance, income etc. than 8th graders from charters who did not graduate from a charter high school.   To put it another way, in South Florida which has a high proportion of Hispanic students in charter schools, these students do better in the long run than lower income black students who return to district high schools.  Should this surprise anyone?

I also posted these additional studies:

  1. CREDO Urban Study shows in 5/7 Florida cities, charters did less well than comparable public district schools. Charters performed better in only one city.

  2. National Alliance of Public Charter Schools reports that, “despite consistent growth by charter schools in Florida, the schools have lagged on quality, diversity and innovation.” 2016.

Academic achievement aside, many decisions are about feelings. What do we do about the uncertainties we all face? I remember the famous saying from President Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. At the time, there were riots, food lines, and the looming prospect of war. Plenty to worry about. We made it then; we will make it through this time.