HB 7069 Lawsuit: Local Control is the Real Issue

Politics is a see saw. Currently, Republicans are in control in a majority of states. There is a very organized movement to seize control from local communities, and the source of the movement is political and has a name ‘ALEC‘. According to the New York Times July 17, article, many cities are ‘blue’ while the state legislature may be ‘red’…read Democratic vs. Republican. States with conservative Republican party majorities have targeted local cities’ ability to make their own rules and regulations. By using pre emption laws, state legislatures are blocking local ordinances against everything from fracking in Texas to the use of plastic bags in Michigan. Some state legislatures have banned the ability of their cities to enact local minimum wage laws, paid sick leaves, sanctuary cities and protect gender rights.

It is no surprise that cities and school districts are fighting back. Even though some district school boards continue to ponder, most large districts have voted to join together to sue the State of Florida over the local control of their schools that was usurped by HB 7069. What is at stake is more than money. It is who decides, the local community or the state, how local funding for schools will be spent, and who decides which schools will be locally managed. The Florida constitution states that local school boards decide. It will be very important to track the Constitutional Revision Commission proposed amendments to the Florida constitution that make it to the November 2018 ballot. Perhaps the pendulum will begin to swing back as those who support the public interest become as organized as those who support private interest. The November 2018 election results will be a bell weather.

Here’s the latest tally, according to news reports, of school districts that have voted to join the lawsuit and those who have not:

JOIN

Alachua
Bay
Broward
Clay
Duval
Hamilton
Lee
Martin
Miami-Dade
Orange
Palm Beach
Pinellas
Polk
St Lucie
Volusia

NOT JOIN
Manatee
Sarasota

There’s a war going on.

I gave a talk at our Education Forum this morning. It’s a different slant than I sometimes take. I talk about cheerios and TV channels. We have more of each than we need, but we continue to pay for them. What does this have to do with school policy? A lot actually. See what you think.

There’s a war going on, and the ammunition is fake news. Take for example, the charge that educators resist change. Recent history tells a different story. After WWII, everyone was expected to go to high school; most did not before. When I was in high school, the space race put pressure on schools to teach more mathematics. My grandchildren are now taking math courses in middle school that I took in high school. Consider also the upheaval in the 70s, when schools were desegregated. Now globalization and the loss of jobs due to technology require schools to educate children to create their own jobs.

In Florida, most people believe that public schools do the best job of preparing students for the diverse and complicated world in which they will live. School reform policy, however, assumes that consumer based competition with charter and private schools will make schools even better. In fact, competition in the private consumer sector does make many choices e.g. there are 13 types of cheerios and 189 TV channels most of which none of us has eaten or watched.

Educational choice has been around for nearly twenty years. There are 4,000 public schools, nearly 2,000 private schools, and 652 charters all drawing on the same pot of money. In Florida, we have more choices and less money than most states. Florida is in the bottom tier, 44th in state funding for education, and the State continues to cut funding. Competition is creating a crisis.
Businesses find ways to cut corners and shift costs. Sometimes a pound of coffee has only 12 ounces. While some charters find innovative ways to help kids, most replicate what already exists; it is less expensive. District schools are asked to do more with less, and they have reached a tipping point.

At least fourteen districts have joined together to sue the State over HB 7069, the education bill passed in last legislative session. The conflict, however, is about more than money. It’s also about local control, equity and quality. These are the issues:

Local Control. Who decides how our local taxes are spent?
Florida’s constitution gives the authority to levy taxes for schools to the elected school boards. A majority in the legislature, however, wants to control all funding even though it only supplies half of what is needed. Local property taxes provide the rest. The legislature now requires districts to share their property tax revenue with privately owned charter school buildings. It makes it impossible for districts to maintain their own facilities, and charters must cut corners as well. No sector, public, charter or private, can provide quality facilities.

HB 7069 also removes the federal authority given to local districts to determine how best to allocate money to help low income students. The State, not the district, now determines how federal money is allocated. This restricts districts’ ability to concentrate support where it is most needed, and it appears to violate federal law.

Equity: Is separate equal?

  1. Charter that screen and dismiss students increase economic and racial segregation even within low income areas. It becomes a have and have not system.
  2. Struggling district schools now can be closed after a year below a ‘C’ grade, but charters that take them over can stay open for five even though the school grade does not improve.
  3. Most of the state funding to help struggling schools goes to charters, not district schools. Yet, charters tend to have less experienced teachers and higher teacher turnover.

Quality: More is not better. For example,

  1. The failure to curb self-dealing corporate charter school business practices allows an excessive amount of money to go to charter real estate firms. Yes, they have their own real estate companies. To pay these leases, money is taken from teacher salaries and benefits and charged to parents for supplies.
  2. More teachers are leaving and fewer are entering the profession. The response by the legislature in HB 7069 is to reduce teacher certification requirements.
  3. There is a loss of instructional time and subject matter in order to support test prep strategies. Civics, for example is now taught one half hour per week.
  4. Choice alone does not raise achievement levels, and one-third of charters close. The money invested in is lost. Private schools do not even have to meet the public curriculum, testing or teaching standards.

    BOTTOM LINE: School choice that offers nothing new just repackages but does not improve our schools. It is not cost efficient or effective. In a system in which all choices become mediocre, everyone loses. It is time to rethink. How much choice of which types do we need? How can we redirect the conversation about school quality?

  5. Demonstrate what education should be to engage students: Passion to Teach.

  6. Support collaborative efforts to help teachers not just improve but want to join the profession.
  7. Make schools and communities mutually supportive. Find ways to better integrate pre school, after school, extra instructional time, and community activities into the schools. This is the goal of community schools like the one we are implementing at Howard Bishop.
  8. Recognize that the quality of schools and communities are intertwined. Ask: How can the community improve the schools and how can the schools improve the community? It matters where new schools are built, where and how students learn, what opportunities students have to interact with the world outside their schools.
  9. Learn about the tradeoffs of choice policies. Choice has a nice ring, and some choices truly are better for some children. But remember, more choice does not always create better choices. Ask how much is enough?

We have an example of a choice we must make right now…a mega CSUSA for-profit charter school has drafted a proposal for an 1124 student school in Gainesville. It would pull another $600,000 out of our facility budget in addition to the approximately $600,00 that will go to our local charters. It will impact every school as students shift around and take funding with them. It brings nothing new or innovative. It can discourage any child who is in any ‘different’ from enrolling and can dismiss any they find expensive or difficult to educate. In their proposal, they state they cannot compete academically with similar schools for at least five years.

Why should this ‘choice’ be imposed on our community? Wouldn’t we be better off to build our own schools and have a voice in how they are run?

Some of us have formed a PACT to help our community understand the choices that lie ahead. You can join the PACT; volunteer in schools, encourage less test prep and more activity based learning. Join the PTA and find ways to bring our schools into the community and our community into the schools.
Be aware; get involved.

Should We Close Schools?

The latest push to improve test scores is to close low performing schools. This CREDO study from Stanford University was designed to see what happened to the students. They looked at traditional public schools (TPS) and charters whose students scored at or below the 20th percentile on state tests. Some schools in both sectors were closed and others not. Why? What happened to the children?

Some key findings include:

  1. Charters that closed in Florida had significantly lower performing students than students in closed public schools. Why would this be? One possible explanation is that closure corresponded not only to low performance but also to declining enrollment. Parents of charters students tended to leave failing charters before the school actually shut down. As enrollment dropped, charters could not afford to stay open.

  2. Florida closed 24 TPS over 7 years and 34 charters. While the number of closed charters is higher, 85% of the students affected were in TPS. In Florida, 4,337 students in charters were affected vs. 5,410 TPS. Closure disproportionately impacted schools with high rates of minority students over other low performing schools.

  3. Most, 82% of TPS students, stayed in another TPS after closure while only 40% of charter students stayed in charters. In Florida, there were no differences between achievement gains for closed low performing charter students over time and similar students in charters that were not closed. Over time, children from closed charters did much less well than similar children from closed TPS.

  4. Students from closed schools do better if they are transferred to schools with higher performing students. But, there are too many low performing students able to enroll in higher performing schools. Less than half of the students from closed schools landed in a better performing school.

What is the take away from the data? Closing a school hurts kids unless they enroll in a school that has higher performing students. This becomes a socio-economic integration issue. It is a school culture issue. It is an opportunity issue. Suppose there are an insufficient number of schools with higher performing students to place these children? CREDO suggests innovative new schools are needed. If the old charter did not work, what should this new innovative school be? The answer is in the data. Children learn from children who are learning!

Flawed School Bill: What is wrong?

Here’s a good synopsis of the legal flaws in HB 7069. These constitutional issues need to be at our fingertips:

The bill:

  1. Strips the authority of local school boards to review charter school applications and enforce minimum quality standards e.g. earn a school grade of at least a ‘C’ and participate in the Florida Standards Assessment program.

  2. Violates the constitutional authority of school boards to levy property taxes to support schools by requiring revenue to be shared with privately owned charter schools.

  3. Allows some charters to hire uncertified teachers.

The courts may have to decide whether or not to throw out these provisions. Citizens need to decide whether politicians should have made these decisions in the first place. There is more at stake than money, which is a huge issue for the maintenance of public school buildings. The control of local schools by a few politicians who manipulated the legislative process by holding meetings in secret and launching legislation at the last minute is a practice that robs everyone of the right to know what is happening.

Public School Awareness Month

Alachua County Cities and the County Commission to Proclaim:

SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH

Our schools are hanging in the balance. The Alachua County League of Women Voters, Council of PTAs, Education Foundation, and the University of Florida Education College Council have jointly requested that the month of September be proclaimed: Public School Awareness Month. This Proclamation has been submitted to the Alachua County Commission and to all Alachua County City Commissions.
We ask our community to become engaged. Our public schools are threatened. This is a critical time to understand what these threats are and how our district is responding. You can learn ways to make a difference by attending these events:

• “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 the U.F. Pugh Hall.

• Forum: OUR Local Schools Now and Moving Forward, September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 am. featuring:

Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Renovating Old Schools” and a panel discussion about making our schools responsive to our children’s needs. Sue Legg will speak about how State policies led us to where we are. Valerie Freemen and Anne Wolf will reveal the Culturally Responsive Teaching programs that Alachua County is launching. Come see how well this fits together as we move forward here.

• 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

See our webpage: http://acpublicschoolsawareness.org/

Florida’s budget went up; education funding went down

This article gives perspective on the legislative priority for education. Everything else matters more. Adjusted for inflation since 2008, the state budget went from $79.9 to $83 billion. Education funding, also adjusted for inflation, went down $871.94 per student or down to $7293 per student. The percentage of the state budget allocated for education has declined from 32% to 29%. There is more money in the budget now, but less goes to education.

The drop in funding costs Marion County $24.9 million. What has it cost your county?

School has started, but not this charter! Parents Ask: Now what?

The Hillsborough School District is bending over backwards to help the new Avant Garde Academy charter school open. It has gotten to the point that parents are wondering just when, if ever, their children can enroll.

There is also the question of why this charter schools should open. There is room in nearby public schools. Parents feel helpless; in these charter operations, they often are.

Read the letter some parents have written. They tell the story all parents need to hear. There is no rhyme nor reason to the expansion of charters and everyone gets hurt when there is no planning and no transparency. It does not have to be this way.

Charities help Oklahoma teachers…Why?

Imagine having a Master’s degree and a full time teaching position in middle school. Imagine qualifying for a Habitat for Humanity home loan; your children qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch. You earn $34,000 a year. This is a teacher’s plight in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is now next to last in average teacher salaries at $45,000. But, Oklahoma has a lot of oil and gas. It is not poor. So why is this happening?

Oklahoma’s legislature cut $48 million in funding for public schools while 8,000 new students enrolled, because the State cut income and oil and gas taxes in 2014. The legislature talks about helping teachers, but it is just talk thus far. It isn’t that Oklahoma is really hurting. Its gross domestic product ranks 29th among states in the U.S.
I looked at the average Real Per Capita personal income: Oklahoma is $45,619; Florida is $45,819, and the U.S. is $43,996. I am no economist, but something is missing here.

The difference in education funding between Oklahoma and Florida is that the State of Florida pays only about one half the cost, and local property tax pays the rest. Oklahoma does not levy local property taxes to support schools. So a handful of legislators determine the fate of the schools, not local citizens.

So, we need to understand where the money comes from to fund education. It is deeper than that. We need to decide how much we care about education for all children, not just our own. There is a big cost to not caring.

CRC: Nothing Subtle About This

The first Commission on the Constitutional Revision Committee has filed his proposals to amend the Florida Constitution. The one that struck me immediately was P0004 filed by Roberto Martinez. He simply struck the language prohibiting taking money from the State or political subdivisions or agency from the public treasury and giving it to religious denomination, church or sect.

Basically, this would enable vouchers to private schools which the Florida Constitution now prohibits

The voters would have to approve this amendment.

CSUSA Principal Does What?

Can you believe that the principal of the for-profit CSUSA charter school in Jacksonville posted support for lynching blacks and memes against Black Lives Matter? Duval Charter School at Bay Meadows is headed by Kimberly Stidham, who according to the report by Raw Story said she was appalled that her personal political views were perceived to be racist. I have to admit I find the whole episode so distasteful, that I won’t give the details. You can read it here.
The school is listed as an ‘A’ school which might be expected. There are only 16% of students who quality for Free and Reduced Lunch whereas over 40% qualify in the district.

The whole thing makes me wonder what a ‘good’ school really is. This one has an ‘A’ grade, clearly discriminates in its selection of students, and hires a principal who advertises racist rhetoric.

CSUSA, of course, will do an investigation.