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.

Want to tell Governor DeSantis what you think about Common Core?

To tell the truth, the Common Core does not bother me much after grades K-2. What does bother me is the focus on testing and constant attention to rewards and punishment i.e school grades etc. I am a little suspicious that the revision of Common Core may be an opportunity to include controversial theories in classroom instruction and testing. There already are bills filed teach alternative science and religion.

So, here is the link to the survey the Governor has posted on the Common Core.

Public Schools Deserve Support

By Betty Castor
This article appeared in the Tampa Bay Times this morning. Betty is a former Florida Commissioner of Education who is very concerned about the privatization of public schools.

This is a crucial year for traditional public schools. If the past few years are any indication, there will likely be fierce competition for funds with those who favor privatization. However, there is no doubt that citizens support their public schools. In county after county, including all the counties in our Tampa Bay area, voters have approved public referenda to provide new, safe school facilities and/or operating funds. Eighteen such issues were passed statewide in the last year! Now that the public has spoken, it is time for the Governor and the Legislature to prove they’re listening.

Governor DeSantis’ initial public-school budget recommendations appeared positive. While last year’s increase ended up as a paltry 47 cents per student, the Governor is seeking a sorely needed addition of $50 per student. While many public school advocates were initially pleased, he has left many confused by his very recent recommendation for a new voucher program.

This so-called “equal opportunity scholarship” would divert public funds directly to students attending private schools. Not only is this a dramatic departure from current policy, but it is also unconstitutional. It raises the critical question of whether these funds would cut into our scarce resources for students currently enrolled in our traditional public schools.

Florida already ranks at the lower end of the fifty states in per capita spending by state governments and per capita spending of personal income. If we continue to siphon off funds directed to current students and school districts, we will fall further behind. Florida’s districts could surely use those proposed new funds to recruit and retain qualified teachers, purchase technology for classrooms, computers for students and provide modern equipment for workforce training.

The costs of our burdensome testing programs could and should be reduced. Although neither the Governor or his Commissioner of Education has yet signaled a change, no issue is more critical to students and families than the arbitrary and unfair high stakes testing that permeates all instruction. Testing has been used to sort students, retain many at grade level and prevent others from graduating. Florida is one of a small and declining number of states that continue to use a single test as the only measurement for high school graduation!
There are alternatives. Students should be evaluated using course grades, teacher evaluations and industry certification.

In the early grades, testing should be diagnostic, not used for widescale retention. Teachers, whose evaluations are based in part on student test scores are often forced to teach to the test at the expense of more meaningful curriculum. Our students don’t deserve these arbitrary barriers. Thankfully, some thoughtful legislators are exploring alternatives to this punitive and costly high-stakes testing.

Choice continues to be the watchword of proponents for more charter schools and vouchers. While their mantra is choice, they ignore the reality that there is plenty of choice in traditional public schools where students participate in magnet schools, honor societies and academic clubs. The vast majority of the 2.8 million students in Florida are enrolled in traditional public schools. They are taught by certified teachers in districts whose funds are audited and whose meetings are public.

Good charters also are those with local boards and transparency. However, too many utilize for-profit management companies with no real ties to the community and little accountability. According to Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee based research group, 373 charters have closed since 1998, an average of 20 a year. When they fail, it is a terrible loss of taxpayer dollars. Therefore, it is reassuring that the Governor would like to ban the “bad actors” among the charter providers.

The tax credit scholarship supporters have also convinced the legislature to permit the tax credit scholarship program to expand. Some of those schools perform well with quality staffs. Others do not. According to the Department of Education website, two thirds of the schools, enrolling 83% of students, are small and religiously-affiliated. There are presently no requirements for certified teachers. Yet proponents oppose even modest safeguards that would help to provide transparency to their business supporters and the public. The tax scholarship program as well as the Governor’s new scheme for expanded vouchers need a lot of scrutiny.

The students in traditional schools will need continuing support and the resources to help them become successful. Our leaders in Tallahassee should welcome information and incorporate the suggestions of those who represent the majority of students in Florida. The ultimate goal is an open, fair and productive system that helps our students to achieve their fullest potential. The voters have told us as much.

DeSantis Announces New Voucher Program

Governor DeSantis plans to fund vouchers to private schools from the state treasury for about 14,000 students. Vouchers paid from public funds were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court, but DeSantis believes the new appointees to the Court will support vouchers. How vouchers can be legal when the constitution specifically says they are not is worrisome. Granted the MacKay and Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities have not been challenged in court. Is the Governor planning to redefine disabilities?  Will he fund personal learning accounts and claim the money goes to parents not private schools?  Getting around the law has become a habit.

Florida saves about $500 per student for those who enroll in private schools. It is a nice tuition support program for children already enrolled. It is a sham for children who attend private schools with unqualified teachers. The latest Brookings study, Are Low-Quality Private Schools on the Rise in Florida? underscores the issue. Private schools are becoming more racially and economically segregated, and their students have poor achievement gain.

Modern Day Good Guy

Here’s a story about Russell Edgar who prosecuted the Newpoint charter school case. He was quoted as saying: “Charter schools in Florida are a real problem.” In this interview by Duwayne Escobido, he delayed his retirement to prosecute this case because he wanted to educate officials, lawmakers, and prosecutors on how to build a case against charters that break the law.

Edgars has had several high profile cases…remember the Black Widow? Also think back to the first case against a doctor over opiods.

You may find this interview very interesting and reassuring that there are people who care very much about the public interest. Read the article here.

Making Sense of the Session to Come

Ideas are swirling around. It sounds a lot like guns for money. Diaz wants guns in schools. Districts want to fix holes in buildings. The governor wants bonuses for teachers. Many want an escape hatch from Jeb Bush’s A + Plan that supported Common Core. I wonder about that. It will not change the testing mania simply because the federal government requires annual testing. It will create more havoc to change once again. I did a count of all the curriculum changes in the last twenty years. It is unbelievable. How teachers are supposed to know what and how to teach and students are to know what is important from one year to the next is a mystery to me.

I did another check on the Bush A+ Plan with which our legislature is enamored. When competition among teachers and schools for bonuses don’t work to raise achievement, it is a problem for the legislature. Did you realize that now that the legislature knows that students are graduating from high school and need remediation in community colleges that the legislature changed the law? Remediation is no longer required. Simple fix that?

This year’s simple fix to Florida’s relatively low graduation rate is to reduce the number of credits required. Some students may be redirected to vocational/trade certification programs that require fewer credits. Actually, many of those certification programs are quite rigorous. So, it is worth considering alternatives if they are not dumbed down. Instead students need a lift up, but that does cost money.

The discussion comes down to the usual smoke and mirrors. The governor would move the bonuses into a different pot of money…the per student allocation schools have to operate. It would look like schools were getting more money. The House does not want even the appearance of a tax increase, so schools will not get the benefit of the increase in property values. But, those holes in the buildings leak. Something must be done.

From what I hear, it will be a tradeoff…guns for money with some whispers about a little religion thrown in by extending the personal learning accounts for private schools. Remember that about 83% of the children attending private schools on tax credit scholarships are going to small, poorly staffed religious schools.
Those schools are getting more economically and racially segregated. Children do not learn well in those settings, and hiding that fact in private schools is unfair to children and their families.

What a world!

Assault on Separation of Church and State

An organized group of ultra conservative legislators have filed a bill to teach religion in schools. The group called ‘Florida Citizens Alliance’ does not like climate change either. FCA is a group Erika Donalds and her husband, who is in the legislature, have formed with support from others like former Senator Joe Negron’s wife Rebecca and Richard Corcoran’s wife Anne. The group is the same coalition of politicians and wealthy donors who unsuccessfully pushed Amendment 8 to create a separate charter ‘independent’ school system. Last year they got a bill passed to enable citizens to review textbooks for content they oppose.

Bill 330 by Senator Baxley from Ocala requires the Florida Curriculum Standards be revised to be minimum standards. Additional standards could be added to them. This revision is to add controversial science and economic theories to the curriculum. A similar bill was filed last year but did not pass.

What is really at stake is Florida’s Blaine Amendment in the constitution. It specifically addresses the issue of teaching a religion, not just teaching about religion. This becomes a blurry line in practice. Senator Baxley’s bill would require that schools teach about controversial topics. It is one of those tactics to infiltrate policy that keeps such topics separate from school curricula.

For a legal analysis of the Blaine amendment, see the explanation in the Stetson Law Review. I would expect the legislature to consider an amendment to the Florida constitution to overturn the Blaine amendment. Keep watching.