Governor Scott, No DeSantis, abolishes Common Core WHAT?

I just thought you might get a smile from this newspaper article I love the headline: Governor Scott: ‘Common Core Out in Florida’ Back in 2014, Governor Scott signed HB 7031 which banned all mention of Common Core in Florida law. Now, Governor DeSantis is banning it again?

Granted most of those original Common Core standards were just renamed back in 2014. There were some changes in primary grades and math. So, did Governor DeSantis ban the FSA testing this spring? Those tests are based on the FSA (read Common Core) standards. The federal government says we have to test. Bit of a pickle this! Must we endure this constant political interference in educating our children?

Too Good to Pass Up

As many of you know, I am immersed in writing a report on Florida’s A + Plan for school reform. Today, I found a great quote about Florida that I had to share. It could not have come at a better time. I have just started the section on Florida’s cronyism and weak ethics laws. Here’s the quote:

Florida suits him because “it was a sunny place for shady people”. (Roger Stone, recently indicted by the Mueller investigation as reported in the New York Times article: Stone Cold Loser.) January 27, 2019

Sometimes sad things are down right funny! Life is full of contradictions. Enough philosophy, I am back to work.

Catch up on Florida Tax Credit Vouchers

Much of what has been happening with these tax credit vouchers has been under the radar. I took a peek, and here is what has happened lately. The cost keeps going up, but are corporations getting fed up?

Changes in the FTC program funding are reflected in the automatic increase in the cap for corporate donations, the expansion in eligible funding sources, changes in family income eligibility guidelines, and the increase in percentage of the per student allocations for public schools allowed for private school scholarships.

Most years, excluding 2016-17, the Florida Tax Credit scholarship program saw a 10,000 student increase in participation. In 2016, the enrollment doubled from the previous year due to legislative changes in eligibility. In 2018-19, however, enrollment dropped by 10,000 due to a decline in corporate donations.

• In 2016-17, the income qualifications based on a family of four were raised to 185% -260% of poverty level or from about $44,123 to approximately $62,000 per year. The proportional amount of the full scholarships are reduced for middle income families.

• FTC scholarships are funded from corporate tax rebates up to a designated funding cap. The program funding sources were expanded to include credits against insurance premium tax for contributions to eligible non-profit SFOs, severance taxes on oil and gas production, sales tax liabilities of direct pay permit holders, and alcoholic beverages taxes.

• There is a 25% automatic increase in the cap as long as enrollment exceeds 90% of the cap.

• The amount of the scholarship was originally set at 72% of the FEFP per student funding for public schools, but an automatic increase was provided up to 82% of FEFP in 2016-17. In 2017, the FEFP percentage was again increased from 82%, depending upon grade level, to 88-96%. The maximum award in 2017-18 was $5,886. Step Up has reported a 10,000 student decrease in 2018-19 FTC enrollment due to a decline in corporate donations.

• In 2017-18, Step Up distributed $689 million of the dollars to 108,000 students in over 1700 private, mostly religious schools. These donations were about 10% below the allowable cap. This year, corporate pledges are $687 million. The largest corporate donors to the FTC scholarships are the beverage industry and United Health Care.

• Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion. Given the projected decrease in corporate funding, the legislature turned to donations from sales taxes for new cars to expand the FTC program. These are called Hope Scholarships and were implemented in 2018-19. The maximum scholarship award for a student ranges from $6519 to $7111 for those whose family income is no more than double the federal poverty level. There were 66 participating students in fall of 2018.

References.
http://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/k-12-scholarship-programs/ftc/ftc-faqs.stml
https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/1314/Analyses/
2017s01314.pre.ed.PDF
https://www.tampabay.com/article/20180815/ARTICLE/308159799

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship enrollment drops


Click to access 14-fsba-issue-brief-on-ftc.pdf

Florida – Hope Scholarship Program

Florida Supreme Court Rules Against Public Schools

My take on Friday’s Supreme Court decision on the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit.

Article IX of Florida’s constitution, ratified voters in 1998, called for the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children to have a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools…. In 2009, the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit began its arduous journey to the Florida Supreme Court. The plaintiffs had argued that Florida’s choice system failed its constitutional mandate. In one example, the plaintiffs cited data showing “one million Florida minority students (1/2 of all students), moreover, do not read at grade level”.

The defense defined educational quality as ‘continuous progress’. Thus, in the state’s view, if test scores go up, the system is working. NAEP was the standard used to show improvement. There has been improvement in Florida’s NAEP scores over the past twenty years. The state claimed that the improvement in achievement was attributed to the quality of teachers and administrators and the pressure from school choice. The plaintiffs argued that improvement is fine, but the achievement is still low. Moreover, a high quality system gives access to all children, not just some.

At its core, the lawsuit was about adequate funding to meet children’s needs. If the plaintiffs had won the lawsuit, they would have asked for a cost study so that requirements would be aligned with resources. In the current choice system, funding to support charter and private schools drains needed resources from public schools. Florida’s per student funding is one of the lowest in the nation.

In January 2019, the Court in a contentious 4/3 split decision, rejected the claims of the plaintiff. The majority opinion of the court was that the terms ‘high quality’ and ‘efficient’ are ambiguous and do not create judiciable standards. Education policy and funding are in the domain of the legislature, not the judicial system. Chief Justice Canady said: the plaintiffs “failed to provide any manageable standard by which to avoid judicial intrusion into other branches of government”. The minority opinions stated that the majority opinion “eviscerates the 1998 opinion…only time will truly reveal the depth of the injury inflicted upon Florida’s children”.

What is the correct basis for the legal argument? is it a rational basis or must the state comply with specific requirements to provide a high quality education? A Wikipedia explanation stated that it is easier to define a rational basis by what it is not. It is not a genuine effort…to inquire whether a statute does in fact further a legitimate end of government. I found a quote attributed to Thurgood Marshall…the constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws. The case may have hinged on the interpretation of the legal basis of the case. It reminds me of a saying I have heard often: Is it close enough for government work or do we have to get it right?

Where do Florida citizens go next to garner support for the education of their children?

Supreme Court Rules Against Citizens for Strong Schools

Chief Justice Canady ruled that the ten year long lawsuit brought by the Citizens for Strong Schools is over. Canady declared in his opinion that the legislature, not the judiciary, is responsible for education policy and funding. In a 4/3 divided opinion, the quality of Florida’s education system is now in the voters’ hands. If changes in the funding and school choice policies are to be made, the voters must send people who favor those changes to Tallahassee.

This Really is Scary: Aviation Charter School Fraud

The Osceola County school board voted to close the Aviation Charter school that is training 111 student pilots. The reason: falsifying student records, double billing the state, and belittling students. The charter school will appeal the decision. This is really hard to think about. The school board is doing its part by shutting down the charter. Will the State Board of Education do its?

VAM Hits Good Teachers Hard

Six teachers with good overall teacher evaluations must be transferred from Greco Middle School in Hillsborough. The school has had a ‘D’ grade for two years. It is one of those HB7069 things. Teachers at the school whose value added (VAM) scores for their students were not high enough were targeted by the State of Florida. How can this happen? The Florida Department of Education website says that VAM scores are not mandatory….or are they?

Check out the State Board of Education rules for low performing schools. Even though teachers may be rated as effective or highly effective using the district evaluation systems (that also must include student achievement growth measures), if their students’ achievement gain scores are below what similar students across the state gain based on the state VAM scores alone, those teachers must be removed from the school.

What are these VAM scores? They indicate the growth of student achievement scores on the English Language Arts and Math scores from grades 4 through 8, plus Algebra I. Three year average scores of all students in the state are calculated and adjusted by differences in school characteristics and student performance. Average scores for similar groups of students and schools statewide are compared to each teacher’s student scores. These VAM scores are calculated for about one third of Florida’s teachers. Evaluations for the other teachers must include some measure of student growth, either VAM or other locally determined measures of achievement. Local districts determine how best to evaluate their teachers.

The outcry by the American Statistical Association and others that VAM scores alone are not a valid measure of teacher effectiveness was heard in Tallahassee. VAM scores use became optional for district teacher evaluations even though they must include some measures of student progress. Maybe the State Board of Education was not listening. They still make decisions about teachers’ futures based on invalid VAM scores. Let me give you an example of how unfair this is. A teacher here was removed from a low performing school who had an ‘highly effective’ rating. Her ‘mistake’ was to take over a classroom mid year when the district had been unable to fill an empty slot created by the illness of the assigned teacher. The class had several long term substitute teachers….not good for anyone whether teacher or student. The class did not score well on the state assessment. The good teacher who stepped in to help was blamed. We may see more of these cases as the teacher shortage increases.

The Ban the Book Brigade

Florida Citizen’s Alliance has an agenda to censor textbooks. Which books?
1. Anything with sexually explicit text e.g. Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’; LBGTBQ transgender themes e.g. ‘Being Homosexual’ by Richard Isay
2. U.S. History texts, World History, Understanding Economics and other books that are charged with issues such as having a ‘left bias, opposition to right to bear arms, failure to emphasize federalist vs. anti federalist conflicts, bias against supply side economics, and stating evolution as a settled fact.
3. Religious indoctrination e.g. books about Islam
4. Science e.g. books about environmental dangers such as global warming; Darwin’s Theory of Evolution that do not explicitly say that these are ‘theories, not facts’.
5. Common Core Math critical thinking, problem solving methods

The FCA is headed by Keith Flaugh who is part of the coalition centered around Erika and Byron Donalds and others who support the Christian conservative charter schools known as Classical Academies. They typically challenge text book adoptions at local school boards in Florida. They are included in the DeSantis education transition task force.

The Drum Beat Rolls On

Representative Byron Donalds was named Chair of the Florida House PreK-12 Education Quality subcommittee. Donalds is married to Erika Donalds from Collier County. She was the organizer of the alternative Florida school board association whose members represent charter school interest. She was also sponsor of portions of the Constitutional Revision Commission’s Amendment 8 to create an independent school system. Since that amendment was removed from the November ballot, forms of it will no doubt emerge from the upcoming legislative session. The Donalds also helped found a Classical Academy charter school and are starting another one. These charters focus on ‘Christian values’.