How many $ must Florida districts share next year?

Ouch! Can you believe that districts must give up $96.3 million in funding for school facilities next year. This is the amount they now must send to charter schools because of HB 7069. Not exactly chump change. It is over a seven percent cut in funding that goes to privately owned charter school buildings. Their real estate companies will cheer. The Auditor General should watch how the money is spent.

Miami Dade alone loses $23.2 million. The Miami Herald requested the data from the Florida House. Read the article to see the impact on other counties. In districts with aging schools, this is very wrong headed. Florida’s legislature is allowing uncontrolled growth in charters. It is spreading resources much to thin without any substantive increase in quality.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article158934284.html

FLA. School Grades Out. Some wry smiles

This year everyone got smarter. I have to smile because I think of Garrison Keeler’s quip, “Everybody is above average”. Well maybe not everybody, but 57% of Florida’s schools earned an A or B grade (up from 46 percent). More than two-thirds of the schools that were being monitored through the school improvement program improved to a C or better, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The Florida DOE calculates school grades annually based on up to 11 components, including student achievement and learning gains on statewide, standardized assessments and high school graduation rate. To earn an ‘A’ schools need 62% of possible points.
 
Statewide Highlights
 
1. Elementary schools saw the largest percentage point increase in “A” schools, with 30 percent (542 schools) of elementary schools earning an “A” in 2016-17, up from 21 percent (386 schools) in 2015-16.

  1. The number of “F” schools decreased by 61 percent, dropping from 111 schools in 2015-16 to 43 schools in 2016-17.
  2. 79 percent of schools that earned an “F” in 2015-16 improved by at least one letter grade in 2016-17.
  3. 71 percent of the low-performing schools for which turnaround plans were presented before the State Board of Education in July 2016 improved to a C or greater.  
  4. Forty-eight of Florida’s 67 school districts are now graded “A” or “B,” up from 38 in 2015-16. Additionally, 50 of Florida’s school districts have no “F” graded schools in 2016-17.
     
    In the years I used to do the scoring and reporting for statewide testing programs, we always saw a drop after a new test, like the FSA, was introduced and then scores rebounded. Kids are not necessarily smarter, but they are more test savvy. So are teachers. Nevertheless, some of our low performing schools in Alachua made big gains, and I am pleased. Those schools get hit with a failing school stigma that does nothing to improve morale or the school culture for academic achievement. On the other hand, the districts can’t ignore problems that seem too hard to solve. Our schools and others like them worked hard.

Have to smile folks. Schools of Hope have just lost a lot of candidates for charter school takeover. Now, if only the legislature does not turn around and raise standards again. Give the schools and the children a chance to breathe. Maybe they could even do some project based learning that would build those critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to survive in our new economy.

Indian River Schools Lawsuit Over Shared Local Funding With Charters

Sometimes political maneuvering can come to haunt you. Indian River’s school district decided back in 2012 to share a portion of the revenue from a local sales tax initiative with their charter schools. They did not have to, but charters were only 5% of the total enrollment, and most were locally owned and operated charters. Then the world changed.

For the past two years, the Indian River School District has been in court. Local charter schools claim that money for school operations, teachers etc., that the district voluntarily provided to them is no longer adequate. Why? The charter schools’ enrollment has increased from 5% to 12%. The amount of money involved is $2 million dollars out of a total of $9 million in revenue.

The legal questions are not straight forward. By law, districts are not required to share revenue that local communities vote to provide through a sales tax or local referendum. The district agreed to share with charters when there were fewer students. Now the money involved is large enough to hurt the district schools.

The charters went to court in 2015 and won in the circuit court this year. The district is considering an appeal. At issue is at what point are there too many schools to support in an area? Should communities be forced to accept more charters even if they bring nothing new or better? Is expansion of charters for the sake of expansion a good thing?

Take a look at the Indian River charters and who they serve:

  1. Indian River Charter High School: This is a 656 student school serving about 80% upper income white students and 4% black students. It was founded in 1998.
  2. Imagine Schools at South Vero: The enrollment is about 890 students serving about 80% white, upper income students since about 2008. It was opened by what was then a for-profit management firm.
  3. North County Charter: About 321 elementary school children attend this school. They represent the county’s distribution of race and ethnicity. It is a family managed school.
  4. Sebastian Charter had 287 junior high school students who are two-thirds white and one-third Hispanic. The proportion of students on FRL is slightly higher than the district’s. They took a new school construction loan in 2012.
  5. St. Peter’s Academy is a small elementary school with about 129 black and Hispanic, mostly lower income students. It opened in 1996.

What has happened in Indian River is common in other communities. Most charters are either mostly white, mostly black or mostly Hispanic. A few are more balanced. As these schools grow, they need more money. It has to come from the same pot of money the district has. Soon, funds get tight and relationships get tense.

At some point, the State of Florida has to decide whether to curb unregulated charter growth that does not result in improving education for everyone. It makes me think of the old adage of ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

Catching Up: Which bills are signed? Another look at the Court

Schoolhouse Consulting Group brings us up to date with federal and state education actions. Their take on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is less certain than the NEA’s. No doubt there are members of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission who will use this decision to attack the Blaine Amendment. Voters will have to decide if they want public money to cover vouchers to private schools. Of course it indirectly does now through the tax credit scholarships. At some point citizens have to decide if all those standards and tests required for public schools should be required for private schools. What’s the expression? Isn’t it ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’?

Here’s the summary from Schoolhouse:

Federal
 
The U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a Missouri law that could have ramifications for Florida’s Constitutional prohibition of state or local funds being used directly or indirectly in the aid of any church, religious denomination or sectarian institution, the so-called “Blaine Amendment.”
 
The 7-2 ruling case involves denial of state funds to a church as a grant to use shredded scrap material from tires for its playground. The high court ruled the Missouri Blaine Amendment language violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling can be viewed here.
 
In Florida, efforts to create scholarships or vouchers for students to attend sectarian schools began in 1999 with passage of the A+ Plan. A 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision ruled “opportunity scholarships” unconstitutional, but not based on Article 1, section 3. In 2012, voters defeated (44.5 “yes” vote with 60% needed to be adopted) Amendment 8 that read: (Article 1, Section 3) There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever 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. Underlined wording was new and strike-though language would have been removed.
 
Both U.S. Education Secretary Betsy deVos and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were quick to hail the ruling. For Florida, it will likely lend support to a renewed effort to put something similar to Amendment 8 on the 2018 ballot, either through the Legislature or Constitutional Revision Commission. It may also spur some in Congress to re-open Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and seek a scholarship/voucher-like program in the coming months. In addition to Florida and Missouri, 37 other states have similar constitutional language.
 
State
 
Governor Rick Scott has now signed nearly all education bills that passed the regular and special sessions. Today, of note, he signed HB3A which is the special session bill appropriating an additional $100/students in the Florida Education Finance program. He also signed:
 
HB 0015 Relating to Educational Options (Sullivan) – expanded Gardiner and Florida Tax Credit scholarships
HB 0781 Relating to Designation of School Grades (Porter) – defined how school centers having grades K-3 will be graded
HB 0899 Relating to Comprehensive Transitional Education Programs (Stevenson) – Authorizes Agency for Persons with Disabilities to petition for appointment of receiver for comprehensive transitional education program
HB 0989 Relating to Instructional Materials (Donalds) – clarifies right of parents and residents to provide input to district selection/adoption of instructional materials and sets appeals process to be conducted by a hearing officer
HB 1079 Relating to Pub. Rec. and Meetings/Campus Emergency Response for Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions (Rommel) – Provides exemption from public records requirements for specified portions of campus emergency response for public postsecondary educational institutions;
HB 1109 Relating to Private School Student Participation in Extracurricular Activities (Antone) – allows students at non-FHSAA schools to be eligible to play for local FHSAA schools
HB 1239 Relating to School Bus Safety (Eagle) -Provides for mandatory noncriminal penalties, fine, driver license suspension, & driver license points for certain violations resulting in serious bodily injury to/death of another person.
 

Clearing the Cobwebs: What’s Wrong and What’s Right?

Jeff Bryant, in Educational Opportunity Network, reports on charters across the nation. Sure some do well. Some do not. I picked up on one of his examples…Oakland, California where I was born. It’s a community where high in the hills wealthy people live. It’s beautiful up there looking over San Francisco Bay. Down below I think of the mud flats of the bay. People used to make weirdly beautiful scrap wood sculptures. People in Oakland have a very different sense of place depending upon where they live. Yet, I remember a phrase that was oft heard: Out of the mud grows a lotus.

In Jeff’s article, I found references to two reports on Oakland charters that are among the best I have read. One is an Alameda Grand Jury report on charters. The other is cited in EdSource.

Oakland schools authorize 36 charters and one is authorized by Alameda County. This is at least one fourth of the county public schools. According to the 2015-16 Alameda Grand Jury report, charters were intended to be educational laboratories where new methods could be tested. The focus shifted when the State of California took over the school system in the 90s, and schools with sub par test results were identified. Charters proliferated, not as much as in Florida, but in a more concentrated way.

The Grand Jury report found that some charters have as many as 55 more days than the public schools. The other advantage was that skills not seniority were the basis of hiring teachers. Teachers earned the same salaries in district and in charters, but many in charters worked more days.

There are costs, however, for this flexibility. The lack of oversight is one. Charters there (as elsewhere) serve fewer students with disabilities, and those they do serve have less severe and less expensive problems. There is also no reporting or tracking to monitor potential wrongful expulsion or dismissal of ‘less desirable’ students who are counseled out for misbehavior of low achievement. There is no mechanism for district oversight of charters, no planning for charter growth, no ensuring of safety standards.

In Oakland as elsewhere, charters have an impact on communities. They attract students which makes some public schools under enrolled. Charters are privately owned, and facilities cost money. So they want the space in public schools they created. In Oakland, they would pay $4.73 per square foot of space. It means very different schools in the same building with the district picking up most of the cost. How are these schools different?

About one half of charter students score below the district average on state assessments. But according to these reports, even these charters ‘cream’ their students which makes them look better but does not make them academically better. Moreover, higher performing students tend to transition from district run schools to charters and lower performing students transition from charters to district run schools.

In the other half of charter students, according to the EdSource, about 40% of charter students have higher achievement levels before they enter the charter school; thus higher test scores reflect not what was learned in the charter school but the achievement levels of the students who enrolled initially. Charters are also more segregated into silos than are district schools. Is choice just making a bad situation worse for struggling students?

There is one take away from all of this that is not addressed and should be. In Oakland, there is an independent committee that reports to the citizens of the city on the district and charter schools. They cover the issues and the consequences of the choices people are making in their own city. They have a Grand Jury investigation of equity. They are pointing out that charters just formalize what is occurring in communities when lower achieving children are segregated from those children who have ‘learned how to learn’. Segregation takes many forms, none of them are cost free.

We are all asking: What Do We Do? First of all, challenge the myth that choice has no bad consequences. It is about money and comes down to who owns the real estate; it does not improve academic achievement, and it does increase all forms of segregation. It tells us, however, to look at how much time our schools spend on instruction and what kind of instruction children receive. Are we as citizens asking the right questions about our schools? Therein always lies the rub.

Moody Warns HB 7069 Could Downgrade District Credit Ratings

It is no surprise that taking money away from district public schools and giving it to privately owned charters is a credit negative. Moody Corporation has long reported credit ratings for many companies. Now it warns that district financial ratings will decrease because they will have less money to pay for loans to support school facilities. This is serious. It means that the loans districts do receive will cost more. Interest rates will be higher. What is our legislature doing to our tax payers and our public schools.

You can find the rating by doing a Google Search for the News4Jax article on June 22, 2017

Appeals Court to hear Citizens for Strong Schools Case

I just received the following announcement from the Southern Legal Counsel:

Please be advised that the oral argument in the appellate case is scheduled for 9:00 A.M. on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 in Courtroom One at the First District Court of Appeal located at 2000 Drayton Drive, Tallahassee, Florida.

If you can go, do. The League strongly supports the plaintiffs in this case.

Want to brush up on the arguments? Basically it comes down to whether or not Florida’s system is following the constitutional requirement for a uniform, safe, efficient and high quality system for ALL students.

I reviewed the closing arguments in the initial case. You can read them on the blog here:

Citizens for Strong Schools Closing Arguments

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.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Governor Scott’s decision to sign HB 7069 was no surprise.  What needs to surprise our Governor and our legislature is our response.  We must focus like a laser on the November 2018 election.

We have to arm ourselves not only with the facts, but also with specific examples of what we want and do not want.  The local LWVF study process must go into a higher gear.

Here are some suggestions to build a story about your school district:

 

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