Florida: Doing it on the cheap

It is budget time.  The governor wants money $161 million for corporate tax cuts and tourism incentives….again.  Education spending in his budget would support Bright Futures scholarships which have been consistently cut for the last several years. They are funded by the lottery.  He also called for an increase in K12 spending…sort of.  The increase would come from increased revenue generated by local property taxes.  Actually this is a good thing!

Last year the legislature took away the revenue from public schools that the improving economy generated.  The property tax rate was not changed, but the increasing property values meant that more tax was collected.  The legislature rolled it back.  The Governor says the legislature should let districts recoup this funding.  Rep. Corcoran, Speaker of the House has emphasized that even allowing the districts to garner local revenue from increasing property values would not happen.

To help put this in perspective, consider the report just published by Education Law Center.  Florida ranks:

 

  • 43rd across levels on Education Law Center report.  There are four levels.
  • 41st on level of funding.
  • 38th on effort  low fiscal capacity and low effort.
  • 40th on wage competitiveness
  • last on teacher to student fairness ratio comparing low income and high income areas

Florida’s Voluntary Pre K program for four year olds consists of  51% from high income and 45% low income families.

Florida got an ‘F’ in funding effort related to funding capacity, a C in funding distribution, and lower half in funding level (41)  and coverage (43).

Florida needs a pot of gold at the rainbow.  Current proposals make finding that gold improbable.

 

Blow Open School Choice Year?

It’s National School Choice Week, and Florida House leaders say this is their year to get rid of restrictions to the expansion of Florida Tax Credit Scholarships and charter schools.  House Education committee chair Michael Bileca, R.Miami and House PreK-12 Education Appropriations Chair Manny Diaz R. Hialeah are leading the charge.  They may be aided by Richard Corcoran, Speaker of the House, R. Pasco.  Corcoran’s wife started Classical Preparatory School.  It is not a Title I school; it has only 30% minority and FRL children.  The percentage of minority children (30%) is similar to the district percentage.  The difference is that Classical Prep charter has 31% who qualify for FRL while the district percentage was 56.3.  So, this charter is selecting children primarily from higher income families.  It is not clear what need this charter fills.

 

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Annual teacher contract renewals threatened?

Legislation

Rep. Grant filed a bill HB373 that would not allow districts to grant annual contract renewals, as some districts do, for teachers who receive an evaluation of ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’.  The bill has a long way to go in the legislative process and what the bill accomplishes is not clear.  Teachers rated ‘ineffective’ may already be terminated.    Tenure is gone, and teachers are regularly dismissed.

Reasons for dismissing a teacher are specified in law according to the Florida Education Association which does not support more legislative interference in teacher contracts.  Currently, teachers are on annual contracts which must be reviewed each year.  Some districts automatically renew these contracts if there are no performance issues.

 

In 2011, Governor Scott signed SB 736 that altered the entire teacher evaluation system:

  • Teachers hired after 2011 have a one-year probation and be subject to immediate dismissal. After the first year, they have annual contracts and annual reviews.
  • Teachers hired prior to 2011 continue to have professional service contracts with automatic renewal, but they would be subject to immediate dismissal for just cause.  All teachers, however, must renew their teacher certificates every five years, and those teachers with two sequential unsatisfactory ratings would be dismissed.
  • Teachers receiving marginal ratings must undergo training.  (Whether or not principals are willing to arrange for the appropriate remediation is a concern.  It is suggested that it may be simply easier to give a low rating and dismiss the teacher).
  • Workforce reduction must be based on program needs and performance evaluations, not last hired, first fired policies.
  • Two salary plans performance (merit) or the years of teaching pay schedules are used.  Teachers hired before 2011 are able to transfer to the merit plan, if they wish.

 

New Education Bills

Legislation

It is early days, but education bills are emerging.  Here are two that still need Senate companion bills.

HB 253 Rep. Duran, D. Miami.  The Bright Futures Scholarship recipients must log 30 hours per year volunteer work.    already has a GPA requirement and repayment if grades fall.

HB 303 Rep. Daniels, D. Jacksonville.  The bill will allow religious expression in course work, activities, and personal attire.  School employees must be allowed to participate in religious activities.

Supreme Court Rejects FTC lawsuit

What did Florida’s Supreme Court decide?  It only decided not to decide.  The issue brought forward related to legal standing for the case.  The Supreme Court agreed with the Appeal and Circuit Court decisions that taxes owed by corporations could be diverted to private school scholarships.  In a way it is like saying that charitable contributions are tax deductible.

What the Court did not decide was whether or not the education these children receive is high quality.  The Court decided not to decide.

 

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The Suspension Gap

“Fixing” struggling schools with a load of good intentions only goes so far.  Strong leaders have to figure out ways to get children to show up for school and find time, teachers, and learning strategies to help them.  School success is measured by student learning gains.  Achievement gaps between white and black, rich and poor students must be narrowed.  This is only one of the gaps leaders must close.

 

 

 

 

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Lakeland’s McKeel Charter Fraud and Abuse…Again

An employee at the McKeel Academy has been arrested for stealing $100,000 from the charter school.  The former Assistant Director for Academy faces seven felony charges relating to her creation of fake companies to hide purchases, travel expenses and other illegal activities.

McKeel Academy’s three charter schools have had other serious management problems.  When will the legislature address the charter management oversight issue?  These McKeel charter schools have seen problems before.  But, then, its board members are in the legislature.

 

 

 

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New Bill: Why are 8th grade reading scores lower than 4th grade scores

Legislation

This one makes me smile.  Maybe even laugh.  Senator Stargel wants to study eighth grade reading.  She asks why NAEP scores for fourth graders are so much higher in Florida than for eighth graders.   Over and over educators have said that if you retain the lowest scoring third graders, they will not be in fourth grade.  When they finally do arrive, they will have learned more and be older than fourth graders in other states.  Thus, the fourth grade reading scores in Florida will be higher.  Only a handful of states retain third graders.  It is a classic smoke and mirrors tactic to inflate scores.  Yet, I am not sure legislators even think about this.

Wait, there is more.  According to the Florida Department of Education reports on the tax credit scholarships, students who struggle the most are more likely to go to private, mostly religious schools.   This year there are over 92,000 FTC students.  Most students end up leaving the private schools.  Only about 18,000 students remain in the FTC program after eighth grade.  Could it be that they have not made good progress in these small private schools that do not have certified teachers and are not held to the school grades or other accountability measures that public schools must meet?

Stargel is asking the Department of Education to study states with high performing middle schools to find out what they do.  You can read SB 360 here.  High performing states, in fact most states, do not offer tax credit scholarships to private schools.  At the latest count, I found fourteen.  Even states that do offer them do not have nearly the same percentage of participants as Florida.

Which states have high achieving eighth grade NAEP scores:   Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut.   The demographics in those states are very different from the Florida population.  They do not have tax credit vouchers.  They place a high value on quality education and less value on state accountability programs to promote student learning.

Frankly, I am encouraged that Senator Stargel is asking questions.