A Step in the Right Direction

Have you ever been in a maze and had trouble finding the exit?  Tracking bills through the legislative process is like that.  Well, it is even worse because some bills get lost and others change their identity.  I tried to check on the Best and Brightest bills.   SB 1552 is no longer just about teacher recruitment bonuses.  It is also about school improvement.  But, school improvement used to be about Schools of Hope.  Forget all the old bill numbers; it is time to start anew.  Here’s what happened:

Senator Simmons filed an amendment to his Best and Brightest teacher recruitment bill SB 1552.  The bill incorporates many of the provisions in House bill 796 and broadens eligibility for scholarships.  It adds college level tests and grade point averages etc. to those high school SAT and ACT scores that seemed such a bizarre way to select and reward teachers.  The new bills are not perfect but are an improvement.  They could help make teaching a more attractive option in this time of teacher shortages.  At least the bill provides multiple and diverse ways to qualify for salary bonuses.

Yesterday, SB 1552 changed again.  Senator Simmons filed another amendment to insert some School Improvement language from HB 5105.   The League was unhappy with HB 5105 last week.  It promoted Schools of Hope that took control of struggling schools away from districts.  Pulling students out of the district simply weakens all schools.

Senator Simmons’ amendment not only eliminates Schools of Hope funding, it maintains district control.  It provides support and flexibility that has long been needed.  Schools receiving grades below a “C” will have turn around support that includes:

  • An additional  hour of instruction.
  • Wrap around community support services provided by a non-profit entity that includes health services, after school programs, drug prevention, college and career readiness and food and clothing banks.
  • Principal autonomy mostly in the curriculum.

Traditional public schools that fail to improve after three years of intensive support still face a choice to either reassign students, close the school and reopen as a charter, or contract either as a conversion charter school or with an outside agency to run the school.

 SB 1552 addresses two crucial needs.  The first is to attract more teachers to Florida’s schools who are beginning to feel the teacher shortage.  The second is to help districts receive the resources and support to make a difference in schools that are struggling.
We can all wish that more could be done, but this bill is the beginning of a break through.  The Senate is addressing the problems that districts face and providing support rather than wresting away control.  It does not assume that the private sector can somehow ‘do it better’ when the evidence has repeatedly shown it does not.
 Sometimes there simply is not a straight line to the exit.  Hopefully, the exit leads to a better place.
 

 

 

Be Aware: Don’t be shut out

Why are the House and Senate education committees operating differently this year?  There has been relatively little discussion about differences in the policies offered by each chamber.  All of a sudden, bills in the Senate have replaced House  bills.  There are no committee hearings open to the public on these changes.  Instead, the House and Senate bills go to the conference committee that includes leaders from each chamber.  They negotiate the final bills in secret.

The Miami Herald published an article questioning this approach.  They are skeptical that any real input from the public will be heard.

The differences in policy have huge financial impact.  For example:

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Horse Trading Time

The House and the Senate are at the horse trading part of the session.  The Senate bills by and large are supportive of public schools (except for SB 796).  The House bills support charter school expansion.   Both chambers are concerned with struggling schools.  The House wants to shift these schools to the private sector.  Senate bills focus on making it possible for public schools to improve.

Remember our Action Alert on 5101, 5103 and 5105? Everything is now different.   Some things are better, at least for now.  Here’s the latest:

 

 

 

 

 

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Money, money. Who gets it?

Wednesday the House (HB 5001) and Senate (SB 2500) budgets are aired.  They are very different when it comes to education.  Money for school facilities is at the heart of the issue.

The House bill provides $100 million dollars for about 650 charter school facilities and $20 million for the over 4,000 public schools.  The Senate bill provides $75 million each for public and charter schools.  Remember that charters are called public schools, but their buildings are privately owned.

The priority of the House is to expand charters.  Originally, charters were intended to be low-cost alternatives to meet Florida’s population growth, and the need, at that time, for more schools.  Now, nearly forty percent of charters are run by for-profit companies that make most of their money from real estate.  Rents and leases often are excessive.  The House wants local districts to share local funds with charters, and they want more state PECO funds to go to charters.

There is very little PECO money.  The funding sources are drying up.  The Senate wants to float bonds.  The House does not.  Where will the House get the money for these privately owned facilities charters use?  It wants to take over public school facilities.  See this News4Jax article for more insight.

Some charters fill a legitimate need.  Too many simply duplicate what public schools offer.  Instead of putting money into real estate, the legislature should put money into instruction.  Schools need to offer extended days and summer programs.  They need funding to improve aging schools.  They do not need charters whose only purpose is to make money.

 

 

McKay kids lose their rights

Parents of children with disabilities learn some lessons the hard way.  When children leave public school with the McKay Scholarships, children lose their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  Parents may have from $5,000 to $23,000 in tuition vouchers, but private schools are not accountable for the money provided.  In today’s New York Times, Dana Goldstein explains.

IDEA rights lost for students in private schools include:

 

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Separate and Unequal Destruction

Schools of Hope is the latest panacea in Florida for economically and racially segregated schools.  Low performing schools can either be closed or turned into charters.  These charters, called Schools of Hope would be run by charters like KIPP that operate no-nonsense schools in low income areas.  Students who survive the harsh discipline policies can do well.  The others, often as many as forty percent of students, are counseled  to leave school.  What happens to these students?

 

 

 

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It’s Take Over Time

Legislation

It’s that time in the legislative session.  The proposed budgets are out.  The bargaining begins.  The Florida House wants money for charter schools.  The Senate wants money for public schools.

Many legislators want money to expand tuition payments to private, mostly religious schools. HB 15 adds children of military families to the tax credit voucher program.  The per student increases from 80 to 88% of the FEFP public school amount for elementary students.  Middle school funding increases to 92% and high school to 96% of FEFP.  The pretense that the Florida tax credit scholarship program saves money is gone.  Corporate taxes that could help Floridians go to private schools that have little accountability and uncertified teachers.

Charter school bills feature getting a share of local property taxes for facilities, taking over struggling public schools, and creating a separate charter school system.  In addition, they allow uncertified teachers in charters and require public school facilities be given to charters.  There is more.

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Charter school collapse? What Should Be Done?

As many of you know, the League in Florida has been urging improvements in charter school business practices.  In this report by professors Baker, Green, and Oluwole, you will find a list of specific charter management problems and recommendations to remedy them.  We checked with Professor Green to see if the for-profit charter business practices we find in Florida correlate with those in the report.  Based on our study, he replied that it appears they do.  I am so grateful for their work.  It gives us a framework.

I hope every school district digests this list.  They can help communicate the solutions for the pending threat for a financial collapse.

 

 

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Charter Industry Poised for Financial Collapse?

The League has closely followed some for-profit charter school management company business practices.  We have reported interrelated companies that profit excessively from various management fees and real estate practices.

The former President of the Senate, Don Gaetz, has called for an end to the ‘self dealing’.  There are other reasons to call for reform.

In this analysis of charter business practices, a paper soon to be released in the Indiana Law Journal, presents evidence that Enron-like related-party transactions to defraud charter schools.  Read the abstract.  This is serious, especially for Florida where the for-profit charter sector is so large.

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