Tampa Bay Times Editorial Says It All

Take a look at this editorial. It cites HB 7069 as ‘gross audaciousness’ by the legislature. Heading the list are the provisions to expand charter schools, ‘religious liberty provision’, text book review, and most of all: USURPING LOCAL CONTROL OF OUR SCHOOLS.

Memorize these talking points. Say them loudly and often. Take back our schools.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-floridas-micromanaging-of-public-schools/2330479

Citizens for Strong Schools Appeal on Tuesday: Watch!

Southern Legal Counsel will be arguing for a high quality education for all children before the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee on July 18 at 9:00 am. Last year, in Citizens for Strong Schools v. Fla. State Board of Education, after a four-week trial, the trial court found many problems in Florida’s education system, but ruled against the plaintiffs. The court believed that he could not order a remedy without violating separation of powers. You can watch the argument live streamed at:  http://www.1dca.org/ustream.html

Charter Advocates Attack Trump Education Budget

According to Ed Source, even with big increases for charter schools, leaders of the National Alliance for Charter Schools and major charter chains strongly opposed President Trumps’ education budget. The $168 million increase raises the federal charter support to about one-half billion dollars. Most of this money goes, however, to support new charter start ups.

The problem is that once started, most charters have to survive on existing funding. The proposed budget for all schools would increase Title I funding for low income student support, but it decreases federal education funding by over nine billion dollars. Starting charters that can’t be supported makes no sense.

To compound the problem, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos attacked charter schools at a National Alliance for Charter Schools conference. She was quoted as saying charters were ‘playing it safe’ and had become bureaucratic. They had lost some of the creativity and innovative spirit of its founders. She went on to say charters were blocking our choice alternatives to fund private schools. Ms. DeVos’ priorities are clear.

All of this goes to show that the pot of money to support our schools is limited. Some politicians argue that it should get smaller yet. As less money is divided among public, charter, and private schools, the greater the dissension. This is not a winning strategy for children.

Trump’s proposed cuts to education funding create friction in charter school community

Districts to Sue the State over Charters

The Broward School Board voted to sue the State of Florida over HB 7069’s requirement to share local capital outlay funding with charter schools. As reported in the blog earlier, this new law has a massive impact on districts. The new law violates the provision that local school boards, not the State are responsible for the oversight and operation of schools. The Schools of Hope would essentially seize schools in low income areas who have low performing students.

Sharing local property taxes with charters is also unconstitutional.

Miami-Dade, Pinellas, and Orange County are also considering joining the lawsuit.

This ‘anything goes’ legislature may find that ‘not everything goes’ especially our public schools.

See today’s Sun Sentinel

Choice Quick Quiz

Sometimes it is good to check your facts. Do a quick quiz.

What is the difference between a charter and a FTC tuition school?

Answer: Both are almost always privately owned and operated. The big difference is where the money comes from. Funding for charters comes from public schools. Funding for FTC private schools comes from corporations who get tax credits for donations to private schools.

Citation: http://fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/

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.
 

Supreme Court Decision on Public Funds to Private Schools Today

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision (7-2) allowed the State of Missouri to pave a playground at a private school, but not much else.

Here’s a take on the decision from the N.E.A.

Friends – busy news day, but wanted to share NEA’s statement on an important SCOTUS decision today on the Trinity Lutheran case, which we were watching closely as it addressed the use of public funding for religious institutions. Clearly we had concerns about how the decision could impact state laws when it came to voucher programs. Ultimately, as you can see below in the  statement we just released, the Court’s ruling was overall positive from our vantage point. It was narrow in focus, so it didn’t offer broad interpretation that any state prohibition on voucher funding is unconstitutional. If you have questions, please let us know if you have any additional questions or needs.
 
The topline message:
 
·         This was a setback for those who were hoping for a road to require states to take public school dollars to give to private and religious schools.  It was so narrowly written – to cover resurfacing playgrounds – that it left intact a state’s ability to interpret what separation of church and state means in that state and left intact state constitutional provisions that prevent the diversion of public school funding to private religious schools.  
 
·         That means voucher proponents will continue to face both significant public policy and substantial legal obstacles to any effort to expand school voucher programs.  
 
·         This is good outcome for the 90% of American students who attend public schools.
 
 
 
http://www.nea.org/home/70944.htm

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