Florida Court: Remedy is at the polls

justiceA Florida Appeals court refused to hear the lawsuit against the Florida tax credit voucher program.  Judge Lori Rowe argued that current law supporting tax credits was different from the previous law against direct payments from the legislature to private schools.  Now, the legislature allows corporations to give money owed to the state to private schools.  Somehow this is legal according to the 1st District Court of Appeals.

In the opinion, the judges’ opinion stated that it was not clear that the public schools were hurt by the loss of tax credit funding.  There was no guarantee that the legislature would have allocated the money to public schools if it had decided to collect it.

The judge added:  …”the remedy is at the polls”.  We will have to wait to see if the Florida Education Association will appeal to the Florida Supreme Court once again.  In the meantime, an election is coming.

 

Local School District Budget Time of Year

project-875699_640School districts across the State are holding hearings on their budgets for next year.  Our local paper had a full page notice of the 2016-17 budget for Alachua County.  There are some questions we can all ask our individual districts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • What is your district’s per student funding by school for 2015-16, and how and why would this change for next year?
  • Are there either local or state inequities in funding policies that the district has identified?
  • What factors impact individual differences in school funding?  Where are the greatest needs for increased funding?
  • Where are the under enrollment and over enrollment schools?  What are the plans to balance enrollments?
  • What is the funding priority for vocational education?  How is the money distributed?
  • How is Title I money distributed by school?  Do all low achieving students have access to extra time/tutoring?
  • How much time per week is allocated for art, music, PE, social studies?
  • How is the district meeting needs for guidance counselors?
  • What are district plans for online education?
  • What is the district plan and priority for competency based education?

Your local leagues may have other specific questions.  Use the blog’s ‘Comment’ space to share questions.

I saw an article about the Flagler school board budget review.  They are upset about inequities in their share of local property taxes that are mandated by the State for redistribution to low income counties.  They rank sixth in the amount of local property taxes required but 64th in thee amount returned to the district.

Another article appeared today about Highlands County which is one of the lowest income areas in Florida.  They show the stark correlation between income and school grades.  This is a county with student needs they cannot possibly meet by themselves.

  • If you are interested in a reading a one page explanation of local education funding, see this Florida Tax Watch article.
  • For a more complete explanation of the state and local funding formula for education, see: Education Funding Primer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closing Florida’s Public Schools is NOT an Option

ballot-32201_1280The Washington State Superintendent of Schools argues that it may be necessary to close public schools to force the state to comply with the court ruling on funding education.  Could this happen in Florida?  It may be up to the voters even if the Southern Legal Counsel (SLC) wins the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teacher Bonuses Challenge Under Review

justiceFlorida’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program is under review by a federal agency.  The Florida Education Association filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last December.  In the complaint, the FEA argued that the program discriminated against teachers whose ACT or SAT tests, on which the bonuses are based, are unfairly excluded.  Teachers who sat the SAT or ACT before 1973 have no qualified scores.  These teachers are referred to DOE guidelines which seem to be strangely absent on the FDOE website.  According to the Naples News article today, a decision by the EEOC has not been reached, but the complaint is still under review.  If the EEOC finds reason to proceed with the complaint, the FEA will file a lawsuit.

 

Florida SBE Delays Vote on Charter School Facility Funding Rules

dollar-726881_1280For some reason, not published, the State Board of Education will not review the proposed rules for allocating capital outlay money to charter schools, according to the Tampa Bay Times.  The rule was to be considered at the June 22nd meeting at Palm Beach State College.

Provisions included in the proposed rule were:

 

 

 

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Testing Reform to Rise Again

IMG_0471Is there hope for a rational testing system?  Senator Don Gaetz has been a moderating voice on Florida’s overwrought testing and accountability system.  He called for the reduction of the weight from 50% to 30% of the student gain scores that are counted in teacher evaluations.  Then, in the 2015 session, he proposed substituting national tests like the SAT and ACT for the FSA.  Since college bound students must take these tests anyway, it is redundant to have them sit for state assessments as well.

 

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Southern Legal Counsel Plans Appeal

justiceIt is a marathon in the Citizens for Strong Schools case.
Attorneys for the Southern Legal Counsel issued a statement regarding Judge Reynold’s ruling in the Citizens for Strong Schools vs. the Florida State Board of Education et al. The judge ruled for the State.  Basically, the ruling will be appealed.  This is no surprise; it would have been appealed regardless of which side won.
SLC issued the following statement:
“Today, the Second Judicial Circuit Court issued an order that ignores the overwhelming weight of the evidence that the public education system in Florida is failing more than a million students. Even though Florida’s constitution is the strongest educational mandate of all the states, the court incorrectly concluded that the constitution has no judicially manageable standards and that the court is prohibited from ordering relief due to separation of powers.  Southern Legal Counsel plans to appeal this decision and continue to seek a high quality education for all children in Florida”.
The final judgment considered the claims and counter claims over the constitutionality of the Florida educational system.  Highlights include:
  • Judge Reynolds ruled that the State has made education a top priority in terms of funding.  Moreover, he states that neither the defendants or the plaintiffs established the connection between the amount of resources and educational outcomes.
  • The Differentiated Accountability system needed legislative attention.   The fact that schools could remain in ‘F’ status over a number of years was the judge’s primary objection to the state system.  He argued, however, that the defendant’s own evidence showed that a school could be turned around without additional funding.
  • Districts were part of the state system.  Districts had control over local management and funding allocations and the State was not responsible for ineffective local management.
  • The constitutionality of school choice was dismissed by the judge.  He did not agree that charters and tax credit funded private schools had a negative effect on the system.
  • Judge Reynolds wrote:  “The evidence shows that many of Florida’s educational policies and programs are subject to ongoing debate without any definitive consensus in the education community.  They are political questions best resolved in the political arena”, and
  • “The Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgement without a judicially manageable or enforceable remedy.”  In other words, the cost study sought by the Plaintiffs was not a remedy.
While Judge Reynolds did concede that there were areas of concern in the Florida educational system, they did not rise to the level of constitutional violation.  This was a David vs. Goliath case.  It was reported that the State spent over two million dollars on its side while Southern Legal Counsel’s expenses were around $600,000.  SLC has to raise funds from donations while the State uses tax payer funds.  Going forward, Florida citizens will need to help equalize the balance.