DeVos Confirmed: Split Vote in Florida

The telephone lines to D.C. were jammed with protest votes over the DeVos nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education.  In Florida, Senator Rubio voted yes and Senator Nelson voted no.  The U.S. Senate was tied and VP Pence broke the tie.

I saw a note about a one sentence bill to abolish the Department of Education.  It was filed by Rep. Thomas Massie RKY.  He thinks local parents and communities should control schools.  He may be right.

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A Good News Bill

A rational voice has filed a charter school bill.  SB 0538  Clemons. 

Charter School applicants must demonstrate that they meet certain needs that the school district does not, or is unable to, meet and share results of innovative methods with the district. 

This is the number one recommendation in the League’s study of charters.  The premise that competition between districts and charters would improve public education has proven to be not only wrong, it is destructive.  The bill responds to the fiscal irresponsibility of unfettered expansion of charters.  This is one of our themes:   School choice means all schools are under funded.  Too many schools competing for the same students dilutes funding required to meet even basic student needs.  Everyone loses.

Possible Compromise on Corporate Charter and Public School Facility Funding?

David Simmons has an idea that may take wings.  To ease the facility backlog for renovations and maintenance, Simmons proposes SB 604 to increase the 1.5 mills that districts can assess from l.5 to 1.7 mills.  This is still less than it used to be, but it would help generate income to remodel outdated science labs or replace dying air conditioning units.  There is a catch.  In a companion bill, SB 376, Simmons would allocate some of this money to charter schools. Districts do not have to share this funding now.

 

 

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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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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.

DeVos: Single Issue Candidate?

By now most people who care realize that Betsy DeVos has one issue:  parental choice.  To achieve that end, she supports state control over education policy.  In the New York Times analysis of her confirmation hearing, her knowledge of the law and education policy was non existent.  This is not surprising.  She has been a one horse pony in the private sector for vouchers and charter expansion.

The NY Times piece cites DeVos’ ignorance about special education law, regulation of for-profit universities, or even the difference between achievement gains and proficiency levels.  The answer to every question was:  leave it to the states.  Will Congress bow out?

Suppose the federal government did close down the Department of Education.  The federal government was not always involved in K12 education.  Its history is interesting.  Where would that lead?  State after state is cutting funding.  School districts and the private sector are supposed to find the money locally to manage the schools.

My grandmother taught in a country school.  So did my husband’s mother.  A few people got together, built a one room school and hired a teacher.  Will this approach raise our PISA scores?  It reminds me of an old time saying:  Watch out what you wish for. 

Louisiana Court Rules State Charters Unconstitutional

In Florida, charters are generally authorized by local school boards.  In some states, charters are authorized by local districts, universities, state boards or even cities.  This is part of the continuing struggle over control of public schools.  Florida’s legislature has tried to create state charter review boards, but the resistance is strong.

 

 

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Jeb Bush Supports Betsy DeVos

Many of you may know that the nominee for U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos serves as a board member on Jeb Bush’s pro choice Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Bush has written a letter in support of her nomination.

Bush argues that opposition to school choice is based on two false narratives.  The League has no formal position on this appointment.  So, you decide.  Let your Senators know what you think.

 

 

 

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School Turnaround: Caught Between the Crosshairs

In a news report on President Obama’s legacy, one commentator stated that is focus on eliminating failing schools would survive.  These are the ‘turn around’ schools where most students do not meet state proficiency levels.  Some say that the goal to have all students be proficient is like assuming all students must be ‘above average’.  Proficiency standards, however, are set at levels most but not all students are expected to reach.  The expectations are an ever increasing target.  As achievement goes up, standards go up.

It is a trap, however, to excuse low performance because students have not been expected or even required to do better.  Is there an escape hatch?

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