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

Appeals Court to hear Citizens for Strong Schools Case

I just received the following announcement from the Southern Legal Counsel:

Please be advised that the oral argument in the appellate case is scheduled for 9:00 A.M. on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 in Courtroom One at the First District Court of Appeal located at 2000 Drayton Drive, Tallahassee, Florida.

If you can go, do. The League strongly supports the plaintiffs in this case.

Want to brush up on the arguments? Basically it comes down to whether or not Florida’s system is following the constitutional requirement for a uniform, safe, efficient and high quality system for ALL students.

I reviewed the closing arguments in the initial case. You can read them on the blog here:

Citizens for Strong Schools Closing Arguments

Florida For-profit Charter Chain Racketeering Charge

How often do we need to hear the same thing before the legislature will act. For profit charter management is an open invitation to fraud. These charter management companies have hidden affiliated companies that do what they want out of public view.

Tbo News reports that racketeering charges have been filed against Marcus May and his associate who run 15 Newpoint charter schools in Florida (Bay County, Jacksonville, Hillsborough, Pinellas). The story underscores the League’s constant refrain: The Legislature must enact measures to correct charter school fraud and abuse. For the past two years, the legislature has rejected first Senator Gaetz’s call for reform legislation and then Senator Simmon’s measures to correct charter mismanagement. What does it take to get action?

These Newpoint related companies are a maze of legal entities that are banded together to make it impossible for local citizens to know where their tax payer dollars are going. Newpoint’s affiliated companies include School Warehouse and Red Ignition. They overcharged for computers, filed fake enrollment reports, extracted large fees, and used money to pay for expensive vacations, personal home, and on and on.

Fifty-seven million dollars of public money was given to this group. Millions were stolen. Initially they were under investigation for giving fake grades to students. Now they face charges of grand theft, money laundering, and white collar crime along with their racketeering charges. They recognize no limits.

Supreme Court Supports Standards for Students with Disabilities

Are schools expected to do more than provide minimum educational standards for students with special needs.  According to this report, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students with disabilities must be given the opportunity to make ‘appropriately ambitious progress’ consistent with federal law.

Approximately thirteen percent of all children between 3-21 have some type of disability.  Complaints that students are given minimal academic standards triggered the lawsuit.  In this case, Endrew v. Douglas, Endrew was a fifth grade autistic boy whose IEP plan had not changed from one year to the next.  The family withdrew him from public school and enrolled him in a private school where he did make progress.  The family then sued for tuition reimbursement.

Florida Appeals Court Overturns Ruling Supporting OPT OUT Parents

The Florida Appeals Court stated that the Leon County district court did not have jurisdiction over parents’ complaints about third grade retention based upon the Florida Statewide Assessment scores.  Instead, the court determined that the lawsuits should have been filed in local district courts where parents resided.  According to the Orlando Sentinel report, the Appeals Court ruling declared that the state assessment had a laudable purpose to ‘assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before or after being promoted to fourth grade’.

Blended Learning: A Paradigm Shift?

by Krista Sobel

Krista argues that Florida was the first to launch into online learning in any significant way with the Florida Virtual School (FLVS).  This is true.  It is also true that Florida had significant growing pains. In 2013, enrollment in the virtual school dropped 32 percent and funding reductions caused serious layoffs.  It seems that FLVS was allowing students enrolled full time in public schools to take multiple online courses at the same time.  They made a lot of money using that policy.  The legislature stepped in.  There must have been a quality gap somewhere.

Quality gaps of other online companies reached national attention as well. 

FLVS filed a 2014 lawsuit and won against K12 Inc., the mega online course management company, over copyright infringement.  The State of Florida filed a suit against K12 Inc. for falsifying teachers who were assigned to courses.  Many local districts countered the practice by negotiating their own online academies taught by local teachers.  The districts also kept the records of student progress.  They might purchase rights to online course content, or they may develop their own courses, but they control the process.

Problems with for-profit online companies are everywhere.  Politico published a series on the academic failure and profiteering of the online charter schools.   They may advertise blended learning experiences, but the reality is too often a computer or two in a corner.  What is clear is that citizens have a duty to be wary but an obligation to recognize the opportunities new technologies can bring.   Read Krista’s vision for change.  This is her view; it does not represent LWV positions.

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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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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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Is the State ‘Money Laundering’?

justiceThe Florida Education Association and the Florida League of Women Voters et al asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal on the Florida tax credit vouchers to private schools.  The Supreme Court already ruled that vouchers are unconstitutional, so the legislature credit tax credit rebates instead.  This way corporations can forego paying their taxes if they donate the money to private school scholarships.  The Florida News Service summarizes the arguments.  The FEA does a press release.  Read them here.

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