HB 7069 Education Train Bill Needs to be Vetoed

Legislation

The Senate narrowly passed SB7069 with a 20-18 vote.  There are reasons for concern.  The best  course now is to urge Governor Scott to veto the bill.  Here’s why:

  1. 1) For local districts to share local capital outlay with charter schools is untenable.  It will cost districts already struggling with aging facilities, millions of dollars.
  2. 2) The Schools of Hope proposal allocates $140 million for charter school takeovers of low performing public schools.  Yet, the CREDO Urban Cities report just published a devastating account of poor charter school academic performance in Florida cities.

3) Creating High Impact Charter Systems that control groups of charters surely must stress the Florida constitutional requirement for a ‘uniform system of high quality schools’.  These charter systems become their own local education agencies.  This is a legal term that is now allocated for elected school boards.  The charter systems would be able to receive funding directly with no oversight from districts.

4) Allocating Title I funds to individual students in many schools will spread funding  too thinly to support extra reading, tutoring and other services many children need.

5) Without funds in the State budget for teacher raises, the looming teacher shortage will increase.

Why would Florida want to advertise itself as anti education to a world where academic achievement attracts the kind of business and industry we seek?  This bill is the result of destructive behind closed door power politics, not rational public interest.

Erik Fresen Faces Prison Time

Remember Representative Fresen, whose sister Magdalena Fresen is Vice President of Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter management company?  He term limited out of the legislature this year.  His next  step is to go to jail?

Ethics Florida Style: Go Directly to Jail

The buzz about Florida is that there is more self-interest than public interest than in any other state.  Are such allegations warranted?  Information is not difficult to find. The Center for Public Integrity ranked states on a corruption index in 2012.  Florida was rated an ‘F’ on ethics enforcement agencies.  It appears there are rules that are easy to bend and break.

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Tax Credit Vouchers to Increase

SB 1314 and HB 15 increase the amount of money for tax credit scholarships to private schools from 80% of the per student funding to 88% for elementary, 92% for middle, and 96% for high schools.  While the legislation tightens up the problem of private schools collecting funds for students not enrolled, it now allows funds to be transferred by debit cards.  These scholarships are funded by personal or corporate tax credits in order to avoid the constitutional restriction on direct payments from the legislature to private schools.

This program is no gift to students.  The program provides over $418 million dollars to 1602 private schools.  There are over 78,000 FTC children enrolled in primarily religious schools.  About one-half return to public  schools.  They have no requirements for teacher certifications or state assessments.  They do not perform better academically than do public school students.  Many do less well.

The program is advertised to give options to low income students, but low income is defined as less than $63,000 income for a family of four.  Based on Florida Department of Education evaluation reports:

Students do not come primarily low achieving schools.  They are not primarily students who struggle academically. They do not achieve at a higher rate than public school students.  In fact, many do less well. 

  • FTC students sit a nationally normed achievement test.  In the most recent DOE evaluation, ten percent of the students gained about twenty percentage points and thirteen percent lost twenty percentile points.
  • Only 25% of FTC students came from public schools with a ‘D’ or ‘F’ school grade.
  • Only 23% of FTC students were in the bottom fifth of their prior public school reading distribution.

Why is the State of Florida investing in this program?  It surely is not to help children.  Let your legislative delegation know these facts.

Massive Last Minute Education Bill Emerges

A new mega bill HB 7069 for education was released last night–278 pages long.   It combined provisions from other bills.  The funding is dismal; for most districts there will be less money next year.  Local district capital outlay funds do not increase and must be shared with charters which seriously harms districts.

Other provisions impact teacher bonuses and scholarships and expansion of charter schools by taking over schools in low income areas without requiring district oversight.

Testing and accountability have minor changes–Algebra II EOC is no longer required and the testing window is pushed back by allowing paper and pencil test for grades 3-6.  Districts may determine data for teacher evaluations.

Schools of Excellence and Schools of Hope are created.  It seems as though current state regulations now apply only to schools earning a grade of ‘B’ or ‘C’.  The others are granted flexibility.   The logic is flawed there.  The needs for the middle (or most students) are ignored.

For more detail, continue reading.

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New and Improved?? Testing Bill

SB 926 may be dead!  Arising from the ashes is a new version of HB 549.  Senators Stargel and Flores filed a strike all and insert 72 page amendment last night.  Will it be heard today??

K-5 recess is still there as are a number of other ideas being floated to support visits to and expansion of charter schools, shared use of school playgrounds and wearing sunscreen etc.  Some of the bill actually relates to testing reform.

 

 

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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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Be Happy Today

Last night, SB 376 (Simmons) replaced HB 5103.  The amended version of SB 376 by Senator Farmer had all we hoped for.  It inserted language that gave districts’ discretion on whether to share local facility capital outlay with charters.  It controlled the mismanagement and self enrichment due to charter real estate practices.

Now the bill goes to the conference committee to negotiate with the House.  Will SB 376 survive?  Who knows.  Be happy today.