CRC Education Amendments ATTACK K12 Public Schools

The Constitutional Revision Commission members are filing amendments to the Florida Constitution. Four general categories include:

Remove local control of school boards CRC Member Erika Donalds, a pro choice Collier County School Board member, would remove these local options that districts now have by:
1. P43: Requiring term limits for school board members
2. P33: Requiring appointed superintendents
3. P32: Preventing salaries for local and state school board members

Privatization of Public Schools
1. P45 Donalds: Cannot limit the legislature from providing other educational services in addition to the system of free public schools

Remove restriction on Separation of Church and State
1. P59 Johnson: Article IX Section I that prohibits state funds for religious schools would be amended to eliminate restrictions on public funding for educational services at religious entities.
2. P4 Martinez: This ‘Declaration of Rights’ amendment removes prohibition in Article I Section 3 on funding for church, sect, religious denomination or sectarian institution

Expand Charter Schools
P.71 Donalds: Charter Schools Authorization. The amendment gives the legislature free rein to increase or otherwise change current authorization of charter schools to other entities than school districts, municipalities, businesses, colleges/universities

School Operation
P. 10 Gaetz: Require Civics literacy
P. 82 Heuchan: Require schools cannot open before seven days before Labor Day.

State University System
P. 25 Plymale: Establish Community College System
P. 44 Washington: Require minimum vote threshold for tuition and fee increases.
P. 70 Keiser: Tuition and fee waivers for certain members of the military and/or spouse and children
P. 60 Johnson: Bright Futures scholarship and Public Student Assistance Grant funding mandates and qualifications
P. 57 and P. 49, P. 16 Kruppenbacher and Gainey: Death benefits for survivors of first responders etc. that equal tuition and fee costs for post secondary education.

I will provide an analysis of the implications of the PK12 amendments in the weeks ahead.

Schools Without Rules: Winners and Losers

Do children learn in unregulated private schools? If so, why have rules for any schools? These are billion dollar questions. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program now garners about a billion dollars in redirected corporate tax rebates and other beverage license fees to educate children in private schools. Bottom line response to the ‘Who learns?’ question is that eleven percent of the FTC students gain twenty percentage points on a nationally standardized test, and eleven percent lose twenty percentage points. Most FTC children do about the same as others.

Who are the winners and losers?

Stories like ‘Schools without Rules’ that focus on children who are being short changed are heart breaking. Supporters for the FTC program, however, push back with counter charges and citizens are faced with yet another obfuscated argument to unravel. The important questions are about the best way to help children learn. These are the questions that remain unanswered in the school choice debate.

What do we really know about the FTC program?

WHO ARE FTC SCHOLARSHIP CHILDREN? Most FTC children are Hispanic (38%) and (83%) attend religious schools. While the FTC scholarships were originally designed to offer low-income families a better alternative, the reality is quite different. They tend to come from high performing public schools. Only twenty-five percent were previously enrolled in a public school with ‘D’ or ‘F’ grade. The income level requirement continues to be raised thus redirecting the FTC scholarships to less needy families.

FTC participation drops off after third grade.

HOW ARE FTC SCHOOLS EVALUATED? The FTC children are not required to take state tests or follow state curriculum. They take a nationally normed test that cannot be compared to the Florida Standards Assessments.

HOW DO REQUIREMENTS DIFFER? Teachers and principals are not required to be certified. Required background checks are not adequately supervised. Facilities are not required to meet public school standards.

HOW DO STUDENTS FARE ACADEMICALLY? Eleven percent of students gain more than 20 percentage points and eleven percent lost more than twenty percentage points compared to the results on the national tests. Those who leave tend to be students who struggle the most. They tend to be further behind academically than before they left their public schools.

Students who stay in the FTC school four or more years are slightly more likely to enroll in community college, but not graduate, than students who were eligible for FTC scholarships but did not attend. Successful students tend to be enrolled in Catholic schools and/or are foreign born. The more successful schools are those that were in existence prior to 2002. Private schools with a high percentage of FTC students tend not to be successful.

It is important not to overgeneralize results of studies. Based on the reports from the private school sector, however, it would appear that FTC students, in general, have little to gain and much to loose by attending these small, religious schools. The public, however, may have the most to lose. When funds are siphoned off in unproductive ways, everyone loses.

Florida Must Take A Closer Look At Charter Schools

In today’s Sun Sentinel, see the League’s opinion piece on Gulen for-profit charter schools. This is a unique chain. The profits go to support an international religious movement. The article explains how profits are generated in an example from River City Science Academy in Jacksonville.

Gulen is a Turkish Imam who had a falling-out with the Turkish President Erdogan. He moved to Pennsylvania and is the head of a movement that has 170 charter schools in the U.S., twelve in Florida. The leaders bring in Turkish nationals under ‘specialty occupation’ visas for positions that are questioned as a violation of the intent of the visa program. In Florida, 195 visas were given for Turkish men to work in Gulen schools, even if their mastery of English was very limited. Their business practices in Georgia resulted in their expulsion.

The for-profit charter industry has a complex web of real estate dealings that make millions for the management company at the expense of tax payers. The Gulen schools, managed in Florida as Charter Educational Services and Resources, have cover names. In Jacksonville, they are River City schools. In other areas they are often tied to names like math and science academies. Gainesville had two Gulen schools–Sweetwater Branch–that closed for poor academic performance and low enrollment. Their teacher salaries on average were lower than the beginning salary for new teachers in the district. I happened to speak, the other day, with a former teacher at a local Gulen school. She was dismayed at the way the school had been operated. They never knew from day to day which teachers would show up; the leadership was disorganized and disinterested. At least it closed, but not before it became profitable.

The League has long recognized Florida’s lax oversight of charter school management practices. The legislature must respond.

CRC: Nothing Subtle About This

The first Commission on the Constitutional Revision Committee has filed his proposals to amend the Florida Constitution. The one that struck me immediately was P0004 filed by Roberto Martinez. He simply struck the language prohibiting taking money from the State or political subdivisions or agency from the public treasury and giving it to religious denomination, church or sect.

Basically, this would enable vouchers to private schools which the Florida Constitution now prohibits

The voters would have to approve this amendment.

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.
 

Trump Budget: Deep Cuts in Public Education

We knew this was coming, and next week it will be here.  According to the Washington Post, the education budget for public schools will be cut by $10.6 billion dollars.  The cuts include:

  • Work study cut in half; student loan programs revised
  • End of public service loan forgiveness
  • Mental health, advanced course work and other services cut
  • After school programs gone
  • Teacher training and class size reduction gone
  • Childcare for low income college students gone
  • Arts education gone
  • Gifted students gone
  • Career and technical education cut
  • and on and on

A significant change in Title I funding will impact low income public schools.  The new Title I program would allow $1 billion to go to choice schools.  Thus, low income public schools would receive even less support than they now have.   Money saved goes into charter schools and vouchers for private, religious schools.  Some funds go to increased choice for public schools.  Is this a recipe for quality schools or a disaster?

As Senator Lamar Alexander’s spokesperson said, ‘The Congress passes budgets”.  We elect congressmen and women.  Let them know what you think.

 

Religious Freedom Bill: Can it pass the Lemon Test?

There are two bills in the Florida legislature ‘that purport to support’  freedom of religious expression in schools.  Federal and state constitutions already support religious expression.  Why does Florida need a law?

SB 436 requires districts to comply with federal requirements in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Is there a need for a law to guarantee rights that are already protected in the constitution?  This new law prohibits,

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Religion in schools, how much is too much?

by Pat Drago

For many of us, our faith permeates our lives. Religion, however, not only comes in many forms, it is based on strong emotions, and controversy is as old as mankind.  In modern times, waves of immigration brought people together whose religious faiths differed.  During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the issue came to a head over how to teach religion in schools.  President Grant and Senator Blaine proposed a solution, keep schools and religion separate.   A U.S. constitutional amendment failed, but 38 states passed their own version of the Blaine amendment to separate church and state. Florida was one of those states.

Public opinion wafts and wanes over how best to keep a moral center for our children.  The issue has once again reached the Florida legislature when HB 303 Daniels and SB 436 Baxley were filed to allow religious expression in schools.  The bills are framed to prevent districts from penalizing parents, teachers or students who express their religious beliefs in course work, artwork, or other assignments.  The bill goes on to authorize students to pray, organize prayer groups and religious events, and states that districts may not prohibit teachers from participating in student initiated religious activities.

Pat Drago, who was a former senior executive in Volusia County schools, offers some background on the role of religion in schools.

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New Bill: More Money for Vouchers

The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed:  HB15, Sullivan.  School choice can no longer be ignored.  The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children.  Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money.  Look at the numbers; you decide.  Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?

 

 

 

 

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Radical Change Proposed in U.S. Congress

Rep. King, R, IA filed H.R. 610, a bill which is a major assault on public education.  The bill would repeal the Education and Secondary School Act of 1965.  Instead, the U.S. DOE would award block grants to qualified states.  States would then distribute block grants to local education agencies (districts) in a manner that apportions funds to families who elect to home school or send their children to private schools.  In a word, it is a ‘voucher’ bill.

Curiously, the bill also revokes the nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch programs.

Our public schools are the backbone of our democracy.  This bill undermines an educational system that serves everyone, not just those that private schools chose to accept.  This is just the beginning of an assault on public education.  It is time to push back and keep pushing.

The Network for Public Education has an Action Alert to notify your representatives to oppose this bill.  You can access their site here.