Bash Schools or Build Democracy

The October Atlantic reports on the war on public schools. We know this war. The strategy is changing, and this is a good thing. The reform mantra that school achievement has declined, teachers are inadequate, unions protect mediocrity and school choice (read privatization) solves all problems has become hackneyed, if not outright false. The Atlantic article raises a much different and more fundamental concern. The attack on public schools reflects the emphasis on individual rights as opposed to the collective good. This is an age-old theme in America. It waxes and wanes, but the stakes are high.

The author cites the political theorist Benjamin Barber’s warning: “America as a commercial society of individual consumers may survive the destruction of public schooling. America as a democratic republic cannot.” Why?

Our schools integrate diverse groups from widely ranging backgrounds into our civil society. They learn to be ‘American’. The public schools give all of our people a stake in the future of our democracy. School choice, however, is further segregating our society and creates more enclaves. The impact on our communities is being felt. We no longer teach civics, and fewer young people participate in voting.

In some countries, the population disengages in their political system. When this occurs, the whole process of negotiation among citizens to resolve problems disintegrates. A good analysis is offered by Harry Boyte, Co-Director of the Center for Democracy. He says “Politics is how diverse groups of people build a future together”. This is the message that will determine our future. We have a choice. We can build or divide our schools and our communities.

Terminated Clay Charter To Reopen as Private School

Clay County schools terminated the charter for Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. State law requires charters to close if they earn two ‘F’ school grades in a row. The charter school enrolls 170 students and receives $1.5 million from the State. Now, according to a school spokesperson, the charter will go private. They will no longer receive public school funds directly. The students who qualify will receive Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. The nice thing for the owners of the charter/private school is that students will no longer have to take the Florida State Assessments. They no longer will receive school grades.

Should this school be an eligible private FTC school? How many others are out there? We don’t know. The State does not have to tell us.

Washington Post Blasts Florida’s Chaotic Educational System

Valerie Strauss tells it like it is. She lists the educational mess caused by Florida’s reform policies culminating in the passage of HB 7069:

  • loss of district facility funds to charter schools
  • ‘Schools of Hope’ that are required to fire teachers and administrators
  • State seizure of local school board authority
  • High charter closure rates and incidences of scandal
  • Private school tuition from tax credits for corporations with no consequences for lack of student achievement

The article by Valerie Strauss goes on to cover testing and accountability policies, teacher bonus programs, and perhaps even more strange, the request to the federal government to stop reporting achievement gaps.

Here’s the link to the article in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/22/floridas-education-system-the-one-betsy-devos-cites-as-a-model-is-in-chaos/?utm_term=.0cb978c6651f

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.
 

Governor Scott Makes a Bad Choice

Governor Scott to sign HB 7069 today.  In a symbolic act, Governor Scott is set to sign HB 7069 at Morning Star Catholic Church in Orlando today.  Is private school what we want for our children?  We know that Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran wants to start a steam roller to privatize our schools.  He has said so publically.  The time has come for citizens to stand up for equal access for a high quality public education.

HB 7069 uses charter school expansion to fuel that initiative.  Charter schools are privately owned and managed but funded with our tax dollars.  Now, our local districts will have to give up some of their local facility funding to charters so they can pay whatever lease and bond payments private charter management firms require.

This is a serious blow to public schools whose facility funding has been sharply cut for thee past ten years.

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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.

 

With Vouchers Parents Lose Right for Child’s Education

In this NPR interview, the plight of parents who take vouchers is exposed.  Parents explain their search and frustrating when choosing  private schools; they lose their right to have their children served.  If they are dissatisfied, their only recourse is to try a different school.  When their child has a disability, there may be no school within reach that will accept the child.  Attorney and League member Kimberley Spire-Oh provided the information leading to these interviews.

Some background on Florida public school support for students with exceptionalities provides perspective on the availability of support for these children whether in public or private schools.

Teachers certified to work with children with disabilities are scarce and tend to work for public, not private schools.  Supporting these children in private schools is expensive, and they have no obligation to accept children.  The State provides McKay Scholarships for students to attend a private school if they have an IEP or 504 program .  For students with a high level disability defined in law, Gardiner Scholarships are available.  Having the scholarship allows parents to shop in the private sector for a school.  It does not require private schools to accept those students.

Parents have the right to send their children to public schools, but not to private schools.  You can see the right for your child to be education on the Office of Civil Rights website.  An overview of the disability discrimination laws that protect children’s right to a public education are here.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines the responsibilities that public schools have.

Support for educating students with disabilities is dependent upon funding.  This year funding for students in public schools from federal IDEA sources was reduced to $1,301 per student.

The Florida Department of Education website for Exceptional Student Education is located here.  State ESE funding is part of the FEFP per student funding formula and included $1,055,304,596.  Note that the funding is part of the weighted per student state allocation.  Weighting is the same for ESE students as for other students except for Levels four and five.  These students with higher level disabilities receive more intense, specialized services as defined here.

We need to do a study of the every day realities of providing support for students with exceptionalities.

Poll: Most Americans Feel Fine about Choice? Not True

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research says that 58% of people don’t know much about charter schools.  Even more, 66%, know little or nothing about private school vouchers.  Nevertheless, 47% favor expanding charters and 43% would expand vouchers.  Media headlines say most Americans support choice, but this is misleading.  Most Americans either are opposed or have no opinion.  The report found that four in ten believed that the country in general would benefit from more choice.

The poll has value. It made me think.  See what you think!

 

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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.