Federal Tax Bills Allow Vouchers

The tax bills in the U.S. House and Senate have curious twists. According to the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools, 529 college savings accounts could be used for K12 private school tuition. Send your child to private school and get a tax break.

The U.S. Senate’s tax plan allows a tax deduction as a charitable contribution for private school tuition. A second provision creates tax credits for corporate and individual contributions to state non profits that offer tuition payments for low and middle income families.

The drive to get something passed in Congress, anything really, has resulted in a hodge podge of special interests that are certainly not in the public interest.

Irreversible Damage to Public Schools

Nine school districts filed a constitutional challenge to the Florida Supreme Court over HB 7069. The suit claims ‘log rolling’ by the Florida legislature when it compiled multiple bills into a single bill the weekend before the last session of the legislature ended. The Florida constitution requires laws to be ‘single subjects’.

A quick decision by the Court is needed because districts are required to enter into contracts for charter school take overs of district schools in the Schools of Hope program included in the legislation. The bill also included a provision to share facility funding derived from local property taxes with privately owned charter schools. There were other provisions, including the allocation of federal Title I funds for disadvantaged children, that this bill changed.

Even more districts have filed lawsuits with circuit courts. The Palm Beach case claims that the HB 7069 requirement to share local capital outlay with charter schools is unconstitutional. Thirteen districts have

http://sunshinestatenews.com/story/school-boards-ask-high-court-block-last-sessions-controversial-education-law

An Attorney Who Knows, Speaks on Bullying

I have represented quite a few students who have been victims of bullying. The largest target group for bullying is students with disabilities. While it is true that schools are rarely effective in addressing the bullying, making parents often desire to move their children to protect them, that ineffectiveness applies across the board to traditional public, charter and private schools. In Florida, public school students at least have a bullying law requiring that school districts create and follow an anti-bullying policy or risk losing funding. There is no legal protection for private school students (other than using tort law if there is substantial injury, and few personal injury attorneys are willing to take these cases because of statutory limits on liability). Charter school compliance is rarely enforced by districts, who find it easier to invite the student back to public schools than to get the charter schools to do something.

Also, simply moving students to new schools does not always stop the bullying. Students are often targeted for their differences, and I see a disproportionate number of students with weak social skills (due to Asperger’s, ADHD, or mental health conditions) get bullied over and over in different settings until someone looks at them and gets them the supports they need to interact more effectively with their peers. My son was one of those kids. Public schools have the resources and knowledge to evaluate and provide these supports; the privately-run schools usually do not.

What we need is to strengthen the existing law and to expand coverage to all schools. The current law does not give families a direct right to pursue action if the bullying investigation and follow-up are ineffective, so long as the district has a policy and follows the steps in the policy. Without this leverage, schools will not be fully invested in completely eliminating the problem. Additionally, Palm Beach County is working on creating academic standards for social competencies so that all kids (bullies and victims) learn better ways of interacting. We need to advocate to make this statewide.

I am happy to speak about my family’s experience with bullying and my clients’ struggles with bullying in charter and private schools. I can also ask some of the families to speak out. I know several who would love to help change the system.

Kimberley Spire-Oh is an attorney in Palm Beach and a member of the League of Women Voters.

Oh Goodness! Nothing is as it seems at Academica

Frank Biden, Joe Biden’s brother, was president and CEO of Mavericks, a for profit charter chain with multiple schools in Florida. They did not fare well. There were scandals. Frank Biden has turned up at Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter chain. Yes, this is the charter management firm that Erik Fresen’s sister and brother in law run. Fresen is going to jail now that he is no longer in the Florida House.

Biden and Academica attorney Moskowitz gave presentations about a proposed new charter, Parkland, in Broward. Except it wasn’t for Parkland. Broward had no proposal for it. It did have one from Academica for Somerset Beach Academy charter school. Confused? The parents in Broward also were confused. One school was being described to parents while the proposal was for a very different school. This story is just plain strange. You should read it.

Hope Vouchers Move On in the Florida House

Anne Hartley, SPEAK for Collier County posted this report on HB 1 the “bullying bill”. House Innovation sub committee brief notes on each member’s comments and their votes follow. HB 1 is the ‘anti bullying’ bill that would send any child who felt harassed to a private school at tax payers’ expense. Yes, this is the bill that sales taxes on new cars would fund.

The League spoke at the meeting. You can listen on the Florida Channel. Go to: 1:28:30

The Hope Scholarship bills will move forward through the House. Vote followed the party line 9 up to 5 down, decided at this afternoon’s PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee meeting.

Speakers against (public school allies):
Rosanne Wood, past alternative school teacher and Leon County school board member 1:17:45
Hannah Willard, Equality Florida
Scott McCoy of SPLC
Mary Claire Leman of Common Ground
League of Women Voters 1:28:30
Lisa Robertson, principal of FL’s largest HS, public school advocate 1:35:50, Florida Education Association 1:37:43

Speakers for (school choice backers):
Cesar Grijales, Coalitions Director of the Libre Initiative spoke for the bill, affiliated with Americans for Prosperity. Cited 2011 FDH stats: 256,000 FL public HS students subjected to “experienced some form of bullying, teasing or name-calling,” 31% hispanics. Andrew Hossick, Americans for Prosperity, Foundation for Florida’s Future, Florida Virtual School waved in support.

Debate Notes 1:47:00

Santiago advocates for school choice – wants private schools held accountable. Voted yes.

Killigrew has many concerns, but if the bill doesn’t change, he’ll vote against. Voted yes.

Lee – sometimes when you go along, the real issue isn’t addressed. Don’t just deal with a part of this bill. What about 10,000s kids who won’t be able to get out? Need to fix situation. Situation will only get worse. Was victim of bullying. Need to find funds to stop bullying. Voted no.

Asencio – worked in public schools, concerned about unintended consequences of this bill. Transferring kids to go into another school that aren’t regulated, not accountable to legislature. Operate by own means. Can’t guarantee their safety. Liability too high. Voted no.

Sullivan – there are measures to prevent bullying on books, Russell knows bullying exists everything, but this bill gives victims the choice with transportation voucher. Don’t lose signt of victims. Voted yes.

**Abruzzo – major policy shift. Tax dollars of every Floridian could go into this program. This will not end here. Vouchers are the problem. Now corporations can contribute through the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. This bill shifts it to auto fees, hitting every Floridian. 1:56:35 Voted no.

Massullo – Parents need to be in charge of their children’s education. He thinks it addresses the bullies as well. Will see bullies treated differently because they won’t want to lose students. Giving parents a choice. Voted yes.

Williams – have to move the bully, not the victim; not good to send public funds to private schools. Voted no.

Ponder – yes
Fischer – yes
Spano – yes
Russell – no
Latvala – yes
Leek – yes

Reward and Punish Gone Amok?

Where you and with whom you eat is one school’s answer to improving its graduation rate. Florida’s top down, test driven education policy rewards those who succeed and punishes those who fail. Bonuses go to schools with high grades and teachers whose students have high test scores. If you are stuck in a low income neighborhood, the state provides a charter school so you can get away from ‘those’ kids who are struggling. Or, parents can send their children to a magnet school so they be in a program with kids ‘like’ them. It all sounds so logical. Children most definitely need to be challenged and have positive feedback for their accomplishments.

Hudson High School in Pasco County has taken this policy to extremes. Children who are not on track to graduate must eat in the school cafeteria. Children who are successful get wrist bands that allow them to leave campus during lunch. Take a picture in your mind of the two groups..one mostly poor and minority, with many children with disabilities, and the other the opposite.

Policies at the extremes have extreme consequences. We need a better balance.

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.

Signs of Stress: Is school policy hurting kids?

Are there connections between school policies and children’s stress symptoms or is it just peer relationships that cause anxiety? Anne Hartley posted an article about the expansion of Rocketship Charter Schools in California. A physician responded to the article by citing the medical problems the children he sees from another Rocketship school. What is it about this school that contributes to the problems these children are experiencing?

The test driven curriculum can create stress in any school. It may be, however, that no nonsense discipline problems may escalate the stress reactions. Some children simply leave these schools.

Edushyster posted some examples of how teachers are coached to maintain control of everything a child does in school. What is curious is that the teachers are controlled in the same way. In this article, a teacher describes the training. It is unreal. Trainers sat in the back of the class and told her what to say and how to respond to children. She had an earphone, and they used walkie talkies.

This is worth taking some time to read. Variations of this no nonsense approach are used by many charter schools e.g. KIPP and Success charters. This approach goes way beyond the ‘Do what I say or face punishment’ approach to teaching and learning. This teacher had to say to herself “I am not Tom Brady”. Read the article to find out why.

Teaching is more than a job!

Bart Nourse, film producer of Passion to Teach, shared his thoughts on the real solution to improving teaching and learning. He gives a goal to work toward i.e. steps toward making teaching a true profession.

Bart says:

I still believe the ‘upstream’ factors (professionalism in teaching and intrinsic motivation in learning) matter more than the ‘downstream’ stuff (testing and assessment regulations).  That having professional teachers, as members of a true profession, gets and keeps the right people on the bus (Jim Collins, Built to Last; From Good to Great).  Only then can the bus gather up and move students along the ways of intrinsic motivation to the destination of learning for life.

Nine elements of a true profession follow.  Rather than strengthening these, we are now weakening them (i.e. most of them; some do not exist.)  That will keep teaching in the U.S. “just a job.”  How different from Singapore, where “teacher” means “nation builder.”  How different from Finland, where teachers operate (for the most part) autonomously.  The nine:
1.     Specialized, prolonged education at training schools
2.     Apprenticeship
3.     Examinations
4.     Certification to practice
5.     Continuing professional development
6.     Full-time occupation
7.     Establishment of associations:  national, state, local
8.     Self-regulation of occupation:  powers to set the “rules”
9.     Code of professional ethics

No Rules for the Rich Schools?

HB 7069 relaxed rules for “Schools of Excellence”. These are the 640 schools with high achieving students that tend to be in affluent communities and/or have self selected populations according to the Tampa Bay Times article.

These schools do not have to meet class size requirements, reading instruction rules, and start and end times. Curious logic in all of this.