League of Women Voters Launches Education Blog
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Editorials decry the latest assault on the class size amendment. How large classes are matters to children. How many small classes there are matters to politicians. Small classes cost more money. When the class size amendment was first passed by voters in 2002, districts had to meet limits of 18 students in preschool through grade 3, 22 students in grades 4-8, and 25 students for high school core courses by 2010.
There’s a very revealing chart on the Florida DOE website about the real issue. Small classes mean more teachers and more classrooms. The funding list from 2002 shows no facilities funding after 2007-8. This was the same time that the legislature cut the local millage for property tax support for school facilities by 25%. Funding for class size dropped significantly. It has never caught up to the 2007-8 level.
Patricia Levesque, head of the Jeb Bush Foundation for Florida’s Future joined with another member of the Constitutional Revision Commission Roberto Martinez, to file yet another assault on class size. Levesque and the Bush foundation have long been champions of school choice.
This latest amendment legalizes the preference charter schools already enjoy. Individual core classes could be smaller or larger as long as the school average by grade group met the required limits. Charter schools already have this option. In 2013, the legislature allowed district managed magnet schools or other choice programs to average class sizes, but not other schools.
The implementation of the class size requirement has become too complicated and unfair. District managed schools have been struggling for years to meet class size limits, but funding levels just do not cover costs. Some districts preferred to pay fines for not meeting class sizes; it was less expensive than meeting the requirements.
The implementation of the class size requirement has become too complicated and unfair. The solution? The legislature cuts corners. The voters will have their say if this latest constitutional amendment is on the November 2018 ballot.
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.
Sally Butzin spoke on the League’s behalf on the committee meeting about the bullying bill that would give vouchers to students claiming harassment. Her impressions of this very intense meeting are informative. Take a look.
House Education Innovation Subcommittee
November 8, 2017
Report from Dr. Sally Butzin
The committee was considering HB1 regarding expanding the Hope Tax Credit Scholarship Program. I gave testimony on behalf of the League. The League opposes this bill. Marty Monroe waived in opposition as well.
My remark notes are attached.
Sue Legg has posted a summary of the hearing and the final vote. The bill passed along party lines.
This is clearly a voucher expansion bill cleverly disguised as an anti-bullying bill. The sponsor of the bill had no research or data to support the bill, and answered all questions with the stock answer of “parent choice.” He defended the bill on anecdotes he had heard from a couple of parents. The proponents of the bill also harkened back to “parent choice” as their reason for supporting the bill.
I was especially disappointed in how the chair handled the meeting. He kept public comment to 1 minute, and cut opponents off. However, when proponents of the bill spoke, they were allowed to continue with their anecdotal stories relating to their own children, including the speaker from James Madison Institute. Very disheartening to see legislation crafted by personal preference, with little regard to the thousands of children in our public schools who do not have parent advocates with the inclination, time or resources to move their children to private schools. And with no accountability, there is no evidence that a private school provides a better education or safety from bullying and harassment.
Remarks before House Education Innovation Subcommittee
November 8, 2017
Dr. Sally Butzin, representing the League of Women Voters
Speaking against HB1, The Hope Scholarship Program
• Retired educator
• Taught in public, charter and private schools, and university level
• Founder and director of the Institute for School Innovation – technology & hands-on learning through Project CHILD
• In partnership, ISI founded and supported nearly a dozen charter schools
• Currently a Trustee with the International Alliance for Invitational Education, worldwide organization promoting inviting schools where children learn better and behave better
• Author, new book coming in January, “Creating Joyful Classrooms”
Kudos – being concerned about protecting children from bullying and harassment
LWV Main concerns
• Unintended consequences
• Lack of accountability
• Redirecting public funds to private schools, including religious schools
• Using public funds for marketing the scholarships to private schools
• What about the children being left behind? – eg. Jefferson County, 12 full time security guards
• Re-segregation – eg. Leon County Schools
• Bogus “bullying” claims to get transfers for athletes
o – bill requires only “an incident”
• School staff time to investigate claims
• Where is evidence to show Hope Scholarships are working to improve teaching and learning?
o – no comparative testing required for private schools, no comparative discipline data
• Does bullying stop when a child transfers?
o – no reports required unless 51% of students are Hope Scholarship students
Redirecting funds through expanded car tax credits – $34-$40M
• Less funds for counselors, teacher training on dealing with hard to reach children and bullying
o Ironically, bill requires districts to “establish procedures for referring victims and perpetrators to counseling.”
Marketing for one side and not the other
• Bill creates SFO’s (Scholarship Funding Organizations) @ 3% of contributions
• How much have they received, and what proportion used for marketing?
o Television ads and rallies in Tally
• All children deserve a high quality education in a safe and inviting school
• State must especially protect highly vulnerable children lacking “parent choice”, foster kids, abused kids, etc.
• Our established public community schools need increased support, not less
• Our traditional community schools serve a community purpose that others don’t,
o For example Hurricane shelters
• Hope Scholarships leave our community schools with less Hope.
Today’s Sun Sentinel ran an article outlining needed improvements in the FTC program that provides tuition scholarships to private schools. There are about a billion dollars of corporate tax credits that the State of Florida diverts to this program. According the Sun Sentinel, a legislative committee is holding a hearing. Here’s why:
- Some school operators continue to receive scholarship money even though they have filed for bankruptcy.
- Eight schools hired staff with criminal records, and some people with criminal records start schools.
- Some schools falsify fire and health inspection records.
- Teachers without college degrees are employed.
- Students with disabilities are promised services that do not exist.
- Schools receive funding for students who are not enrolled.
- School facilities can be so substandard that they may be unsafe and in strip malls with unsavory neighbors.
The point of school choice is to limit regulation. Parents are supposed to ‘vote with their feet’ if a school is not what it seems. Unfortunately, these parents are in a ‘buyers beware’ market. Are there responsible, well-run private schools? Of course there are. Do parents know which are which?
Are rules and regulations only for schools with elected school boards and other charter and private schools are free to mismanage with few or no consequences? Who benefits in this system…children do not seem to. Districts are called bureaucratic as if standards and fairness in how they are implemented are the enemy. At the same time, however, the legislature heaps on more controls for public schools while they give more money and autonomy to private schools they support with public money.
There is just something fundamentally wrong with this divided educational system. There is a need to free our schools from so much top down management by the state while holding districts responsible for running schools well. What we don’t need is a system of extremes…no regulation vs. too much. There is one member of the Constitutional Revision Commission who is thinking along these lines. Watch for tomorrow’s post on district-run charter systems. It is the start of a better conversation.
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