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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.

Behind the Scenes on HB7069: Text Messages Revealed

If you are a legislature junky, this is an article for you. Politico got access to text messages by key legislators while they worked through the education bill HB 7069. Remember that the entire 300 page bill was not released until the last day of the session. The session was extended over the weekend, and we all wondered what was in store.

A few key people calculated that Governor Scott would veto the bill. Many thought the bill had provisions that were unconstitutional. Now five districts have filed a lawsuit and 14 more are planning similar strategies. In the Senate, Senator Simmons Educator Chair worked to get the bill revised. Senate President had his own agenda with SB 374 to promote higher education. Representative Corcoran was pushing for expansion of funding for charters and private schools. Senator Simmons was nearly replaced as the Senate Chair who is supposed to present the education bill. Add in the role of Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala who ‘got it wrong’ when he let the bill go ahead. Senator Galvano got ‘blindsided’ in the higher education preeminence discussion that would have meant millions of dollars to USF. House Speaker Corcoran held Negron’s higher bill hostage until he got the charter school money.

Even though most thought that the tension between Rep. Corcoran and Governor Scott would doom the badly flawed education bill, Governor Scott sided with Corcoran and signed the bill. Scott’s line item vetoes of other bills freed up money to fund the education funding he wanted, and Corcoran was able to keep the funding for charter schools and private schools. Strange bed fellows.

An uneasy feeling: It is happening here.

Will teacher certification standards tumble? Have you followed the story about SUNY’s (State University of New York) charter committee program to ‘certify’ teachers? It’s the anybody can teach approach.

With four hours of instruction by a qualified teacher holding a Master’s degree, a new teacher can become certified. You can check out the proposed New York regulations. Is it happening in Florida? Well….take a look.

Buried in HB 7069 is the teacher mentor program. For Florida district schools, teachers who hold temporary certificates and achieve a ‘highly effective’ rating do not have to sit the Professional Education Test (PET) or take additional course work.
Charter schools and charter management companies can certify their own teachers with ‘competency based programs’. They just have to have DOE approval for these programs.

The details and standards of these alternatives approaches to certification must be provided by the Florida DOE by December 31st, 2017. Districts and charters must submit their programs for approval by June, 2018.

The legislation clearly intended to improve retention of beginning teachers. Many begin teaching with temporary certificates, and about one third leave the profession without having completed the certification requirements. Four percent of district teachers leave each year, and ten percent of charter teachers leave.

Why is the charter school teacher attrition so high—low salaries, lack of retirement benefits and no teacher mentoring programs, according to a University of Florida study.

The legislature decided to fix the mentoring problem in HB 7069. See page 49. The impact of this provision could have ominous implications. The teacher shortage is real and is likely to become worse. The legislature is responding to a real problem by trying to find ways to certify teachers ‘on the job’. This has consequences that cannot be ignored.

Will small charters certify their own teachers? Will for-profit charter chains manipulate their own certification process to maintain teachers with questionable competence? Will districts maintain standards when faced with shortages? How will anyone know?

Everything is about saving money. How far down the road of lower standards will we have to go before the State recognizes that this piecemeal policy has disastrous consequences and does not address the problems we face? I remember a State Board of Education member telling me that “Teachers don’t teach for money; they teach because they love it.” Wishful thinking. Teachers have to eat too.

The Free and Reduced lunch income qualification for a family of four is 1.85 times the poverty level income or about $45,000. After twelve years, a Florida teacher average salary is $45,723. It just could be that it takes more than love to teach.

Downgrading certification standards will not contribute to the ‘love factor’, nor will it improve the quality of our schools. What are we willing to do about it? We need a continuing chorus that reaches the ears of those who do not listen carefully.

The PTA and HB 7069: The Poison Pill

After listing some of the ‘sweeteners’ in HB 7069 like recess and minor revisions to state assessment policies, the PTA got down to brass tacks. Here are their ‘poison pills’ in the bill for public schools:

  1. sharing local capital outlay with charter schools thus diminishing the ability of districts to maintain their facilities.
  2. a limit of 25 traditional public schools eligible for Schools of Hope wrap around funding.
  3. transfer of a portion of Title I funding away from schools with a high percentage of vulnerable students.
  4. a cap of the percentage of Title I funding that can be used for parental engagement.
  5. elimination of school improvement plans for schools grade A – C thus reducing the scope of School Advisory Committees and parental involvement in school governance.
  6. elimination of the DOE report comparing traditional public and charter schools as well as requiring charters to make this information public.
  7. excluding charters from the mandatory recess requirement.

How significant are these poison pills? Very. Most come at the expense of traditional schools which harms most schools for the benefit of a few. Then, the accountability that comes from collecting comparative data is taken away. Even though the Florida DOE report was not a valid comparison of charters and district run schools, it made the data available for meaningful comparisons by others. Studies that compare students based on their initial achievement levels and which control for retention and student dismissals provide insight into whether charters contribute to improved learning gains. Parents have the right to know!

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