Run for Cover or Stand Up for Public Education?

The direction of the Florida Senate is clear….vouchers will expand if Senator Manny Diaz Jr. has his way. His bill SB48 is, however, not just about vouchers. Yes, he would consolidate the scholarships for children with disabilities into the McKay-Gardner scholarship. Then, he would consolidate the Hope, Florida Tax Credit, and Family Empowerment Scholarship into one program. Step Up for Children, which administers the voucher programs, will only have to account for the money every three years instead of every year.

It may sound like just a bureaucratic maneuver, but the devil is in the details. Educational Savings Accounts, previously restricted to students with severe disabilities, are now to cover other students. These accounts give parents tax credits to use for services like private school tuition, tutoring, after school programs, micro schools etc. I listened to a Step Up for Students podcast where the opportunities for many new small business were being extolled. There is mention of programs for three and four-year-old children as well, and I am not certain if the qualifications for programs have been relaxed. Maybe one of you can help me out there.

How well this expanded voucher program will be funded is yet to be determined. The bill raises the cap for corporate tax credits from 50% of taxes owed to 100% for those businesses that contribute. The amount of those donations has been declining, so one might assume that the General Fund will be tapped even more. The General Fund provides money to public schools which of course means there will be less money available.

The vision of mini schools and a cafeteria of services which parents must navigate in this new vision of education is daunting. I see car pools galore, micro schools ‘not open today’, fees added on to voucher payments to make programs ‘better’ or to make them unavailable for the less well-to-do. I see parents realizing too late that the quality of a program is not what is advertised. It makes me remember a saying from my childhood: “Watch out what you wish for!”

It is curious that the Florida Constitution prohibits public funding for private schools. The Florida Supreme Court upheld this prohibition in 1996. The Florida public rejected vouchers at the ballot. But, here they are again. Let your legislators know what you think!

Slippery Slope or Steady Course for a Better Future?

President-elect Biden has kept his promise to hire an educator. He found a good one in Miguel Cordona. Cordona was Connecticut’s Principal of the Year in 2012. His career path has been meteoric. He went from being an assistant superintendent of a small school district to state superintendent within two years. Cordona has not entered the wars over the privatization of public schools. He is, however, a strong public school supporter. He has opposed tying teacher evaluations to test scores. He fits Biden’s image as one who governs from the middle. Where will this lead?

All we know now is that federal K12 education funding goes primarily to the Title I program to support underserved students. Biden has stated that this funding will increase substantially. How states must account for these funds has yet to be determined. This matters. Education policy has been driven by a focus on test scores. Turning children into numbers has not improved learning. It has prompted many educators to leave the classroom. It has also fueled ineffective charter and school voucher programs that divide people and resources.

Education has been asked to solve the problems of poverty and inequity. There are no easy answers, but how this issue is approached is the test for Biden’s administration. Will accountability for federal dollars prompt state leaders to think about where and how children learn best? Or, will it keep children glued to computer screens that the pandemic has shown to be problematic?

Who will replace Betsy DeVos?

President-elect Biden has narrowed his choices for Secretary of Education. There are two finalists. Both are strong advocates for public education. One, Leslie Fenwick, has publically focused on the need to keep public schools public. You can help influence this choice. Read about the former dean of Howard University Leslie Fenwick. The other choice is Miguel Cordona, the Connecticut Secretary of Education. Take action:

Big Debate on Racial Disparity in Gainesville

 I wrote this post for this blog in June of 2016.  When I took the data to the district staff, they confirmed that the gap was not limited to specific schools or grade levels.  It was a district-wide problem.  We did not have an explanation, but the income-gap may have been an indicator. Gainesville had the fifth highest income gap in the nation.

In 2018, the U.F. Bureau of Economic and Business Research published a study of racial inequity in Alachua County.  They reported that Alachua County African Americans fared worse than in other areas of the state and nation.  Specifically, they have lower economic well being, educational performance and attainment, and more involvement in the justice system.  These factors are correlated.  Children from low-income families struggle.

In 2016, many explained the achievement gap in Alachua County by pointing to the fact that Gainesville is a college town.  Its people value education.  The district has national awards in math, AP, and culinary arts among other areas.  How could there be a problem?  Yet, there are the same achievement gap problems in Alachua County schools as there are across the nation.  Some say that the problems are worse, and implicit racism in schools is the culprit.  There may be other explanations.

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Who IS Carlee Simon: Alachua County Acting Superintendent?

The new majority on the Alachua County School Board acted quickly to change the Superintendent. Dr. Carlee Simon was named Interim Superintendent today. Karen Clarke has been replaced. Clarke has been called an excellent manager but not a visionary. The School Board will launch a search for a new Superintendent. Some speculate that they will search for someone they already know i.e. Carlee Simon.

Simon has been involved with the community activists associated with GNV4All’s education committee. The committee is chaired by Nathan Crabbe, the Opinion Editor of the Gainesville Sun. According to the Gainesville Sun, the signature project for GNV4All is to create a community health and social service center to be located at Metcalfe Elementary School in east Gainesville. The Center will provide prenatal care along with educational and wrap around services for families with children up to age four. The estimated cost is $350,000 a year.

Funding for the Metcalfe pre-school must come from the community and would need an organizational home. GNV4All has just filed as a nonprofit organization which could receive funds. One might suppose that it would submit a proposal to the Alachua County Children’s Trust for funds from the local tax initiative passed in 2018. Tina Certain, a member of the School Board who participates in GNV4All is also a member of the board of the Children’s Trust.

Carlee Simon faces a big challenge. She has background knowledge in educational policy but limited administrative experience. She was a classroom teacher for five years and earned a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2010. She was Assistant Professor for eight years at the University of Cincinnati. She returned to Gainesville and is currently enrolled in a graduate program in Urban Planning. Simon is more than a student. She teaches a course as an Adjunct at the University of North Florida and manages her own real estate business.

Running the Alachua County Schools is a complex, challenging job. Simon will have a steep learning curve. Her priorities are clear. She has a vision for equity. Her skills at implementing that vision, however, will be tested. The school system budget is over $537,000,000 but shortfalls in funding are expected due to the pandemic. This is a time of conflicting educational and vocational program needs. We have major school construction projects and difficult school rezoning issues. Some schools are under enrolled and others over enrolled.

Simon will be walking a tight rope as she attempts to build a consensus on how to address the problems. If she falls, Alachua County will need yet another superintendent in June. The School Board will lose face, and GNV4All’s equity goals may be thwarted. We have to be hopeful and vigilant.

There is Hope for a more rational charter school policy!

President-elect Biden’s national policy director released a position on charter schools. Biden would ban for-profit schools and level the playing field on transparency and accountability for charters operated by non-profit management firms. There is even more. Read on:

“As President, Biden will ban for-profit charter schools from receiving federal funding because he just fundamentally believes that if they aren’t doing right by their students, no one should be getting rich by taking advantage of our kids. He will also, for nonprofit charters, Biden will make sure that we stop funding for charter schools that don’t provide results. Biden believes we shouldn’t be wasting the scarce resources that our public schools need so badly. And we’ll require every charter school, including online schools, to be authorized and held accountable by democratically-elected bodies like school boards and also hold to the same standards of transparency and accountability as all public schools. That means things like regular public board meetings and meeting all the same civil rights, employment, health, labor, safety and educator requirements that public schools must. That’s the fundamental premise of the vice president’s belief that every child, regardless of zip code or parent’s income, race or disability, should have equal access to a high-quality public neighborhood education in their school.”

[Asked to define what “results” charters would need to demonstrate, Feldman said “that would be an important priority for a Biden/Harris Department of Education at the beginning of an administration to figure out some rules to set standards that would measure that.”]

“Vice President Biden doesn’t think that we need to do away with all charter schools. He absolutely wants to support our traditional public schools. But … he feels that the way in which he has designed his policy will allow for charter schools that are delivering results to continue, while also making sure that our funding is focused on our traditional neighborhood public schools.”

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Proposed Education Budgets May Force Cost Cutting Again

Once again what looks like more money is not. The House and Senate 2020-21 budgets provide Alachua County with $50 or $40 more per student. The mandated increased cost for the Florida Retirement System is $80 more per student (in Alachua County). The districts must also pay for new students and the Teacher Salary Supplement. The district must cut its budget for 2020-21. The total reduction for Alachua County in the House bill is $3,487,197 and the Senate total is $2,564,352

The House (HB 5001) and Senate (SB 2500) budgets differ in priorities. The House budget includes more funding for teacher salary supplements but less than the Senate’s allocation for turnaround schools, students with disabilities, digital technology, and support for poorer districts. Both chambers include the mandate for districts to fund increased costs for the Florida Retirement System (FRS). The two bills must be reconciled in a joint conference.

The FRS increased cost is due to an auditor’s analysis that the FRS estimated rate of return on its investments should be lowered. While the current income on investments exceeds expectations, it has not completely recovered from the 2007 recession, see kic restoration. The FRS includes 643,00 state, local, and school district employees. Their contributions support pensions for 416,000 retirees. Teachers and other district employees are nearly one-half of all participants.

Mixed Blessings: Corporate Training Programs

Most of us are looking for answers about how best to help children learn.  The latest approach is to focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE).  Not all students are college-bound.  Few middle schoolers, however, are ready to plan the rest of their lives. Knowing that, many corporations decide to run campaigns with firms such as The Marketing Heaven to bring middle schoolers closer to the programs they offer in order to pursue a satisfying career. Some of these CTE options expect exactly that.

Big corporations like Amazon, CISCO, and Ford are implementing CTE programs in schools.  In this article, Jeff Bryant explains why.  He also interviews parents who initially were excited and then concerned about the control over the K12 curriculum that these companies exercised.  Were students being trained for specific jobs in particular companies that may or may not exist when they graduate?  

In this thoughtful article, you can follow the logic and the money involved.  It is worth the time to read it carefully.  Florida has already implemented changes to high school graduation requirements for CTE programs. Beginning in middle school, students can point toward a job right out of high school,
see temecula facial oral surgery.  In some cases, those students may graduate from high school with at least a community college degree.  In others, credits for graduation are reduced from 24 credits to 18 if they enroll in a CTE program.  

Public/private partnerships may have some real advantages.  The bottom line, so to speak, is always the issue need AC installation in riverside.  Whose interest is being served, and what is the impact of corporate controlled education on communities?  What happens to the students who complete a specific training program and find that there are fewer jobs than there are students who have trained for those jobs?