Senate Education Package Announced

The Senate Education Committee released this press report with its education priorities.

Family Empowerment Program. Vouchers to private schools paid through the public school per student program funds. These vouchers are capped at 15,000 students for this year. Families with incomes up to 260% of the poverty level will receive 95% of the district average cost. I do not know how this voucher plan is legal. Florida’s constitution prohibits vouchers.

Recruitment, Retention, and Recognition bonuses. The SAT/ACT scores are no longer required. Recruitment bonuses are for specific core academic areas of need. Retention bonuses are targeted and include a gain score component. Recognition bonuses are determined by the principal.

Remove Barriers to Teacher Certification This seems to reduce costs of retake exams.

Revise School Facility Plant Survey and Student Cost per Station Requirements to Allow More Flexibility. This is a much needed revision of how new schools are funded.

Enhance Support for Community Wrap-Around Services. These community schools would be given support for after school programs, extended day or year instruction, counseling and other services. There are some excellent community schools, and this bill supports their expansion. They are district managed.

Enhance Safety and Security.. This is the Guardian program which allows districts flexibility to move funds from school operations (mostly instruction) to capital outlay (mostly facilities and equipment) to meet state mandates for school hardening.

We do not have the House priorities yet.

REALLY BAD BILL: SB 1028

Don’t give our local money away!  Senator Hutson, (Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties) filed a bill that gives the State of Florida the right to determine how funds from local school referenda are distributed. This means that if, as was done in many counties in 2018, local voters taxed themselves to support their schools, the money could be given to charters or other agencies. If the governor gets his new voucher proposal passed to fund private school tuition, could our tax money go there too? Suppose voters in a district passed a referendum to raise their teacher salaries, as Miami Dade did, they would have to share with charter schools.

Charter school proliferation is a big reason that school district funding has gone down in the first place. Charters take money from public schools. There are 654 of them, and they keep opening and closing. It is a waste of money to have so many that are not needed. Other states cap the number of charters, not Florida.

The bill language says “local funding approved by voter referendum” can be apportioned by the state. The legislature is constantly eroding local government control. This one is outrageous.

Want to tell Governor DeSantis what you think about Common Core?

To tell the truth, the Common Core does not bother me much after grades K-2. What does bother me is the focus on testing and constant attention to rewards and punishment i.e school grades etc. I am a little suspicious that the revision of Common Core may be an opportunity to include controversial theories in classroom instruction and testing. There already are bills filed teach alternative science and religion.

So, here is the link to the survey the Governor has posted on the Common Core.

Public Schools Deserve Support

By Betty Castor
This article appeared in the Tampa Bay Times this morning. Betty is a former Florida Commissioner of Education who is very concerned about the privatization of public schools.

This is a crucial year for traditional public schools. If the past few years are any indication, there will likely be fierce competition for funds with those who favor privatization. However, there is no doubt that citizens support their public schools. In county after county, including all the counties in our Tampa Bay area, voters have approved public referenda to provide new, safe school facilities and/or operating funds. Eighteen such issues were passed statewide in the last year! Now that the public has spoken, it is time for the Governor and the Legislature to prove they’re listening.

Governor DeSantis’ initial public-school budget recommendations appeared positive. While last year’s increase ended up as a paltry 47 cents per student, the Governor is seeking a sorely needed addition of $50 per student. While many public school advocates were initially pleased, he has left many confused by his very recent recommendation for a new voucher program.

This so-called “equal opportunity scholarship” would divert public funds directly to students attending private schools. Not only is this a dramatic departure from current policy, but it is also unconstitutional. It raises the critical question of whether these funds would cut into our scarce resources for students currently enrolled in our traditional public schools.

Florida already ranks at the lower end of the fifty states in per capita spending by state governments and per capita spending of personal income. If we continue to siphon off funds directed to current students and school districts, we will fall further behind. Florida’s districts could surely use those proposed new funds to recruit and retain qualified teachers, purchase technology for classrooms, computers for students and provide modern equipment for workforce training.

The costs of our burdensome testing programs could and should be reduced. Although neither the Governor or his Commissioner of Education has yet signaled a change, no issue is more critical to students and families than the arbitrary and unfair high stakes testing that permeates all instruction. Testing has been used to sort students, retain many at grade level and prevent others from graduating. Florida is one of a small and declining number of states that continue to use a single test as the only measurement for high school graduation!
There are alternatives. Students should be evaluated using course grades, teacher evaluations and industry certification.

In the early grades, testing should be diagnostic, not used for widescale retention. Teachers, whose evaluations are based in part on student test scores are often forced to teach to the test at the expense of more meaningful curriculum. Our students don’t deserve these arbitrary barriers. Thankfully, some thoughtful legislators are exploring alternatives to this punitive and costly high-stakes testing.

Choice continues to be the watchword of proponents for more charter schools and vouchers. While their mantra is choice, they ignore the reality that there is plenty of choice in traditional public schools where students participate in magnet schools, honor societies and academic clubs. The vast majority of the 2.8 million students in Florida are enrolled in traditional public schools. They are taught by certified teachers in districts whose funds are audited and whose meetings are public.

Good charters also are those with local boards and transparency. However, too many utilize for-profit management companies with no real ties to the community and little accountability. According to Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee based research group, 373 charters have closed since 1998, an average of 20 a year. When they fail, it is a terrible loss of taxpayer dollars. Therefore, it is reassuring that the Governor would like to ban the “bad actors” among the charter providers.

The tax credit scholarship supporters have also convinced the legislature to permit the tax credit scholarship program to expand. Some of those schools perform well with quality staffs. Others do not. According to the Department of Education website, two thirds of the schools, enrolling 83% of students, are small and religiously-affiliated. There are presently no requirements for certified teachers. Yet proponents oppose even modest safeguards that would help to provide transparency to their business supporters and the public. The tax scholarship program as well as the Governor’s new scheme for expanded vouchers need a lot of scrutiny.

The students in traditional schools will need continuing support and the resources to help them become successful. Our leaders in Tallahassee should welcome information and incorporate the suggestions of those who represent the majority of students in Florida. The ultimate goal is an open, fair and productive system that helps our students to achieve their fullest potential. The voters have told us as much.

Heads Up on DeSantis School Budget

Governor DeSantis announced that the per student funding would increase about $224. Smoke and Mirrors! The increase is simply shifting the teacher bonus money from the lottery to the General Fund which allocates the money to schools. Thus, there really is not any new money,,,,just rearranged money. Some funds for school safety and mental health are included.  In our district, cuts from last year’s budget result in a smaller budget this year.

The Governor allocated $50 million for public school maintenance …all 4,000 of them.  The 654 charters are allocated $150 million.  Charters do not have to meet the same school facility standards as public schools.  They go and find building to lease or buy.  If they close, they can keep the buildings.  Nice of the state to give them the money to maintain these privately owned charter schools.

The legislative budgets are not out.  The likelihood of any help for public schools is nil.  The Governor’s call for vouchers paid from the public treasury has to come out of public education.  The scramble in the legislature for money will be interesting.  Let your legislators know what you think.

Governor Calls Grand Jury Investigation of All School Districts

The latest attack on public schools was launched by Governor DeSantis yesterday. DeSantis called for a grand jury investigation of possible fraud and failure to implement school safety measures mandated by the state. The Grand Jury will look for evidence of misuse of funds from facility bond issues related to school safety. In addition, he claims that there may be a failure to report all serious discipline incidents at schools. The Grand Jury will convene in Broward County where the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting occurred. Read the press report here.

The Guardian Bill, SB 7030 to arm teachers, is a high priority of school privatization supporters in the legislature. There is also a proposed constitutional amendment, HJR 229/SJR 274, to impose term limits on school board members. The amendment would go on the 2020 ballot for voter approval. The Grand Jury probe targets school boards, so including all school boards, not just Broward, is likely a strategic move.

DeSantis Announces New Voucher Program

Governor DeSantis plans to fund vouchers to private schools from the state treasury for about 14,000 students. Vouchers paid from public funds were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court, but DeSantis believes the new appointees to the Court will support vouchers. How vouchers can be legal when the constitution specifically says they are not is worrisome. Granted the MacKay and Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities have not been challenged in court. Is the Governor planning to redefine disabilities?  Will he fund personal learning accounts and claim the money goes to parents not private schools?  Getting around the law has become a habit.

Florida saves about $500 per student for those who enroll in private schools. It is a nice tuition support program for children already enrolled. It is a sham for children who attend private schools with unqualified teachers. The latest Brookings study, Are Low-Quality Private Schools on the Rise in Florida? underscores the issue. Private schools are becoming more racially and economically segregated, and their students have poor achievement gain.