SB 1028 filed by Senator Hutson will take money local voters approved for their public school facilities for privately owned charter schools. This is unfair for many reasons. Here are two. Charters are privately owned. If they close, which they often do, they keep the school buildings and can sell them for profit.

There is another reason to question this bill. Charter schools can build on the cheap, and do. They do not have to meet the state building codes that public schools must meet. The funding for charter schools, however, is based on student enrollment. Thus, charters get the same proportion of funding as do public schools, but they have lower standards for their schools.

Charters can locate in any building that can meet local fire codes. This is why they sometimes are in really poor facilities. Parents have to make it clear to the legislature that education on the cheap has gone too far. The charter school movement is turning into a real estate boondoggle.

Modern Day Good Guy

Here’s a story about Russell Edgar who prosecuted the Newpoint charter school case. He was quoted as saying: “Charter schools in Florida are a real problem.” In this interview by Duwayne Escobido, he delayed his retirement to prosecute this case because he wanted to educate officials, lawmakers, and prosecutors on how to build a case against charters that break the law.

Edgars has had several high profile cases…remember the Black Widow? Also think back to the first case against a doctor over opiods.

You may find this interview very interesting and reassuring that there are people who care very much about the public interest. Read the article here.

Making Sense of the Session to Come

Ideas are swirling around. It sounds a lot like guns for money. Diaz wants guns in schools. Districts want to fix holes in buildings. The governor wants bonuses for teachers. Many want an escape hatch from Jeb Bush’s A + Plan that supported Common Core. I wonder about that. It will not change the testing mania simply because the federal government requires annual testing. It will create more havoc to change once again. I did a count of all the curriculum changes in the last twenty years. It is unbelievable. How teachers are supposed to know what and how to teach and students are to know what is important from one year to the next is a mystery to me.

I did another check on the Bush A+ Plan with which our legislature is enamored. When competition among teachers and schools for bonuses don’t work to raise achievement, it is a problem for the legislature. Did you realize that now that the legislature knows that students are graduating from high school and need remediation in community colleges that the legislature changed the law? Remediation is no longer required. Simple fix that?

This year’s simple fix to Florida’s relatively low graduation rate is to reduce the number of credits required. Some students may be redirected to vocational/trade certification programs that require fewer credits. Actually, many of those certification programs are quite rigorous. So, it is worth considering alternatives if they are not dumbed down. Instead students need a lift up, but that does cost money.

The discussion comes down to the usual smoke and mirrors. The governor would move the bonuses into a different pot of money…the per student allocation schools have to operate. It would look like schools were getting more money. The House does not want even the appearance of a tax increase, so schools will not get the benefit of the increase in property values. But, those holes in the buildings leak. Something must be done.

From what I hear, it will be a tradeoff…guns for money with some whispers about a little religion thrown in by extending the personal learning accounts for private schools. Remember that about 83% of the children attending private schools on tax credit scholarships are going to small, poorly staffed religious schools.
Those schools are getting more economically and racially segregated. Children do not learn well in those settings, and hiding that fact in private schools is unfair to children and their families.

What a world!

Exciting News From New Mexico

Florida’s Citizens for Strong Schools case was a school funding case that the Florida Supreme Court decided was not ‘justiciable’.  In the majority opinion, the school policy was the purview of the legislature.  The New Mexico education funding case had a different outcome.  Their schools will get some relief.  See the article below from Meredith Machen.

Exciting news from New Mexico about the landmark education ruling that will be of great interest and helpful to other states with similar claims related to education funding.

At the link below is annotated version of the “insufficiency” case, which is resulting in New Mexico’s spending an additional $450-600 million each year on education and overhauling our system to address the needs of at-risk students (in the broadest sense of the word and defined here). Public education is already 43% of the our budget, so this ruling will increase funding to 46% or more. It is quite exciting to have witnessed and be witnessing this amazing turn of events in education. Here is Robert Nott’s summary of the key articles on the Yazzie v. Martinez* decision. I suggest you start reading at p. 533 of the 608 page doc because it refers to federal and state rulings that set precedents.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, our new governor, will not challenge Judge Singleton’s ruling against our previous governor along with Hanna Skandera, our previous PED secretary. The case would have gone to the NM Supreme Court. Instead New Mexico is on a new, long-overdue, desperately needed trajectory, which I recommend you watch.

Assault on Separation of Church and State

An organized group of ultra conservative legislators have filed a bill to teach religion in schools. The group called ‘Florida Citizens Alliance’ does not like climate change either. FCA is a group Erika Donalds and her husband, who is in the legislature, have formed with support from others like former Senator Joe Negron’s wife Rebecca and Richard Corcoran’s wife Anne. The group is the same coalition of politicians and wealthy donors who unsuccessfully pushed Amendment 8 to create a separate charter ‘independent’ school system. Last year they got a bill passed to enable citizens to review textbooks for content they oppose.

Bill 330 by Senator Baxley from Ocala requires the Florida Curriculum Standards be revised to be minimum standards. Additional standards could be added to them. This revision is to add controversial science and economic theories to the curriculum. A similar bill was filed last year but did not pass.

What is really at stake is Florida’s Blaine Amendment in the constitution. It specifically addresses the issue of teaching a religion, not just teaching about religion. This becomes a blurry line in practice. Senator Baxley’s bill would require that schools teach about controversial topics. It is one of those tactics to infiltrate policy that keeps such topics separate from school curricula.

For a legal analysis of the Blaine amendment, see the explanation in the Stetson Law Review. I would expect the legislature to consider an amendment to the Florida constitution to overturn the Blaine amendment. Keep watching.

Governor Scott, No DeSantis, abolishes Common Core WHAT?

I just thought you might get a smile from this newspaper article I love the headline: Governor Scott: ‘Common Core Out in Florida’ Back in 2014, Governor Scott signed HB 7031 which banned all mention of Common Core in Florida law. Now, Governor DeSantis is banning it again?

Granted most of those original Common Core standards were just renamed back in 2014. There were some changes in primary grades and math. So, did Governor DeSantis ban the FSA testing this spring? Those tests are based on the FSA (read Common Core) standards. The federal government says we have to test. Bit of a pickle this! Must we endure this constant political interference in educating our children?

New Bill to Ban For-Profit Charter Management Firms

Newly elected Senator Janet Cruz from Hillsborough has made a statement. She has filed SB 584 to ban for-profit charter school management firms in Florida. California recently passed a similar bill.

SB 584 prohibits for-profit charter management companies from:

  1. Nomination, appointment, or approval of charter board members
  2. Employment, dismissal, or approval of employees
  3. Management of day-to-day operations in the capacity of an administrative manager
  4. Approval, denial, management of the budget
  5. Services provided before any board approval is given
  6. Provision of funding or financing
  7. Development of the school curriculum
  8. Lease, sale or purchase of real estate

What this bill does is to give the responsibility of charter school management to their school boards. Currently, most of these for-profit firms have shadow boards appointed by the for-profit companies like CSUSA and Academica. Their for-profit status allows them to operate out of the public view. The revenue the school spends is public, but the difference between the amount of money generated and the amount spent by the for-profit company is not.

This bill is a welcome addition to the call for transparency in the operation of charter schools.

Too Good to Pass Up

As many of you know, I am immersed in writing a report on Florida’s A + Plan for school reform. Today, I found a great quote about Florida that I had to share. It could not have come at a better time. I have just started the section on Florida’s cronyism and weak ethics laws. Here’s the quote:

Florida suits him because “it was a sunny place for shady people”. (Roger Stone, recently indicted by the Mueller investigation as reported in the New York Times article: Stone Cold Loser.) January 27, 2019

Sometimes sad things are down right funny! Life is full of contradictions. Enough philosophy, I am back to work.

Catch up on Florida Tax Credit Vouchers

Much of what has been happening with these tax credit vouchers has been under the radar. I took a peek, and here is what has happened lately. The cost keeps going up, but are corporations getting fed up?

Changes in the FTC program funding are reflected in the automatic increase in the cap for corporate donations, the expansion in eligible funding sources, changes in family income eligibility guidelines, and the increase in percentage of the per student allocations for public schools allowed for private school scholarships.

Most years, excluding 2016-17, the Florida Tax Credit scholarship program saw a 10,000 student increase in participation. In 2016, the enrollment doubled from the previous year due to legislative changes in eligibility. In 2018-19, however, enrollment dropped by 10,000 due to a decline in corporate donations.

• In 2016-17, the income qualifications based on a family of four were raised to 185% -260% of poverty level or from about $44,123 to approximately $62,000 per year. The proportional amount of the full scholarships are reduced for middle income families.

• FTC scholarships are funded from corporate tax rebates up to a designated funding cap. The program funding sources were expanded to include credits against insurance premium tax for contributions to eligible non-profit SFOs, severance taxes on oil and gas production, sales tax liabilities of direct pay permit holders, and alcoholic beverages taxes.

• There is a 25% automatic increase in the cap as long as enrollment exceeds 90% of the cap.

• The amount of the scholarship was originally set at 72% of the FEFP per student funding for public schools, but an automatic increase was provided up to 82% of FEFP in 2016-17. In 2017, the FEFP percentage was again increased from 82%, depending upon grade level, to 88-96%. The maximum award in 2017-18 was $5,886. Step Up has reported a 10,000 student decrease in 2018-19 FTC enrollment due to a decline in corporate donations.

• In 2017-18, Step Up distributed $689 million of the dollars to 108,000 students in over 1700 private, mostly religious schools. These donations were about 10% below the allowable cap. This year, corporate pledges are $687 million. The largest corporate donors to the FTC scholarships are the beverage industry and United Health Care.

• Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion. Given the projected decrease in corporate funding, the legislature turned to donations from sales taxes for new cars to expand the FTC program. These are called Hope Scholarships and were implemented in 2018-19. The maximum scholarship award for a student ranges from $6519 to $7111 for those whose family income is no more than double the federal poverty level. There were 66 participating students in fall of 2018.


Florida Tax Credit Scholarship enrollment drops

Click to access 14-fsba-issue-brief-on-ftc.pdf

Florida – Hope Scholarship Program