Citizens for Strong Schools Hearing Set

On November 8,2018 the Florida Supreme Court will be asked to decide whether Florida is meeting its “paramount duty” to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.” The constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters in 1998 assigned this responsibility to the state. Has Florida met its obligation to the children of Florida?

Two lower courts have ruled in Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education that the question is not one for the courts to decide, and that it is instead up to the Florida Legislature. The plaintiffs disagree.

“At the heart of this case is really whether the Florida Constitution has any meaning at all in the eyes of our courts,” said Jodi Siegel, the executive director of Southern Legal Counsel, a Gainesville-based, statewide nonprofit law firm representing the parents and advocacy groups that filed original case and have appealed it to the state’s highest court.

“The lower courts have basically said that only two of the three branches of our government have any responsibility for enforcing an amendment that clearly expresses the will of the people when it comes to one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government – educating the state’s children,” Siegel said. “We believe the Florida Supreme Court will recognize that the courts not only have that authority, but in fact that it is their sworn duty to uphold the Florida Constitution – and not just select parts of it, but all of it.”

Southern Legal Counsel filed the case in 2009, and it has been working its way through the courts until now. If successful, the parents and advocacy groups are requesting that the Court remand the case back to the trial court with instructions on how to interpret and apply the education clause. They contend that, when viewed under the proper legal standards, the evidence presented at trial shows clear disparities in the opportunity provided to children to receive a high quality education. For example, the evidence presented showed that more than 40 percent of Florida students are not passing statewide assessments in reading and math.

The Florida League of Women Voters strongly supports the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

Did You Watch the News Hour Tonight?

PBS interviewed some young people in Chicago about the high rate of shootings this past weekend. When asked why the high rate of violence, a black professor from Northeastern University and a young woman who works in the neighborhood replied. The area was turned into charter schools. Students were expected to leave the neighborhood to find schools across the city. They rebelled. As a result, high school students dropped out of school. They were unemployed and turned to gangs. This is the deteriorating neighborhood consequence of charter school expansion that we have heard many times before. Englewood neighborhood was down to only one public school. It’s the first time I have heard it unrehearsed directly from someone who lives it. You can watch it here Check the tape at 38 minutes into the broadcast.

League Files Court Action to Block Amendment 8

The League of Women Voters and two League members have filed a lawsuit claiming that the constitutional provision to remove local school board responsibility for reviewing and authorizing charter schools is designed to mislead voters. Amendment 8 proposes to limit local school board authority to operate, control and supervise only for schools it establishes. The State of Florida would be able to establish separate public schools controlled at the state level.

The lawsuit spells out the process used by the Constitutional Revision Commission to
draft the amendment. It is worth the read.

Amendment 8 takes the public out of public schools.

More Noise About Civics

Erika Donalds, the Constitutional Revision Commission member behind Amendment 8 has fired another salvo to support her political agenda. Donalds is the founder of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members. This is the group that pulled out of the Florida School Board Association to form its own pro choice group. Her group has charged that some districts are gaming the Civics test requirement to improve school grades. Pam Stewart, Commissioner of Education, states that the districts are doing nothing wrong by giving students the option to sit the Civics test in either seventh or eighth grade.

The political motive behind this complaint is underscored by statements from a group of conservative Florida legislators: Baxley, Fischer, Bileca, Rommel and Sullivan.

Amendment 8 is about the promotion of the views of a particular group of people, not the best interests of students. Amendment 8: Don’t Take the Bait. This is a stealth attack by members of a clearly defined group.

Florida Gets an ‘F’ on Support for Public Education

Public education is about the value and necessity of providing equal access to high quality education. As public funds get diverted to private schools and entrepreneurs, the public school system gets more and more fractured. There is less money as cost inefficiencies mount. More communities are fractured by race, income, and academic programs. In areas where privatization is dominant, parents must search for a school to accept their children. If transportation is a problem, as it often is, they may not have good choices because available schools may be segregated racially, economically and/or by achievement levels. They may not even have a way to evaluate the quality of the available options.

By design, no one really knows much about where the money is spent and what is happening in privately operated schools. Parents who question are invited to withdraw their children. Children who do not ‘fit in’ are invited to leave. There are people in leadership positions for whom children can be ploys in policies to implement a political and/or religious agenda. Proponents celebrate their successes without regard for the children they exclude, dismiss or serve poorly. Parents learn this the hard way.

Most private schools are openly religious. Many charters are covertly supporting particular religious orientations e.g. those housed in religious facilities or that espouse a particular set of ‘Christian or other values’.

Many charters and private schools do not support children with special needs or who are learning English as a second language.

The Schott Foundation and the Network for Public Education analyzed data to assess support for public education in each state. Overall, Florida received an ‘F’. You can see state-by-state results here.
The criteria include:
1. Types and extent of school privatization
2. Civil rights protection of students in private school voucher and charter programs
3. Accountability, regulations and oversight
4. Transparency of voucher and charter programs
5. Other charter school accountability issues

Florida’s low grade is due several factors:
1. It has the most school privatization of all states.
2. Students receiving vouchers and tax-credit scholarships are not required to participate in the state testing or teacher certification programs. Private schools are not required to be accredited. Thus, most are small religious schools of unknown quality. Private schools are also exempt from federal civil rights protection. Children can be denied admission or expelled for any reason.

What would improve accountability?
1. Comparable pubic and private school student achievement measures.
2. Transparency in how money is spent for charter and voucher ESE students by individual schools.
3. Comparable attrition and discipline measures for public, charter and private schools.
4. Public accountability of spending by charter management firms.
5. Stronger provisions to avoid conflict of interest between charter board members and management companies.
6. Return school facilities to the public if charters close.

CRC Amendment 8

Erika Donalds, the founder of the alternative school board association has formed a political action committee to support her conservative religious reform agenda in education. She calls it ‘8 is Great’. Indian River School Board member Shawn Frost and Duval School Board member Scott Shine have joined the PAC according to the Tampa Bay Times.

There is a story behind this group. You can read it here. Donalds is a public advocate for

Amendment 8 combines proposals for school board term limits with a requirement for civics literacy and independent schools. Term limits and independent schools are Donald’s proposals. Commissioner Pam Stewart has reservations about both. Removing local school board control over the establishment of charter schools goes too far, she said. Patricia Levesque, CEO of Jeb Bush’s education foundation supports the proposal.

Former Senate President Don Gaetz proposed civics literacy even though civics is already required for Florida students. His rationale was that future legislators might want to remove civics education from the curriculum.

There seems to be no good reason for any of these proposals. They are clearly the agenda of a narrow group of people seeking to destroy public education in favor of private and religious schools along with profit seeking charters. Maybe the motto should be? 8 NOT great!

Governor Graham on CRC Education Amendment

For years, former Governor Graham was a strong advocate for civics education. He does not support the Constitutional Revision Commission’s proposal to lump together civics, school board term limits and charters not approved by school boards in a proposal for voter approval in November.

Graham makes the case that not only is the amendment a hodge podge, it is not even good for civics education. Florida already requires students to learn a whole host of information about our governments’ policies and practices. Read Governor Graham’s comment in the Sun Sentinel and the Herald Tribune that he will not support this amendment.

I received an email message today from Chris Hand, Governor Graham’s long term associate. He does not support the education amendment either.

Advocates for this amendment claim it has a common theme. There may well be one….from groups like the Florida version of conservative Freedom Caucus. Senator Baxley from Marion County had a civics bill in the last legislative session that died.

The Koch brothers have invested millions of dollars in free social studies curriculum that has been distributed widely. This is revisionist history at best. Read about it here.

The original drafters of this amendment e.g. Erika Donalds and Gaetz, when it was divided into separate proposals, represent the conservative caucus in Florida.

Recognize this amendment for what it is…a political statement that does not belong in the Florida constitution.

Leon County: Latest Charter Battleground

Some things are just inane. Leon County schools are over enrolled, but the State will not approve a new school. It is all about how space is now counted by the legislature. Should a gym count as a classroom??

What is so disgusting is that the State would allow two new charter schools in the area that the Leon County schools do not want. The reason is clear. Charters syphon off funding and hurt existing schools. Read Roseanne Wood’s op ed here. It is time to stop this. There is not enough money to support private, charter, and public schools. Our constitution says “a unified system of free public schools’. This is anything but unified and for many, not even free.

Not everything in education is partisan

Where is the common ground? In this NY Times article, education policies turn out the vote on the right and the left. There is agreement that a good education matters according to a survey by Priorities USA. The much publicized skepticism about America’s educational system applies to other people, not to personal experience. The author, David Leonhardt, says this is the “time for big, ambitious ideas”. This translates into universal preschool to address both racial and access inequalities and free community college for which there is bi-partisan support.

Leonhardt’s article ends with “Sometimes good policy and good politics align quite nicely. The single best bet that a society or an individual can make–education–also turns out to be the rare idea that transcends today’s partisan divide”.

Hillsborough Charter Expose

For years, the Hillsborough League has studied the inner workings of charters in their county. Here is an opportunity to hear first hand of their findings. Pat Hall has chaired the education committee for years and is relentless in her research and documentation of how for-profit charters work…for themselves. Listen to the podcast by Teacher Voice.