It’s that time in the legislative session. The proposed budgets are out. The bargaining begins. The Florida House wants money for charter schools. The Senate wants money for public schools.
Many legislators want money to expand tuition payments to private, mostly religious schools. HB 15 adds children of military families to the tax credit voucher program. The per student increases from 80 to 88% of the FEFP public school amount for elementary students. Middle school funding increases to 92% and high school to 96% of FEFP. The pretense that the Florida tax credit scholarship program saves money is gone. Corporate taxes that could help Floridians go to private schools that have little accountability and uncertified teachers.
Charter school bills feature getting a share of local property taxes for facilities, taking over struggling public schools, and creating a separate charter school system. In addition, they allow uncertified teachers in charters and require public school facilities be given to charters. There is more.
Miami-Dade Superintendant Carvalho estimated that sharing local capital outlay money with charters would cost the district $83 million. In the Miami Herald, Carvalho was quoted: “Now the school boards would basically increase taxes to subsidize what is, more or less, privately owned real estate.”
SB 964: Montford, Garcia and Lee, has teeth. This bill would have a significant impact by reducing the number of state required tests as well as reducing the negative impact on instruction because it:
- allows SAT/ACT for 10th grade language arts and deletes the FSA 9th grade language arts, civics, algebra II, geometry and U.S. history exams. The FSA for grades three to eight remain along with Algebra I and biology.
- allows paper and pencil administration of online tests.
- eliminates the Florida DOE supervision of teacher evaluations and rules that tie evaluations to student test score results.
Two other bills would only move testing to the end of the school year instead of beginning state wide testing in February.
- HB 773 Cortes, Donalds, Eagle, Fischer, and Gruthers. The language of this bill is very similar to the language of the SB926 thus is a companion bill.
- SB926 Flores and Bradley moves testing to the end of the year but allows students expected to be proficient based on proficiency measures to take the state assessment once per quarter during the year. It authorizes a comparison of SAT and ACT content with the FSA English Language Arts and Mathematics tests at the high school level.
While moving the exam period to the end of the year has some advantages, it does little to reduce the amount of testing or the time required to conduct testing. Given that requirements to base a large percentage of teacher evaluations on student test results, the focus on drill and practice and test prep rather than on more effective, long range student learning remains.
A rational voice has filed a charter school bill. SB 0538 Clemons.
Charter School applicants must demonstrate that they meet certain needs that the school district does not, or is unable to, meet and share results of innovative methods with the district.
This is the number one recommendation in the League’s study of charters. The premise that competition between districts and charters would improve public education has proven to be not only wrong, it is destructive. The bill responds to the fiscal irresponsibility of unfettered expansion of charters. This is one of our themes: School choice means all schools are under funded. Too many schools competing for the same students dilutes funding required to meet even basic student needs. Everyone loses.
David Simmons has an idea that may take wings. To ease the facility backlog for renovations and maintenance, Simmons proposes SB 604 to increase the 1.5 mills that districts can assess from l.5 to 1.7 mills. This is still less than it used to be, but it would help generate income to remodel outdated science labs or replace dying air conditioning units. There is a catch. In a companion bill, SB 376, Simmons would allocate some of this money to charter schools. Districts do not have to share this funding now.
It’s National School Choice Week, and Florida House leaders say this is their year to get rid of restrictions to the expansion of Florida Tax Credit Scholarships and charter schools. House Education committee chair Michael Bileca, R.Miami and House PreK-12 Education Appropriations Chair Manny Diaz R. Hialeah are leading the charge. They may be aided by Richard Corcoran, Speaker of the House, R. Pasco. Corcoran’s wife started Classical Preparatory School. It is not a Title I school; it has only 30% minority and FRL children. The percentage of minority children (30%) is similar to the district percentage. The difference is that Classical Prep charter has 31% who qualify for FRL while the district percentage was 56.3. So, this charter is selecting children primarily from higher income families. It is not clear what need this charter fills.
Yesterday’s the Senate K12 budget committee aired proposals to reduce testing. Politico reports the following:
Eliminating required end of course exams in English, U.S. history, civics, algebra and geometry.
Allowing the use of paper and pencil as well as computer based examinations.
Substituting nationally normed tests for state assessments.
Exempting high performing students from state assessments.
Moving test administration to the last three weeks of the school year.
According to the Tallahassee News Service of Florida, Governor Scott will support $43 million dollars in 2017 teacher bonuses. Details of the plan are not yet available, but the Governor said that the plan will target new teachers who show great potential and veteran teachers who show the highest student academic growth among their peers. The current method of qualifying based on test scores will change.
Can you imagine that the Florida House and Senate would support the repeal of the Fair Districting amendments, making the redistricting process secret, as well as rescinding constitutional bans on state support for private, religious schools? The Miami Herald reports that these are the major goals of the legislative leaders. Florida’s constitution would have to be changed, and the process is now in place. We need to know about this; it is real.