Remember when the first Classical Charter school in Florida was founded in Collier County? Now there are several, but their reach is expanding nationwide. Their founder, Erika Donalds, was recently extolled by Donald Trump at a Moms for Liberty rally. Mother Jones magazine, founded in 1976, has put the spotlight on Donalds. You can learn about her history, issues, and associations here. Donalds is likely to be a major spokesperson for abolishing the Florida constitutional provision requiring the separation of church and state in the public funding of religious charter schools. The attacks on public education have been relentless. Do we really want our schools to be dominated by particular ideologies? Shouldn’t public schools welcome children of all faiths and ethnicities? Should public tax dollars fund private, religious schools?
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!
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.
This book is timely. It is personal. It describes real events led by passionate people who have made a difference. It gives hope.
Who is David and who is Goliath in the battle over public schools? The ‘Disrupters’, as Diane Ravitch calls them, are the corporate giants behind the move to destroy public schools. Ravitch devotes an entire chapter to those who seek to dismantle public schools and profit from public tax dollars. David is the ‘Resistance’, or the millions of parents, teachers, and students whose interest public education serves. They are the ultimate winners in this war for the heart of our democracy. It is a classic David vs. Goliath tale.
Ravitch asserts that David is triumphing once again. She backs up her assertions by dismantling claims that testing, rewards and punishments, and school choice will result in better educational opportunities for children. She underscores her points with examples of the failure of the Disrupters in Chicago, New Orleans, New York and Washington D.C. among others. She cites evidence to underscores how Disrupters shift course as each of their assertions fails. No meaningful achievement gains have been realized. Teachers have voted with their feet as teaching vacancies mount nationally. The greed and corruption of the movement to privatize schools can no longer be hidden. Communities and even states have put on the brakes. Choice has stagnated as charters close as often as they open, and parents remove children from ineffective private schools.
Ravitch credits the many volunteers who advocate for public schools and galvanize unease into action. Parents now understand that ranking students and schools on test scores creates few winners and a plethora of losers. They recognize that students who do not ‘fit In’ are excluded. They are uncomfortable about the lack of equity among increasingly segregated charter and private schools. They are angry about how money is siphoned off as public schools struggle to repair roofs and air conditioners.sikisxxx arap pornoZ
Perhaps the strongest message from Slaying Goliath is the power of ideas. In this arena, the corporate giants become small people with limited goals. The greatest strength of The Resistance, says Ravitch, is citizens who are motivated by “a passion for children, a passion for education, a commitment to their community, a dedication to democracy, and a belief in the value of public schools”.
This is no time for complacency. The power of the purse is undisputed. No doubt major propaganda campaigns will be launched by the Corporate Disruptors to regain their edge. It reminds me of the Franklin D. Roosevelt quote: …the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Slaying Goliath documents the assumptions and strategies of fear mongers. It provides hope that the nation is turning its attention to resolving inequities and restoring the joy of learning.
The word is getting out there. Read today’s editorial on how the federal government has wasted over a billion dollars on charters that never opened or soon closed…1,000 charters representing false promises to children and their families. We need the public school system we can rely on. Read the editorial here.
The Network for Public Education’s (NPE) two reports…Asleep at the Wheel…claimed that over a billion dollars in federal funds were lost due to charters that never opened or quickly closed. The charter industry was enraged, scoffed, and claimed that the reports were inaccurate. NPE’s Carol Burris replied in this story published by the Washington Post. Carol underestimated the amount lost! It seems that DeVos reported to Congress that two billion dollars were actually lost.
Time periods in the compared reports varied somewhat, but the problem is actually worse than NPE’s report indicated. Carol explains the differences. What cannot be explained is where the money went. Both the Congress and the U.S. Department of Education were Asleep at the Wheel.
Remember when the three Jefferson County schools were closed and taken over by Academica, the largest for-profit charter management company in the state? The story makes your hair curl. Here is a report by WLRN news that details where the money came from and where it went. Find out how Academica works and how the students fared.
New funding included a $2.5 million special appropriation from the Florida Legislature, $2 million from federal startup grant funds, and a $1.9 million interest free loan from Academica’s Somerset division. This was funding denied unless it became a charter district. Academica received $327,000 in fees in 2017-18 to manage the fewer than 800 student K12 school. The per student cost rose to $16,600 which school leaders recognize cannot be sustained. The state pays much less.
The behind the scenes orchestrators for the takeover were Senators Manny Diaz and Anitere Flores, both of whom have close ties to Academica. Diaz is an administrator at Doral College and is Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Flores is deputy Majority Leader for the Florida Senate and moved from being the head of Doral College to the Academica foundation. The current Doral College president, Rodriquez, was named to supervise the transition of the Jefferson County schools to Academica.
In previous posts, I reported on a series of misdeeds associated with Diaz and Flores related to their association with Doral College. The college was bankrupt and had no students or faculty when Academica took it on. It now offers online courses to Academica students. The credit was worthless because the college had no accreditation. Diaz worked to get a private school accreditation agency to recognize the college. Diaz’s personal interest is noted here.
What is the result of the takeover? Behavioral specialists were hired to help students, teacher salaries increased, and the physical facilities were improved. Initially, the school grades rose to a ‘C’, but the elementary school has now reverted to a ‘D’. The increase in the percentage of students passing the FSA state examinations in order to raise the school grades may have had as much to do with discipline policies as with learning strategies. The charter school policy created a 45 day suspension policy in which students were given a laptop and sent home. They were to take online classes from Doral College. Many students never returned. It is one way to raise school grades…just limit which students take the tests.
There is no question that the years of neglect in Jefferson County created the abysmal schools. Parents who could, mostly white, had left for private schools or for schools in nearby Leon County. Those few students who remained had the greatest needs and the fewest resources. No doubt some students and their families were grateful for the influx of new funding for the charter district, but it cannot last.
This is the result of a choice system in which racial and economic segregation flourishes as described in ‘Tough Choices‘, a report sponsored by the Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University. It has happened in other Florida cities. It is the dark side of a choice system that favors some at the expense of others.
There are rumblings that the 2020 Florida Legislature may revise funding for the Florida Pension Plan. There is no question that the retirement system revenue has declined; it has not been 100% funded since the 2008 recession. The current rate is about 84% of the cost if all people retired at one time. Of course that is an unlikely scenario, but there are now more people vested in the system than are contributing to it. One million public employees participate in the system, about half are teachers and the others are local and state government employees. As retirees increase and new participants decrease, covering costs becomes more problematic.
While there is no immediate crisis, the problems cannot be ignored in the longer run. There are four basic reasons why the funding has declined:
- Expectations that the stock market will do well are not always met. Average earnings across years are about 1% below expectations.
- The state is not making sufficient employer contributions to the retirement system.
- How the state calculates the value of promised retirement benefits increases risk and makes real debt larger.
- The switch to 401(k) accounts in 2017 did not require sufficient contributions from employees and employers to cover costs. It may benefit new teachers who leave the profession but not the profession as a whole.
Pensions are not the problem..The real question as always is whether funding pensions is mostly a political, not a financial issue. The National Association of State Retirement Administrators cited a report stating that an 80% funding level is the federal benchmark for financial stability of state pension systems. Florida’s level exceeds that benchmark. Nevertheless, there is a political divide over providing pensions, and it is closely tied to those supporting school privatization. Florida charters and private schools typically do not contribute to retirement systems, and the resulting high teacher turnover keeps salaries lower. Thus, there is more money available for management companies in the private sector. This is not a recipe for a high quality educational system.
This issue may have a strong impact on the growing teacher shortage. Pensions help retain teachers. Kentucky’s teachers’ complaints about pension revision strategies were partially responsible for the recent defeat of their governor. Yet, there are those who advocate replacing teachers with technology. The motivations of those who attack the teaching profession whether they are political or financial in origin, need to be considered.
The 2019 legislative session focused on moving money and managing guns. The laws that emerged funded Schools of Hope vouchers for private schools and shifted funds from public schools to charter school privately owned facilities. A lawsuit against the Schools of Hope vouchers is expected. Funding increases for teachers and students were minimal, but teachers were allowed to carry guns.
The Florida Educational Association (FEA) reached an agreement to end a lawsuit against the ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus system that discriminated against minority and older teachers. A signature from a federal judge will provide compensation to some teachers.
Teacher Recruitment. The focus of the 2020 legislative session may shift to teacher recruitment and what is taught. FEA reported 4,000 teacher vacancies in the fall of 2019, and months later 2,000 positions remain unfilled. In response to significant teacher shortages, Governor DeSantis is calling for a higher starting salary for beginning teachers. The impact may be mixed. Teacher recruitment may improve, but teacher retention may decline. New teachers may earn more than many experienced teachers. At least half of these teachers did not graduate from college level education programs and will need mentoring and professional development that typically is not a legislative priority.
Curriculum Standards. The Governor also called for a revision to the Florida curriculum standards that determine what is taught at each grade level. Draft standards have been released, and a summary of the results of public comment has been released. There was relatively little support indicated for eliminating the Common Core elements that have been in effect for the past ten years. More concerns were reported about the age appropriate level of standards particularly for children in K-3 but also in grade nine mathematics. As content taught in higher grades is pushed down to lower grades, the expectations for reading and math readiness for six to nine year old students become inappropriate for many children.
Where these concerns will lead the legislature is uncertain. Politically, the Governor has promised to end the Common Core skills that confuse parents. Practically, yet another change in standards not only changes what skills teachers must focus on, it also mandates that the state tests, school grades, and teacher evaluations adapt. Teachers’ frustration are due to more than inadequate salary levels. What are the expectations they must meet?
Adding fuel to the fire is the release of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results and the SAT and ACT test results for college admission. Scores are down yet again. Achievement gaps between white and minority students are higher. Choice based on competition and test scores is not working within public schools or among public, charter, or private school voucher-type programs.
Parents from all walks of life are questioning the system that pressures students to enroll in advanced courses e.g. AP English, math and science in order to improve school grades or admission to college. For a few students, these courses are a good option. For most, it results in an unrelenting pressure to chase test scores. Once they enroll in college many retake the same course in part because the passing standard of ‘3’ is too low for success in subsequent courses. Some colleges, like the University of Florida, require a ‘4’ on AP exams to earn credit.
It is a conundrum. Students need challenging courses that stimulate their interests, and Florida ranks third in the nation in the number of students who take and pass an AP exam. Yet, less than half of Florida students who take AP pass the exam with a score of ‘3’ or higher. This score represents a ‘C’ grade at the college level. The University of Florida requires at least a ‘4’ in many subjects in order to earn college credit. Many students would prefer advanced courses geared toward alternative career options rather than the basic college track.
How will the Florida Legislature respond to the stalemate in student achievement? More of the same test-driven competition for scores does not work. Dividing funding among public, charter, and private schools is neither less expensive nor more effective. Teacher recruitment and retention and quality facilities are an even bigger problem for charters and most private schools.
2020 legislative priorities for professional education associations are listed below.
You have to tell it like it is, especially when so many people have so much money invested in a failing education reform policy. Read the summary of the report: Twenty Years Later: Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan fails Florida’s Children posted by Diane Ravitch. Find out the hard truth about the impact of the A+ Plan on student achievement, school grades, teaching, and communities. Insist on an end to policies that seek to destroy public schools and rob children of a high quality education.