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Saturday, December 31, 2011

What's happeneing with education in Florida

From the Tampa Bay Times

by Jeff Solochek

Some Florida lawmakers have said they want to give the schools a breather in 2012 so they can implement all the new rules put in place during 2011. Many superintendents have made it their legislative priority, in fact, to request a moratorium on new mandates. Will it happen? Looking ahead to the 2012 session, we see several proposals that make you wonder. What's coming up in the new year?

Higher ed in the spotlight - Having tackled teacher contracts in 2011, lawmakers have indicated a desire to target professor tenure in 2012. Gov. Rick Scott has talked about focusing on getting more STEM degree programs in place, with less emphasis on the liberal arts - a proposal that has caused backlash at the universities. Tuition keeps rising, while the days of the Bright Futures scholarship look numbered. Will professors and students stick around? Or will they head out of state, where the scenario isn't so bleak?

Choice, choice, choice - Florida already leads the nation in charter schools, voucher-type programs and related choice options. It doesn't look likely to stop anytime soon. Lawmakers have proposed expanding the caps on corporate tax credit scholarships to low-income students. They have filed bills that would give more money and further flexibility to charter schools. Some critics have suggested a move to increase FCAT cut scores will help by making parents think their public schools are performing poorly, an incentive to look elsewhere for education. The courts might offer the only respite for critics, as they consider challenges to the state's new law expanding charter school operations. Does school choice hit new levels this year?

How much money do schools really need? - Gov. Rick Scott has recommended putting $1 billion back into the state's K-12 system, saying he won't sign a budget that does not significantly increase education funding. But $1 billion is less than what the state took away in 2011. Districts also face the loss of federal EduJobs money they used in 2011, plus any other one-time revenue sources they relied on such as transfers of cash from capital to operating budgets. And let's not forget, state forecasters have predicted an enrollment increase that would place further demands on already tight resources. Many superintendents have already announced they expect layoffs and cuts even with another $1 billion in the pot.

Get out and vote - It's time for many elected representatives, including state lawmakers, local school board members and non-appointed superintendents, to stand for their jobs again. Some have taken the heat for being anti-teacher and anti-public school. Some have been criticized as being in the pocket of teacher unions. Will any face opposition? They haven't always in the past. With education remaining a hot-ticket item, expect the debate to heat up.

Curriculum matters - Kids do go to school for a reason, and it's not just about governance and organizational structure. They're supposed to be learning, and the state continues to push toward more technology-based instruction, with deeper standards and more attention to science, technology, math and engineering. The common core is coming, with Florida playing a role in developing the tests to see if the kids are there yet. But some school leaders say it's not likely unless Florida extends the school day or year, and that's not viable without more money to put into the system. Vicious circle?

What are your predictions? Share them so we can keep track for next year.

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