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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Florida's Lawless Legislature

Emboldened by greed, a gerrymandered system that assures their political dominance and or by the recent packing of the Florida supreme court with conservative justices this iteration of the Florida Legislature has snubbed it's nose at the law and the will of the people like no other.  

First they passed a massive expansion of vouchers that will be paid for directly with public money, something the Florida Supreme court declared unconstitutional fifteen years ago.

From the St. Augustine Record,
... the Republican-led Legislature’s support for a new voucher program, dubbed Family Empowerment Scholarships, looks bound to be the lone significant test of whether the recast court is willing to rethink past decisions.
The scholarships would send taxpayer dollars to private schools, a redirection which even most supporters acknowledge would defy a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision.
Next annual punching bag, education has seen them pass several bill that flout the Florida Constitution.
Text of Section 4:
School Districts; School Boards
(a) Each county shall constitute a school district; provided, two or more contiguous counties, upon vote of the electors of each county pursuant to law, may be combined into one school district. In each school district there shall be a school board composed of five or more members chosen by vote of the electors in a nonpartisan election for appropriately staggered terms of four years, as provided by law.
(b) The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district and determine the rate of school district taxes within the limits prescribed herein. Two or more school districts may operate and finance joint educational programs.[1]

Notice how the constitution says boards will operate, control and supervise all free public schools? Well that didn't stop Jason Fischer from championing a bill that strips that power and responsibility away from duly elected school boards and gives it to colleges and universities.

From WJCT News,

Republican Rep. Jason Fischer is sponsoring the bill (HB 1197), which cleared the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday by a vote of 19-10. His proposal would expand what is now the responsibility of locally-elected school boards to state-appointed college and university trustees.

But the degradation of school boards and local representation didn't stop there as the Senate just passed massive Tax Breaks for charter schools if they open up in hundreds of areas around the state. 

From the Florida Phoenix,

Charters — public schools designed to be free from bureaucracy and operated by private entities – have ballooned over some two decades in Florida, creating tension between the charters and traditional public schools.
Now, Republican lawmakers are moving to open the door for even more charters across Florida.
The charter initiative showed up suddenly Thursday in the Senate, when senators were debating legislation to create a new voucher program.
Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. of Miami-Dade, inserted an amendment to make it easier to set up new charter schools in certain low-income areas where public schools have been struggling.
Manny Diaz by the way takes six figures from the charter industry during his day job. He also doesn't mention that fewer and fewer charter schools even try and open up in our poor communities even more because most fail and do a lot worse than the public schools there.
Do you think that's enough? Well I am just getting started.
Because greed is apparently inexhaustible for the school choice industry, the Florida House passed a bill forcing different localities who have stood up to support their public schools and passed additional funding measures, to share that money with charter schools.
From the Tampa Times:
When voters choose to hike their local property taxes to help schools in their county, that money would need to be shared between districts and charter schools under a bill passed by the Florida House…
Charter schools are publicly funded schools operated by private entities, and are defined as public schools under Florida law.
Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph, also of Miami, said this bill is “smoke and mirrors” simply because Republicans didn’t like how districts are using their discretionary spending when they raise local money to go above inadequate state funds.
“We try to play like the voters don’t know what they’re doing. They know absolutely what they’re doing,” she said. “What happened here was simple: Tallahassee failed us so we took matters into our own hands at the local level.”
The presidents of both the statewide teachers’ union and the Miami-Dade teachers’ union held a news conference earlier this week at the Florida Capitol where they protested this bill and said lawmakers were usurping the will of the voters.
Beyond the fight in Miami, Avila also pointed out an ongoing lawsuit in Palm Beach County over this exact issue, which he said proves the point that greater “clarity” is needed in the law to settle that districts must share their funds.
In addition to the piece about school funding, House Bill 7123, the House’s tax package, also would significantly reduce the state’s commercial lease tax…

Then even though it's not directly education related lets talk about what they are trying to do to amendment 4 which restored the states felons right to vote.

From the Miami Herald, 

After hours of debate, the Florida House on Wednesday passed along party lines its version of a bill implementing Amendment 4, which was supposed to restore the right to vote to more than a million former felons. 

The 71-45 vote sets up a potential dispute with the Senate over whether court fines, fees and restitution should be required before felons can vote. 

The House bill requires all of those to be paid before a felon can vote.

Um, why do we have laws and a constitution if like with the will of the people, the republican's in Tallahassee think they can just snub their nose at them?

Friends, we aren't being led, we are being ruled.    

Friday, April 26, 2019

Republican’s in Tallahassee give the citizens of Florida the middle finger… AGAIN!!!

For the last decade republican legislator after republican legislator has tried to enrich themselves, a family member or one of their big donors by siphoning more money out of education and into things like charters and vouchers.   
We are over a thousand dollars behind when adjusted for inflation on what we spent per student on public education in 2007 and that as Tallahassee has introduced one unfunded mandate after another and ratcheted up the faux-accountability system that charters to a lesser degree and vouchers to no degree have to follow.
District after district has seen what has gone on and in a response to this criminal in my opinion under funding of education and stepped up to provide extra funds to their public schools. Now Tallahassee wants a cut of that to go to charter schools as well.
From the Tampa Times:
When voters choose to hike their local property taxes to help schools in their county, that money would need to be shared between districts and charter schools under a bill passed by the Florida House…
Charter schools are publicly funded schools operated by private entities, and are defined as public schools under Florida law.
Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph, also of Miami, said this bill is “smoke and mirrors” simply because Republicans didn’t like how districts are using their discretionary spending when they raise local money to go above inadequate state funds.
“We try to play like the voters don’t know what they’re doing. They know absolutely what they’re doing,” she said. “What happened here was simple: Tallahassee failed us so we took matters into our own hands at the local level.”
The presidents of both the statewide teachers’ union and the Miami-Dade teachers’ union held a news conference earlier this week at the Florida Capitol where they protested this bill and said lawmakers were usurping the will of the voters.
Beyond the fight in Miami, Avila also pointed out an ongoing lawsuit in Palm Beach County over this exact issue, which he said proves the point that greater “clarity” is needed in the law to settle that districts must share their funds.
In addition to the piece about school funding, House Bill 7123, the House’s tax package, also would significantly reduce the state’s commercial lease tax…

Tallahassee just said to city after city we don't care what you think or what you voted for, make us and  our donors richer. I also want to remind you that Tallahassee has repeatedly given charters extra money while defunding public ed.
Where does the greed of charter schools and their bought and paid for legislators stop? How many times can they spit in the eye of the citizens of Florida and still get elected? Friends we are not being led by Tallahassee and instead are being ruled and its working less and less for more and more of us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

DCPS votes to screw teachers and staff

Please forgive my abrupt language but there is no other way to put it.

DCPS has two equal problems, a staff that is underpaid and I am not talking just about teachers but staff as well many who aren't making a living wage and a decaying and aging infrastructure. Our schools are some of the oldest and most dilapidated in the state. Neither of these problems is bigger than the other. They are equally important. Well friends when DCPS proposed a half cent sales tax they told teachers and staff you don't matter. 

A half cent sales tax can do nothing to address teacher and staff salary.

From the Times Union

The ½-cent sales tax — which can only be used to pay for capital improvements — is one of the few funding options available to the district to replace and repair schools.

If the district did a millage increase and I understand that won't raise as much and excludes a large swath of people for an entire city issue, it could address both salary and capital improvements.

Now look I think we need more funding, a lot more, it's a shame how Tallahassee has underfunded education but the city which doesn't levy impact fees also has to bare some of the responsibility.  We are the only big city without an additional revenue stream and it shows, just look at our buildings and Our SALARIES!!! 

I will not support a referendum no matter how much I love and believe in DCPS that leaves teachers and staff out in the cold and that is what the school board is proposing with a half cent sales tax and not a millage increase. We will never achieve our potential as long as we treat the district's teachers as after thoughts.  I had hoped this new board and super realized that.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The insatiable greed of Florida's charter schools

As Tallahassee has criminally underfunded public education more and more localities have admirably stepped up to fund their public schools. Not content with starving our public schools, charter schools bought and paid for legislators have been pushing legislation demanding this money, which I remind you was raised just for public schools, to be given to charters as well.

From the Florida Politics,

A tax package moving through the Florida House could force traditional public schools to share more money with charter schools, or even invalidate county tax referendum language approved by voters.
Current law allows for four types of millage levies to fund schools.
Taxes collected through three of those avenues — the required local effort (RLE) levy, the current operating discretionary millage levy and the ad valorem millage for capital outlay — must be shared with charter schools.
Florida school districts may also raise funds via voter-approved tax referendums, which cannot last for more than four years and must detail how the money will be spent. Per the state Department of Education’s Florida Standard Charter Contract, school districts can choose whether to split that money with charters.
Among the changes in the Ways and Means Committee’s bill, HB 7123, is a requirement that those funds be split with charters. The bill’s requirement would be retroactive.
Here are some things you should remember about charter schools, about half are run by for profit companies.
The state annually sends charters hundreds of millions of dollars for maintenance while forcing thousands of public schools to share a fraction of what charters get.
Charters which are privately owned and often built with public money and if something happens to them and they close, the public losses that investment. 
This is a despicable attack on public education and a slap in the face to all the counties which have stepped up to help their public schools. Absolutely shameful.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Florida gives up the game, admits its school accountability system is a fraud

I am taking an ESOL class, I don't have any ESOL kids but apparently I did for one day last year and now I have to take the class or loose my job. I could talk for days about this but instead I want to ask you a question.

Does the teacher at private school at the nearly abandoned strip mall that takes vouchers have to take an ESOL class?

The answer of course is no, in fact they don't have to heave any certifications let alone a degree.

What's the grade of that school? Friends they don't have a school grade.

How do their kids do on the FSA? What they don't have to take the FSA or any test for that matter.

Despite all this the state is proposing even more vouchers and this time they aren't even using the flimsiest of loopholes, tax breaks for corporations, but want to pay for them directly out of the tax payers pocket.

How is this fair, decent or even legal? Well its definitely not the first two and Tallahassee is banking that court packing will make what was once declared unconstitutional fifteen years ago, constitutional now.

Accountability in Florida has been used as a hammer to punish public schools and teachers and now the state admits, through its expansion of unaccountable schools that take vouchers, it has all been a lie.

To read more, click the link:

Sunday, April 7, 2019

How advocates of school choice became dupes of the privatizers (rough draft)

Public schools have failed, children need more options, parents should be in charge of their children's education, we're sick of high stakes testing because our kids are more than a test score, zip codes shouldn't determine educational outcomes and the list of talking points that the proponents of school choice spout goes on and on. They either don't realize or they don't care that they are dupes of the privatization movement and people who want to profit off of public education, who don't care if they hurt children, families and communities as they rush to gorge themselves at the public trough.

First public schools have not failed, in fact they have arguably led to much of the greatness our country has experienced. Now are their problems in public education, sure, I personally don't think they are always rigorousness enough, learning the quadratic formula is great but learning a work ethic and deadlines is even better and discipline remains a problem in many schools but to say public schools where the vast majority of people got their education have failed is to say America has failed.

Then children do need more options, I think this is something that we can all agree upon and over the last decade we have seen a tremendous growth in public school options. Where I live every high school has an advanced academic program and a magnet option something that has been duplicated more and more across the country. You know whats wild though is the privatization movement often disingenuously points to these as success of the school choice movement. Well friends there is a difference between public school magnets and charters and voucher schools. Magnets are part of the system while charters and voucher schools are seeking to dismantle the system.

Parents should be in charge of their education, sure but they shouldn't expect the rest of us to pay for their choices. To many gentrified white folks are sending their kids to charters not because they are innovative but because if gives them a private school feel on the public dime. They don't think about the resources it rips from the surrounding schools. To many others want to send their kids to voucher schools because they want a religious education for their children. Um what happened to God will provide. We have a separation of church and state for a reason and those families sending their kids to bible thumping schools would flip their lids if Islamic schools started to take advantage of the system.

Parents should be in charge of their kids education and if there is a service or program that their public school system doesn't provide they can feel free to lobby their school board members or become school board members themselves. Boards are accountable to the citizens they represent. Who is accountable at charter schools or a private schools that takes vouchers accountable too? The answer is nobody but their owner.

As far as high stakes testing, its incomprehensible to me that so many people blame public education for the actions of politicians many of whom along with their family members and big donors are seeking to profit off or public education. Nobody thinks high stakes testing is a good idea but blaming public schools for them is like blaming the blowing leaf for the monsoon. Get this too, high stakes testing is so important for public schools but students at private schools that take vouchers don't have to take any high stake tests during their entire academic career. How is that fair? Both are paid for by public money. The answer is it isn't and politicians have designed it that way to drive families away from public education and leaving because of them is like rewarding the arsonist for burning down your house.

The thing is taking vouchers is a Faustian bargain. Teachers at voucher schools don't have to have degrees or be certified, they can be felons or the owners niece who is kind of good with numbers. Furthermore there is no guarantee they will learn anything of value as these schools can teach whatever they want and many teach junk science and history.

Zip codes shouldn't determine out comes and of course they shouldn't but when any politician especially a white affluent politician says that, it's the height of hypocrisy.  They don't want to send poor and mostly minority kids to the private schools with the wide range of electives and the smaller classes, that they sent their children to. No, they want to send them to private schools in strip malls and no excuses charters where the smallest infractions can get students kicked out, which often happens right after the charter school has been paid.

Furthermore most charter companies don't even try to set up in the poorer zip codes that any more. In my hometown of Jacksonville, they don't set up in the poorer sections of town where the bones of failed charter schools can be found in a  dozen locations. No, now they set up in the affluent areas of town draining resources form the already successful public schools there.

Friends if politicians cared about zip codes they would give them more resources, and make sure the students there had smaller classes. They could make the school year longer because some kids need more time to learn stuff and put in social workers and mental health counselors because why some kids do poorly in school often has nothing to do with schools. There are so many things they could do but instead their answer is often to open up a for profit charter across the street and siphon kids to voucher schools that have no accountability.

I get it, families should care about the education of their children but and this may not be popular with some, a public education for children is supposed to benefit us all whether we have children or not and vouchers without accountability and for profit charters generally benefit their owners disproportionately more than anyone else. 

This is not say there is no room for charters and vouchers. If there is a not for profit charter that is a center for innovation lets do it and if a private school offers a program the public schools in the area don't then lets provide a voucher to it if a family thinks it is the right spot for their children. Unfortunately schools like that are far and few between.

Choice for the sake of choice is a bad choice especially when the real reason behind it is not to help children  to fill bank accounts. Are there problems in public schools? Sure, but if a politician is more interested in replacing them than fixing them you should ask yourself why.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The republicans in Tallahassee are not rational people, its time we stopped trying to have a rational debate about education with them.

Friends we are not dealing with people interested in having a policy debate and we're sure not dealing with people who are interested in facts and exhibit number infinity is representative Chris Latvala.

No photo description available.

Dammmmmnnnnnnn FEA, sick burn...

Friends even if he was right, which he wasn't, he was gloating over a four percent raise over four years or less than the cost of inflation. In his figures teachers were going backwards and he was saying, look what an awesome job Florida is doing. The reality is teachers salaries as a group have been going backwards for years and it is shameful.

It even gets a little worse because Latvala is sometimes thought of as the reasonable republican.

Friends there is a war on public education going on and Tallahassee will not be satisfied until the teaching profession is destroyed and public schools are replaced with a  hodge podge of charters and private schools that accept vouchers.

It's time to fight and step one is the FEA fighting for teachers right to strike, since facts don't get their attention, maybe a strike would.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

We waste billions on charter schools, so DeSantis and Tallahassee want to invest even more.

Defenders of charters will point to a recent study put up Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran a man whose family has benefitted off his legislation expanding charters as proof that charters have a place. I don’t think anything Corcoran not an educator by trade should be taken even remotely seriously.
This however is about the billions the country has wasted on charter schools, where Florida who has seen 359 charter schools fail, must be near or at the top of that waste.
Think about that friends, billions wasted and lives and communities thrown into turmoil.
From the Washington Post:
 The U.S. government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never opened, or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons, according to a report from an education advocacy group. The study also says the U.S. Education Department does not adequately monitor how its grant money is spent.
The report, titled “Asleep at the Wheel” and issued by the nonprofit advocacy group Network for Public Education, says:

More than 1,000 grants were given to schools that never opened, or later closed because of mismanagement, poor performance, lack of enrollment or fraud. “Of the schools awarded grants directly from the department between 2009 and 2016, nearly one in four either never opened or shut its doors,” it says. 

Some grants in the 25-year-old federal Charter School Program (CSP) have been awarded to charters that set barriers to enrollment of certain students. Thirty-four California charter schools that received grants appear on an American Civil Liberties Union list of charters “that discriminate — in some cases illegally — in admissions.” 

The department’s grant approval process for charters has been sorely lacking, with “no attempt to verify the information presented” by applicants. 

The Education Department in Republican and Democratic administrations has “largely ignored or not sufficiently addressed” recommendations to improve the program made by its own inspector general. 

“Our investigation finds the U.S. Department of Education has not been a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars in its management of the CSP,” it says. 

You would think decent folks not blinded by an irrational hatred of public schools or greed would pull back from the failed promise of charters at this point. Even one of their few talking points that students who went to charters do better in college took a big hit this week, and that’s because charter supporters always seize on some data point no matter how tenuous and run with it, until it unravels that is.  

From Chalkbeat: 

Attending a sought-after charter middle school didn’t increase a student’s chance of attending or graduating college, a new U.S. Department of Education study showed. 

The report, released Monday, also found little connection between charter school quality, as measured by test scores, and college outcomes. 

“The overall conclusion that there is little difference between charter schools and non-charter schools is not shocking to me,” said Sarah Cohodes, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. She pointed to prior research showing charters perform comparably to district schools nearby. 

Cohodes said that while the study’s use of random lotteries allowed it to convincingly establish cause and effect, it looked at a relatively small sample of 31 schools, only three of which served predominantly low-income students. 

Still, the results are a disappointing data point for charter advocates who hoped the publicly funded, privately run schools would improve students’ college prospects. 

The research arm of the Department of Education released the study. A spokesperson for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a proponent of charter schools, did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

If you remember correctly, charters were initial sold as saviors for minority children trapped by their zip codes, well friends that talking point has almost completely disappeared as now they are sold as choice as they more and more open up in neighborhoods with great schools.  

So as the charter school myth begins to fade what does DeSantis want to do? He wants to give massive tax breaks so even more open up. 

From Politico: Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to leverage a tax incentive championed by President Donald Trump to launch a five-fold expansion of charter schools in the state.  

Some 250 Florida communities could be candidates for the new charter schools under the DeSantis plan.  

The DeSantis budget proposed linking the state‘s Schools of Hope program to federal "opportunity zones"created by Trump’s $1.5 billion tax plan. The zones, which were championed by policymakers on the left and right, offer tax incentives to encourage private investment in economically distressed and lower-income communities. 

At least 247 Florida communities would be eligible for Hope schools, up from 47 currently, if lawmakers approve the DeSantis plan. The governor’s budget also includes additional incentives to charter schools, such as money for construction.  

Hope schools currently are permitted to open their doors only near “persistently low-performing schools” that fail to earn a grade of C or better from the state three years in a row. The program was championed in 2017 by then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran.  

About 50 schools were on the list in 2017-18

Opportunity zones were created by the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 with the goal of reducing taxes for job creators while encouraging investment and attracting business to underdeveloped communities. Former Gov. Rick Scott recommended 247 communities across Florida for the program.  

DeSantis wants to give Hope charter schools more turf by expanding program guidelines to allow charters to open in areas Scott designated as opportunity zones last year.  

In addition to opening more communities to Hope schools, DeSantis recommended changing the definition of a low-performing school to give charters even more opportunity to expand. In the DeSantis budget, “persistently low-performing schools” would be those receiving a grade below C for three out of five years, as opposed to three consecutive years. 

They can continue to throw billions at charter schools, and they can change make them easier to open too repeating the waste of the last twenty years and as long as them making a profit is their number one priority, not educating children like Public schools, then charters by and large will remain a disaster. 

Friends instead of continuing these failed charter school policies let me suggest an innovative idea, and that’s let’s invest in our public schools instead. That we give them the tools and resources that they need to succeed.