IMG_1747
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…

With the recent release of the MSD Commission’s report, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made headlines when he publicly performed an about-face on his position regarding arming teachers. On the heels of Gualtieri’s announcement in support of having teachers packing in the classroom, Polk School Board Member and vocal critic of the Florida Legislature, Billy Townsend, wrote this compelling piece loaded with reasons as to why this notion is a terrible one.

Upon seeing Billy’s publication, Julie Hiltz, NBCT, a fellow friend of public education and colleague here in Hillsborough County, had the following to say on Twitter. In an effort to have others read and share her words, I asked Julie if her statement could be published as a guest blog post here on Teacher Voice. Please read her words and share them with others on social media or, better yet, compose an email to your local legislators in both the House and Senate, asking them to stop ignoring the will of the people who overwhelmingly told polsters this past spring that they do NOT want teachers armed around their children.

So much is wrong with this idea of arming teachers I don’t know where to start. But since I have a chance to piggyback on this thoughtful, well researched piece I’m going to take my shot.

This is idea is not just stupid, it’s impractical.

1. There is a legitimate teacher shortage, as well as shortage of paraprofessional staff. It’s been that way for a decade. Lack of personnel ripples from the traditional classroom into all facets of school work and increases stress, trauma, and fatigue for students and staff.

Those stressors increase the likelihood of “bad people doing bad things” and decreases the likelihood of “good people doing good things.” We adults try but it’s exhausting and we frequently fail. Ask my kid how much patience and energy I bring home to him.

2. Even if you fully staffed every existing traditional classroom and support position you’re still undermanned. So many districts have had to cut those “extra luxuries” like mental health support, nurses, behavior specialists, teacher aides, and yes- librarians.

Who exactly in most schools still has a job where they would even qualify by statute to be armed? My kid’s in Pasco Schools and they cut librarians years ago. I truly believe the lack of a certified librarian does more harm to more kids than “not enough weapons” on campus.

3. Assuming you have all your traditional classroom AND support teacher and paraprofessional positions filled you’ve now created a situation where you’re sending a message that some lives are worth more than others. Charge in, custodians and librarians!

I work with kids and adults most hours of the day but as the librarian expected to be a first responder I’m, what… disposable? An acceptable potential loss? A stop gap? And I know I won’t be paid hazard pay or otherwise compensated because it’ll be “other duties as assigned.”

4. If the Florida Legislature wants me to act like a first responder than they’ll have to change the law to treat me like one. Stop taking 3% out of my paycheck for retirement, exempt me from jury duty and protect my home address, and stop requiring my Union to recertify annually.

5. Most schools districts are against the plan. They’ve voted (and revoted) as representatives of their constituents to not arm teachers. Apparently that’s not good enough for the Florida Legislature. Again.

If history is any indication of how this will go down, Tallahassee will make a law requiring the program and the citizens of the state will have to push a ballot amendment to counter that law because most of Florida doesn’t want it either. (See class size amendment)

6. That’s not the job you hired me for. You hired me to support literacy and technology. You hired me to create a safe environment for learning and both personal and professional development for kids and adults. You hired me to connect people with resources- material and human.

I don’t even fully do that. I haven’t been able to for years. I have to close my library for testing or class coverage. I have to sit in mandated trainings instead of planning or teaching with colleagues. I have to monitor student behavior in shared spaces and mediate conflict.

I have find a way to stock my shelves with books to support new curriculum (Common Core/FL Standards anyone?), engage students in reading relevant texts for personal growth and enjoyment, and replace well worn classics & favorites on a budget that hasn’t changed since 2001.

So, no. Stop coming at me with “you need to carry a gun to protect the children.” I’m already doing that the best I can. I’m protecting them from the fears and frustrations that abusive testing brings. I’m protecting them from giving up on themselves when everything gets hard.

I’m protecting my students from being hungry, being cold, being lonely, being bullied, being judged too harshly for reading a book that’s just for fun, being afraid to ask for help or being seen as weak for their compassion. I’ve got enough to keep me busy.

If you are a classroom teacher, you know exactly where Julie is coming from; if you are someone who has never been in the classroom, this gives you some small semblance of an idea of what it is like to wear so many hats/have too many jobs that they eat away at the core mission of what educators are here for. Even as I wrote in the original post back in March, when polling my own students, site administration, and even the military veterans I work with on daily basis, the overwhelming opinion was NO teacher should be armed or asked to carry a gun on campus, regardless of what kind of background checks and training he or she may have completed.

 

Ahira-Then-Now
Ahira Torres, former U.S. Marine and current HCPS elementary teacher

After interviewing Scott Hottenstein last year for a Veterans Day edition of the podcast, I wanted to speak to another veteran this year to begin an annual tribute to the men and women who serve our community and country, first as members of the military, then as public school teachers.

This year I reached out to Ahira Torres, a former U.S. Marine and current 5th grade teacher who commanded the attention of the audience about a year ago at a local school board meeting when she spoke. The United States Marine Corps celebrates its 243rd birthday this weekend, as that branch was founded on November 10th, 1775. We chatted about why she became a Marine, the values that particular branch of the military instilled in her, and how those values and experiences are infused within her classroom and the way in which she teaches.

Thank you so much for listening to this Veterans Day edition of the Teacher Voice podcast. Please share with others, especially those who have served in our armed services and then continued their public service as educators.

Here’s a short clip of Ahira speaking at that school board meeting nearly one year ago.

 

DeSantis
Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican Gubenatorial Candidate

Although I already wrote a piece titled “All I Want for Midterms” that encourages others to vote for Andrew Gillum as a check against one-party rule, I read this comment on Facebook and thought it is an excellent overview of what has happened to public education during the last 20 years of GOP rule. Therefore, if you are a teacher who has already voted for Ron DeSantis or, more importantly, if you are about to vote for him on Tuesday, fellow teacher Kim Cook would like you to remember the following:

For those of you who are saying you won’t vote for Gillum, please consider the following:

The Florida legislature and governor’s office has been Republican for 20+ years. In that 20 years, we have seen nothing but bill after bill with the sole intent of destroying public education. The vast majority of those bills have been signed into law by the governor. Here is a review of the legislation:

1. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush introduced the FCAT in order to track student “progress” ignoring the fact teachers are entirely capable of assessing their own students.

2. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush then started using FCAT results to grade schools, falsely equating low socioeconomic schools with “bad teaching.”

3. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush linked passing the third grade FCAT with retention and the 10th grade FCAT with high school graduation–despite research that clearly demonstrated this would be detrimental to students and communities.

4. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush linked school grades to money–awarding “A” schools with more money and “F” schools with less.

5. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott connected student test scores to teacher evaluations, otherwise known as VAM.

6. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott imposed a tax on educators by requiring them to contribute 3% of their salary to their pensions; however, that 3% goes into the general fund, NOT the pension.

7. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott changed the pension plan by requiring new hires to choose between the defined benefit pension and the 401k plan within the first nine months of their careers. Any educator who doesn’t choose by the required date automatically goes into the 401k plan, undermining the financial health of the defined benefit pension.

8. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed a law that decertifies any teacher union that falls under 50% membership, making that district’s contract and salary schedule null and void. Unions for first responders were exempt from the law (they are mostly men who vote Republican after all).

9. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation creating the “Best and Brightest” program. B&B bypasses providing the money to districts so that it can be put into salary schedules. The B&B money is considered a bonus, so it doesn’t count towards teachers’ pensions. The money also cannot go to “non-instructional personnel”–educators like media specialists (I teach ALL day every day, but nope, I’m not eligible), guidance counselors, deans, etc.

10. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation that allows voucher schools; thus, tax dollars go to private, often religious, schools, that do not have the same accountability measures as public schools. They have expanded the program just about every legislative session.

11. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott have created laws to turn over public schools to for-profit charters. We have an entire district in Florida that is now a “charter” district.

12. Many Republican members of our legislature own or have a vested interest in charter or voucher schools and testing companies, yet they pass legislation that pads their wallets.

13. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation that requires school districts to harden schools, yet didn’t fully fund the program. They also allow “non-teaching personnel” like me, the school librarian, to carry guns.

14. The Florida legislature fully intends to continue to destroy our pension bit by bit. My state senator, Keith Perry, admitted this. He told us that the state had no business running a pension program.

15. From Ceresta Smith: The Republican legislature and Rick Scott made Bright Futures Scholarships harder for non-whites to receive as they upped the bar on standardized tests, which provide advantage based on class and race.

16. The Florida legislature and Rick Scott took professional service contracts (sometimes referred to as “tenure”) away from teachers hired after July 1, 2008.

Most likely, our legislature will continue to be Republican dominated. If we don’t have a Democratic governor to veto the legislation that will continue to destroy public schools, destroy our salaries, and decimate our pension, we are sunk. I don’t know about you, but I’m counting on my pension in retirement. I don’t know what we’ll do if it’s not there, or if the state tries to pay us off with a lump sum, as other states have done.

If all Gillum does is veto destructive legislation, he’s still better than having DeSantis who will rubber stamp every horrible anti-public education bill the legislature sends him.

Thank you for reading. Please be sure to share with other teachers who still have not voted, and encourage them to vote for Andrew Gillum, even if only for pragmatic reasons. As noted in my own piece, although he would not have been my first choice, I still supported him because one party rule never works in the long run. We must bring some semblance of balance back to Tallahassee, and we can start doing so by electing a Democratic governor who will need to seek common ground and compromise with our GOP-led Florida Legislature.

Spyglass
When you look into the future of education, what do you see?

Friday afternoon I had the good fortune to speak to my middle brother Brad for over an hour and a half after school. He is a busy world traveler who works as a high level executive for one of the world’s major technology companies. He and I are alike in many ways, although our professional lives diverged when it came to what we chose to do.

But he is deeply committed to education, whether providing one for his own children, sharing his knowledge and expertise with the people on his team, or constantly learning himself, he thinks a great deal about what education is and what it will become in the future.

Our conversation largely revolved around what will happen to education when machine learning/artificial intelligence can supersede our own cognitive abilities. What will we “teach” our students then? Brad then sent me this short two-minute clip of Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba, sharing his vision of education in the future.

Yesterday morning, I ranted a bit about this on my personal Facebook page, and here are a few key passages:

Every teacher I know laments what public education has become: a non-stop testing regime that has largely sucked the life and joy out of education. People my age and older had the good fortune to “learn how to learn” for lack of a better phrase. With tests and “data-driven instruction” being the hallmark of today’s education—all in an effort to demonstrate what a student “knows” (or perhaps how well a student “tests”)—we’ve created a rather inhumane system in which teachers and students are the central components of a commodified, monetized education machine.

What happens, however, when machine learning and AI become more advanced than us? What will education look like when computers can “know” anything instantaneously, make calculations faster than any human, or anything else that machines can (and will continue to) do better than the most intelligent, most capable of us?

Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba (China’s Amazon, basically), believes that we need to educate our children about what makes us human—to be creative, to think critically, to empathize with others, to work collaboratively—and get away from teaching “knowledge” for which machines will inevitably have far more computational power than any of us.

While I might not see this radical shift during my tenure/career as an educator, I think I’ve been doing some of this in my own classroom for the last 7 years at least: focusing on the human experience; trying my best to exemplify love, compassion, gratitude, generosity, and patience; genuinely caring for each and every student who becomes a part of my life; inspiring kids to love learning intrinsically/for its own sake; using mindfulness techniques to manage stress while being in tune with one’s own mind…the list goes on and on, but it is these soft-skills that are far more important than the “facts” they can look up on Google at any given moment by consulting their smartphones.

Having slept on it and thought about this challenge all day yesterday–and as much as I love the ideas put forth by Jack Ma–I don’t think he’s completely right (or at least his comments don’t provide enough nuance for the entire educational experience). While I would concur that education fundamentally needs to be about teaching kids how to learn, adapt to and thrive with change, as well as focus on what makes us inherently human, there is still a place for some fact-based knowledge.

Here’s Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame to share why (it’s cued up to start at 7:16, but the whole talk is worth watching):

As a teacher of the capstone course for the International Baccalaureate program, Theory of Knowledge, I am fortunate enough to teach the kind of class that Jack Ma talks about: one that instills the value of conceptual and critical thinking while constantly asking “how do we know?”

Knowledge is tricky and complex. It is dynamic and we can never know anything with absolute certainty. And while Jack Ma has a clear / important point about fact-based knowledge being important in our world for the last 200 years since we started compulsory public education in the West, I agree with Ken Jenning’s point that the bits and pieces we carry around in our heads (in TOK we call this “personal knowledge”) is critical for our own self-identity and our shared cultural heritage.

Hopefully the future of education falls somewhere between these two views. Either way, the future of education is perhaps a return to the past: a time when we didn’t incessantly test our children in the name of accountability and to make a quick buck; a time when we focused on educating the child how to be human rather than a machine that simply produces particular outputs based on the bubble sheet in front of him or her.

What do you think the future of education has in store for us? Share your thoughts below or comment on the Teacher Voice Facebook page.

Andy Warrener
Andy Warrener, NPA Candidate for House District 64, along with his daughter and son

The latest episode of the Teacher Voice podcast features Andy Warrener, the NPA/Independent candidate in a three way race for House District 64 that covers northwestern Hillsborough and parts of Pinellas county. I specifically wanted to chat with Andy about public education issues and the rest of his campaign platform because, like me and about 1/3 of all Floridians, he does not belong to a political party.

Beyond the issues, we also have a substantive discussion about why he is running without party affiliation, why so many people are choosing to leave their previous party, and how the growing number of independent voters are starting to coalesce around grassroots organizations such as Unite America. Please listen and be sure to share with others, especially those who live in HD64!

If you’d like to learn more about Andy and his campaign, you can visit his website FloridaForAll or Like/Follow his page on Facebook. Be sure to hurry, though; early voting is in full swing and election day is Tuesday, November 6th!

P.S. – Andy also supports the Strengthen Our Schools initiative and was even the person who suggested the term be 10 years (rather than 15 or 20) so that it might be more palatable to Hillsborough County voters. Here is a clip of his speech from the August 24th special board meeting. The referendum can be found at the very end of the ballot; please vote YES!

For my entire voting life, I have never belonged to either major political party. There are parts of both platforms that I appreciate, but the political fracturing that began with Newt Gingrich and the subsequent polarization that has crippled our country and the parties themselves during the last 25 years has only cemented my belief that we should all be putting people over party politics.

Clearly I am not alone, as those who are choosing to leave their party affiliations or registering for the first time without a declared party are growing, and political independents now outnumber both those who identify as Democrat or Republican. It’s also the reason grassroots groups such as Unite America, whose slogan is “country over party”, are trying to organize fellow political moderates/centrists in an effort to bridge the divide that has opened up between the two major parties.

As an independent voter, I have voted for people on both sides of the aisle. This year, however, I voted for more Democrats than at any point in the 20 years I’ve lived here in Florida. In fact, the only Republican I voted for on this year’s ballot is Chad Chronister, the sheriff of Hillsborough County. As a Social Studies teacher who has lived under one party rule in two states (first in Rhode Island under a Democratic majority, then in Florida under the GOP for the last two decades), I will unequivocally state that one party rule never works–it always leaves segments of the population feeling underrepresented and unheeded.

My votes this year are an attempt to be pragmatic and bring balance back to our state government, especially in light of how Florida’s closed primaries disenfranchise all NPA voters. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano noted that we are only one of nine states that uses a completely closed primary system, which in turn fosters “a rabid form of group-think during the primary season.” And whereas independents would have been more likely to support more moderate candidates and perhaps change the shape of the general election, instead we are left with choices that are on the fringes of the left and right respectively.

The first time I saw Philip Levine speak in person, he said something that resonated with me: “I’m not left, I’m not right, I’m forward.” As someone who wants a candidate that can build bridges rather than burn them, I thought Levine’s entrepreneurial spirit and experience as a business developer and owner would draw moderate, business-minded Republicans, while his tenure as Miami Beach mayor that brought many progressive reforms would have made inroads with Democrats.

But my ballot only allowed me to vote for judges and school board members…

That’s not to say that I do not like Andrew Gillum; I like him a great deal: he’s charismatic, knows the issues, and has had a solid campaign platform since day one. And most importantly to me and millions of other public education advocates all across the Sunshine State, Gillum has a laser-like focus on public education and the lack of funding that has brought the system to its knees after 20 years of Republican rule.

FEFP
Since 1998, this has been the GOP-led Florida Legislature’s directive.

While this has been written about numerous times (About Those Stubborn Facts; Numbers Don’t Lie), the most salient fact everyone should know is that in 1998 when the GOP took full control of our state government, Florida ranked 27th in per-pupil spending; 20 years later, Florida has fallen to 44th in the U.S. Back then, Florida spent $6,443, but to have kept up with inflation our current level of funding would need to be $9,913.

It’s now $7,408, over $4,000 below the national average.

And it’s not just public education. Florida ranks dead last in the entire country when it comes to investing in public services, despite the fact that we are the third most populous state with a one trillion dollar economy. In fact, by just about every single metric possible Florida has gotten worse on rankings lists during the last 20 years of Republican reign. Unless you’re part of the richest 1% of Americans (and Florida has a high concentration), a major stakeholder in a large corporation, or a politically connected individual, things have only gotten worse for you.

If you are a “values voter” who has voted Republican in the past out of personal conviction, you have done so to your own economic peril, especially if you work in public education in any way. I am not advocating voting for Democrats because I believe wholeheartedly in every aspect of their platform; instead, I do so out of sheer pragmatism and a need to bring balance back to our state government so that it will be more responsive to the needs of its people rather than an entrenched establishment that only cares about the special interests that fill its campaign coffers.

I believe in compromise. I believe in seeking a middle ground when it comes to policy making decisions.  I believe in representation that is truly responsive to the citizenry. And I believe the only way we are going to get back on track is by electing Andrew Gillum as our next governor and hopefully getting close to even in the Florida Senate. While the House is too lopsided to bring parity in one fell swoop, especially in light of the gerrymandered districts in which we all live, any seats that are picked up will benefit us all. Florida is a great state and could be so much more. Let’s all vote to ensure we have a balanced government starting Wednesday, November 7th.

P.S. – If you’ve read this far and also live/vote in Hillsborough, please support our schools by voting YES on the Strengthen Our Schools initiative that I wrote about previously in Why We Must Pass Both Tax Referenda: The “Numbers Don’t Lie” Redux and Hidden Benefits: The Virtuous Cycle of Economic Activity in Hillsborough County. Our students and staff deserve so much more than the Florida Legislature has given us!

Christmast Morning
Hopefully this will be my reaction when I read the results of this year’s elections the next day.

Fentrice Driskell
Fentrice Driskell, Democratic Candidate for House District 63

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast features Fentrice Driskell, a Harvard and Georgetown Law School graduate, partner at Carton Fields law firm in Tampa, and the Democratic candidate for House District 63.

Although she always knew that running for public office would be in her future, she did not realize she would run so soon. We discuss her impressive resume, why she’s running, and what she would like to do in Tallahassee. Please listen and share with others, especially voters in HD63.

Want to learn more about Fentrice? You can check out her amazingly alliterative website, Fentrice For Florida, of find her on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

Debbie Katt
Debbie Katt (far right), Democratic Candidate for House District 57

The latest edition of the Teacher Voice podcast turns away from school board races and back toward the state level, featuring Debbie Katt, a software engineer from the Valrico area who is campaigning for the HD57 seat vacated by Jake Raburn-R.

Among the priorities Debbie would like to address in Tallahassee, public education funding is the top of her list. We also discuss her vision for sensible gun control; a regional approach to investment in the Tampa Bay area’s transportation infrastructure; how funding for the arts has been decimated in recent years, and the negative financial impact that brings to other local businesses. Please listen and share with others, especially voters in House District 57.

As we discussed during the podcast, if you’d like to learn more about Debbie or her platform you can visit her campaign website. Debbie is also on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her on social media.

Thanks again for listening and supporting the Teacher Voice podcast, everyone!

P.S. – Sorry for the background noise in the first half. Apparently librarians get real rowdy once they go on break in the staff lounge…but I guess that’s to be expected after being quiet all day!

My father was a business man before he retired. He understood the value of investment, especially in the companies for which he worked or outright owned. And while it may be a platitude, he drilled into me the concept of “you gotta spend money to make money.”

After living in Florida for over 20 years and witnessing the growth in Hillsborough County, I am amazed at what we have accomplished with the little tax revenue we’ve generated over that time. As our population grew and the economic base expanded, it has largely been a wash. But the last several years we have had a Florida Legislature willing to cut services to the bone, especially public education, all in the name of saving pennies for families.

The time has come for the citizens of Hillsborough to band together, pass both referenda (schools and transportation), and make a real investment in our local community.

Regardless of how any individual feels about either of these sales tax increases, the truth is it will cost each of us–on average–about 50 cents per day to pass both. All told, this will generate well over $400 million dollars per year between the two, the vast majority of which will be immediately reinvested in our local businesses and create a virtuous cycle of economic activity.

In the video above, I spoke about how the infusion of capital outlay money for the school district means that those dollars will largely go to local contractors to install new HVAC units, repair roofs, build new schools, paint old schools, upgrade technology, etc. When the district spends that money locally, those companies in turn can then reinvest in / grow their own companies by hiring more employees and giving them raises, which those employees will then inject their wages back into our local economy, thereby collecting more additional tax revenue which can be used for additional projects that require spending more money, and over and over…hence the virtuous cycle.

It is evident that many people from all walks of life and both sides of the aisle are realizing that this is an opportunity to invest in Hillsborough County in ways we haven’t seen for a long time–if ever. Beyond having the Tampa Bay Times already endorse both the transportation referendum and school referendum, even more telling is having groups such as the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and pro-business conservative Republicans such as Ken Hagan back the sales tax increase to support schools.

Business leaders know that this investment in our community is long overdue. They realize that the potential for a virtuous cycle of economic activity is one of the many hidden benefits that are being overlooked by naysayers. Investing in our students and schools, as well as our transportation infrastructure, will only continue to lure more people and businesses to Hillsborough County, expanding our entire economic base and generating more momentum in the virtuous cycle.

Please join me and many others in voting YES on November 6th to support our entire local community here in Hillsborough County.

P.S. – If you’d like to learn more about how to help our students and schools, please visit the website for the parent-led coalition, Strengthen Our Schools, or check out the HCPS information page. You can also learn more about the All For Transportation referendum here.

Previous Related Posts: About Those Stubborn Facts…; Numbers Don’t Lie; Why We Must Pass Both Tax Referenda: The Numbers Don’t Lie Redux

Virtuous Cycel
Let’s Create a Virtuous Cycle of Economic Activity in Hillsborough! Vote YES on 11/6 for both

Karen Perez
Karen Perez, Mental Health Counselor and HCPS School Board Candidate, Countywide District 6

Continuing the back-to-back episodes for the Hillsborough School Board Countywide District 6 race, this episode of the Teacher Voice podcast features Karen Perez, the other finalist who made it past the primary and into the general election on November 6th. Karen and I sat down earlier this week to talk about her career as a mental health counselor, why she is running for school board, and what her priorities will be if elected. Please listen to what she has to say and share with other voters!

If you’d like to learn more about Karen, you can visit her campaign website, check out her page on Facebook, find her on Twitter, or meet her in person at one of the many campaign events around Hillsborough County.

IMG_2536

On this episode of the Teacher Voice podcast, I sat down and spoke with Henry “Shake” Washington, one of the two finalists who made it past the primary and into the general election on November 6th. Although Shake has already been endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times, I invited him on the podcast so that voters could hear from the man himself. We discuss his 42 year career with HCPS, why he decided to run for the School Board, and his vision for the future. Please listen to what he has to say and share with others!

If you’d like to learn more about Shake, you can visit his campaign website, Like/Follow his page on Facebook, or meet him in person at one of the many upcoming campaign events around Hillsborough County.

The above video contains my complete comments on the lack of taxation. Please watch for context for what is detailed below.

It is no secret that school districts all across the Sunshine State have been forced to squeeze blood from a stone by the Florida Legislature for over two decades, and especially since the Great Recession. As noted in the first “Numbers Don’t Lie” piece, Florida went from 27th in per-pupil spending in 1998 to 44th in 2018. Had we kept pace with inflation alone from 20 years ago, Florida would need to spend $9,913 per student. Instead, we currently spend $7,408.

But it’s far worse than simply not keeping pace with inflation. When Ernest Hooper and I were interviewing candidates at the Tampa Hob Nob a few weeks ago, HD64 Rep. Jamie Grant–by his own admission–stated that the three areas of the economy that have actually outpaced inflation were health care, higher education and K-12 education. This effectively compounds the problem, because not only has the Florida Legislature refused to make a meaningful investment in public education, their decision to be parsimonious has made the reduced spending power of those scant dollars that much more signficant (assuming his statement is true).

Hillsborough County is not the only county seeking tax referenda. It’s happening all over the state, which John Romano wrote about recently in the Tampa Bay Times. Going back to this past March, citizens of various counties are 12 for 12 in voting for some type of tax referendum to support their schools. Clearly voters are starting to understand that Tallahassee has gotten us all into these messes because of its ideological zeal for reducing taxes.

IMG_2267
The Great Taxation Paradox: No one wants to pay, yet we need the services they provide.

People who stand against the tax referenda do so for two principal reasons: 1) they claim “we’re taxed too much already”; 2) they believe Hillsborough County Public Schools has mismanaged its funds. Let’s examine these claims in detail:

“We’re Taxed Too Much Already”

Regarding the first claim, this is typical response from just about anyone when the subject of raising taxes is mentioned. The facts, however, do not support this claim. If anything, we are taxed too little in a state that is experiencing such rapid population growth. The lack of taxation is directly linked to: the unwillingness to investment in public education by the Florida Legislature, resulting in students and staff sweating in schools; the traffic congestion we get caught up in on a daily basis; why Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has one of the lowest deputy-to-citizen ratios in the state, etc. Simply put, there’s not enough money to go around.

Mitch Perry’s excellent piece in The Florida Phoenix last month detailed why so many counties are seeking various school and transportation referenda and, most notably, linked this report that highlights two key facts that were addressed during my comments to the school board:

1. Florida ranks 49th out of 50 states when it comes to “tax burden” (i.e. per-capita tax revenue generation).

2. Hillsborough County ranks 52nd out of 67 counties in Florida, which means we have the 15th lowest tax burden in the second lowest state in the U.S.

To say that “we are taxed too much already” is a preposterous statement that clearly ignores these facts and traffics in hyperbole when one considers the actual numbers.

HCPS Mismanages Its Funds

When it comes to the second claim about HCPS mismanaging its funds, it must be addressed in two parts. First, there are the optics of some of the board’s more questionable spending decisions over the last three years. Many critics often cite spending nearly a million dollars on the Gibson Report, nearly a million dollars for new school board offices/relocation of Human Resources from its original location to the Instructional Services Center, remodeling/refreshing the audio-visual equipment in the board room, etc. All told these items add up to perhaps $3 million across the last three years, which amounts to approximately 0.00033% of its total annual budget per year.

This is clearly a case of picking out a few trees while missing the entire forest.

Fiscal Stewardship
It took many painful cuts to get to this point, but Hillsborough citizens should be reassured that HCPS is doing its best with what little funding it receives from both state and local sources.

In truth, however, Hillsborough County Public Schools has done a great job of reigning in its deficit spending during the same period. This fact is all the more amazing when one considers the significance of this in light of continually declining purchasing power when dollars are adjusted for inflation. Many citizens of the county, for instance, may not realize that there has been a sharp reduction in “PECO” funding (Public Education Capital Outlay, the source that pays for installation and maintenance of HVAC systems, building and repairing schools, upgrading technology, etc) for several reasons:

1. At the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, the Florida Legislature–the governing body that effectively caps the tax rates that can be applied by school boards–reduced the millage rate from 2.0 to 1.5. Despite the economy recovering and now thriving, Tallahassee has never raised the millage rate back to pre-recession levels.

2. In addition to the millage rate never being restored, outgoing Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, famously quipped “Hell, no” in 2017 when asked if the Legislature would leave tax rates alone and allow rising property values to raise additional funds for education. Despite the Senate being okay with such a sensible compromise, the Grover Norquist anti-tax zealots in the House held firm and rolled back the rates even more.

3. Much of the revenue generated for PECO comes in the form of utilities taxes, including landline telephones, which hardly exist outside of businesses any longer. Therefore, a lot less money is going into those particular coffers at the state level.

Put this all together and what we get is a perfect fiscal storm that looks like this chart.

Capital Funding History
And people wonder why there is no money to fix A/C or otherwise repair our schools

While no one ever likes paying taxes, I would argue that there is a cost of paying too little. Having lived in Florida for just over 20 years now, I have watched our schools deteriorate and our roads fall apart while simutaneously becoming more clogged thanks to two decades of rampant, unchecked sprawl that has had little oversight and even less funding devoted to overcoming these challenges. I would highly encourage anyone who is reading this and lives in Hillsborough County to share this information with friends/family and vote for both of these referenda so that our citizens no longer have to live with the disastrous decisions being made by the Florida Legislature.

Furthermore, especially when it comes to the school district referendum in particular, please bear the following in mind: 1) the referendum can only be used for capital expenses; 2) there will be an oversight committee comprised of six citizens who have no connection to the district and will oversee how the money is spent on projects; 3) for the average Hillsborough citizen, the additional tax will mean about 17 cents per day. Undoubtedly, there will be naysayers who still want to vote no for their own personal reasons regardless of these facts. To them I paraphrase Voltaire by saying we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Our students, our schools, and our future depend on it.

Referendum Details
For more details, click here.

 

Lare, Joanne, Luke 2

This week’s episode of the Teacher Voice podcast is the follow-up special edition featuring the other slate of officer candidates for leadership of the Florida Education Association. Joanne McCall, Lawrence “Lare” Allen, and Luke Flynt are running for President, Vice President, and Secretary-Treasurer respectively. As with the previous podcast, the candidates share their histories and why they are running, their vision for the future of FEA, as well as why teachers and ESPs should join their locals. Please listen and share with others, especially those who will be delegates at the FEA DA next month.

If you’d like to learn more about Joanne, Lare, and Luke, you can visit their website, and follow/interact with Joanne (@joannefea), Lare (@LareAllen83), and Luke (@laflynt) on Twitter.

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Backside of the Leadership! Vision! Integrity! Mailer
LJL - Front
Front of the Leadership! Vision! Integrity! Mailer

 

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About a week ago, ABC Action News caught up with the Florida Department of Education’s Commissioner, Pam Stewart. The reporter in the video had been trying to get an official comment regarding the on-going saga of teachers who are losing their jobs due to not being able to pass one of Florida’s teacher certification exams.

Bear in mind, however, that many of these teachers have already demonstrated their skills in the field, had been rated “Effective” or better, had developed a rapport with the students they serve…yet were let go nonetheless.

This truly is “must see television”:

To provide some context, ABC Action News has been investigating this issue for about a year and a half, starting in March 2017. They had updates to this story in July of that same year, May 2018, again this past July, and culminating in this report from last week.

The shortest version possible of what has happened is this: in 2015 Pearson debuted new tests and pass rates quickly plummeted. Many teachers discuss their struggles with the mathematics portion of the General Knowledge Test, despite the majority of these teachers not even teaching math. Ever.

The one year I worked as a new teacher mentor coincided with the new, more challenging tests, and it was almost always the General Knowledge Test that was holding back first and second year teachers. One of my mentees, for instance, couldn’t pass the essay portion of the GK. She hailed from Puerto Rico, taught Spanish, was adored by her students, yet had to pass a meaningless portion of a test that had no real bearing on her ability to teach Spanish.

Compounding this problem is the statewide (national, really) teacher shortage. More and more “new” teachers are people who are making the transition to a new career, not a young person entering the profession from college. If someone hasn’t used their math skills in 10 or more years, they will have eroded significantly.

And, again, if a person is hired to be an art (or any subject not related to math) teacher, should she need to be able to do the following?

Test Questions
Sample Questions from the GK test, courtesy of Jeff Solochek and the Tampa Bay Times

In the midst of a teacher shortage crisis, one would hope that the state would offer some temporary reprieve on some of the testing requirements, especially the General Knowledge Test that seems to be the biggest barrier to staying in the profession. What’s more curious is that Florida does this to no other profession. No one who is going to take the bar exam to be a lawyer has to also take this test. It seems logical that if a person can earn an undergraduate degree such as a B.A. or B.S., s/he has the basic skills necessary to work in any professional domain.

Eliminating the GK test would not necessarily mean it is easier to become a teacher. A person still would have to pass the Florida Teacher Certification Examination and a Subject Area exam, and rightly so. A candidate should be able to know and understand the laws that govern the profession, the ethical obligations they hold as teachers, and demonstrate mastery in the content the educator will teach to students.

But having to prove you went to college 10 or 20 years after the fact by taking and passing the “General Knowledge” test? Absurd.

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viaGIPHY

(Sweet Incredible Hulk GIF that wouldn’t embed. You know you want to click the link.)

Other questions arise with this approach as well:

When these teachers who have already been deemed effective during their first few years lose their jobs, who replaces them? Who will connect with those students? A long-term substitute? Pam Stewart realizes that teachers aren’t growing on trees, right?

Why do only traditional public school teachers have to pass all these tests to earn their certification? Charters and private schools can hire people with no credentials, yet the FLDOE will kick good people to the curb because they have rusty math skills?

In the end, Commissioner Stewart’s horrible handling of this reporter is telling in three ways: 1) she’s hangry, and you wouldn’t like her when she’s hangry; 2) the FLDOE clearly does not want to discuss this issue, with her even going so far as to offer a deflective answer about turnaround schools; 3) she clearly has never, ever–not once–understood nor empathized with the plight of teachers and ESPs all across the Sunshine State who routinely sacrifice their lunch time for their students on an almost daily basis.

But, hey, like the Tampa Bay Times editorial board recently wrote, “No wonder there’s a teacher shortage in Florida

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Carole, Fed, and Andrew
Carole (left), Fed (center), and Andrew (right) are looking to “Transform Action Into Power”

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast features three guests that comprise one of the election tickets running to become the leaders of the Florida Education Association. Fed Ingram, Andrew Spar, and Carole Gauronskas are running to be the President, Vice President, and Secretary-Treasurer respectively. We sat down earlier this summer at the AFT Convention for them to share why they are running, their vision for the future of the FEA, and why teachers and ESPs should join their local unions. Please listen and share with others, especially those who will be delegates at the FEA DA next month.

If you’d like to learn more about Fed, Andrew, Carole and their candidacy, you can Like/Follow their campaign page on Facebook, and follow/interact with Fed (@fedingram), Andrew (@VUEPresident), and Carole (@cgauronskas) on Twitter.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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Backside of the #GoForIt Campaign Card
FAC-Front
Front of the TAP / #GoForIt Mailer

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Bill Person, HCPS School Board Candidate, District 1

As the picture above states, Bill is the right person at the right time. He narrowly lost to Susan Valdes in 2016, and he is the best candidate in the race due to his wide and varied background. First he served our country in the United States Air Force, then he served Hillsborough County, intially as a teacher, then school site administrator, and finished his career at the district level as a general director. After serving Hillsborough for over 40 years, he is asking the voters of District 1 to help him help us all one more time by coming back and serving on our local school board.

Bill’s main opponent is Steve Cona. His campaign was caught up in controversy last week over emailing HCPS teachers at work and soliciting donations, but his campaign’s actions and subsequent statement–which may as well have come from the man himself–calls into question the ethics of the candidate.

Cona Logo
And yet the campaign logo looks so wholesome…

First and foremost, there is an HCPS district policy that prohibits anyone employed by the district to campaign on a school site. While technically Mr. Cona does not work for the district, the same rule applies to sitting school board members as well. If elected officials are expected to be exemplars, shouldn’t the candidates also adhere to the same policies put in place by the governing body of which they are campaigning to join? It only seems logical. Bill has adhered to these policies in good faith, yet the Cona campaign persisted in sending emails at least three times.

Second, and far more problematic, is the statement issued by the Cona campaign:

Cona Statement

The very first line in the statement is misleading at best and an outright lie at worst, and here’s why: Enjoli White, the candidate liaison for Craig Latimer’s office at the Supervisor of Elections, said that voter email addresses are primarily collected when voters register to vote by mail, and even then it is optional to provide an email address. Two of the teachers, Laurie Rodriguez and Aron Zions, have registered to vote by mail yet never provided an email address at all, let alone a school district email address.

And LoraJane Riedas? She’s never even registered to vote by mail, making it impossible for the Cona campaign to have obtained the emails in this way.

The second half of the statement is true. There were a total of 74 SDHC email addresses listed among the 212,426 voters; expressed as a percentage of all possible email addresses the Cona campaign could have sent direct solicitations to, it is 0.00000348%.*

Questions immediately come to mind:

How could these teachers and numerous others have received these emails when such a minuscule percentage of all voters even used their work email addresses?

And if his campaign did not get these email addresses from the Supervisor of Elections list, where did they come from and how did the campaign get them?

Something about this doesn’t add up at all.

Leaving aside the issue about the possible illegality of this situation and focusing on the ethical implications should leave every District 1 voter wondering about Mr. Cona:

If his campaign is willing to issue patently false statements, what else is next?

Should voters be concerned about his connections to the construction industry when we all know massive growth is coming to Hillsborough County? His candidate finance search reveals money coming from construction company CEOs all over the state of Florida, not simply here in the Tampa Bay region. Susan Valdes willingly bent the rules by breaking the cone of silence to help her political donors, so is it possible that Steve Cona might be tempted to do the same? One would hope not.

The last thing District 1 voters and all of Hillsborough County needs is another unethical elected official.

Bill Person, on the other hand, is the candidate who wants to truly do business in the sunshine. He is the one who brought many of the corruption charges against Susan Valdes to light, and every citizen in Hillsborough County should be grateful that he did. Bill is a stand-up guy who will always be honest with his constituents and fellow board members, and we need that now more than ever.

If voters would like to learn more about Bill Person, they can listen to his appearance on the Teacher Voice podcast, Like or Follow his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter, or check out his campaign webpage. But time is of the essence and the most important thing any voter can do is VOTE! The primary ends on next Tuesday, August 28th, and hopefully all will choose to “elect the RIGHT Person.”

BP Flyer

*Disclaimer: only the candidates and their campaigns have access to this data, and the Bill Person campaign manager requested the list to verify the numbers and claims.

 

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In the words of Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe the Hype!”

If you are a voter who lives in House District 62 and haven’t voted yet, you need to vote for Mike Alvarez. He is the clear choice who brings a unique perspective as a former U.S. Marine and current small business owner. If you haven’t already heard from the man himself, he was on the Teacher Voice podcast earlier this summer, which you can listen to here.

You may have received one of these political ads in the mail for Susan Valdes in the last few days, and I’d like to call every voter’s attention to the least suspect part of the mailer itself: who sent it.

It is a well known fact that Susan Valdes filled nearly half her war chest with campaign contributions from for-profit charter management companies in her most recent District 1 School Board election. What may be unknown to the general public, however, is that in order to earn the endorsement of outgoing HD62 and overwhelmingly revered representative, Janet Cruz, Valdes had to promise not to take any donations from these companies.

Valdes lied.

Susan Valdes has quite the track-record of being an unethical elected official. There are numerous reasons that have been previously covered here, but this mailer is a case-in-point for how she will dance around the promises she has made in order to gain a political advantage.

Back to who paid for these mailers…

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Shakespeare once asked “what’s in a name?” In this case…EVERYTHING.

Rather than accept donations directly from the giant for-profit management companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, Charter School Associates, etc, Valdes is now having her mailers paid for by a PAC called “Florida Federation for Children”. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because of “American Federation for Children”, the organization started and promoted by none other than Betsy DeVos.

In a Tampa Bay Times article from four years ago, Kathleen McGrory discussed what a massive influence this political action committee was having on local and state elections across Florida. Two years ago, Sue Woltanski of Accountabaloney wrote two pieces about the Florida Federation for Children. One of the most salient quotes in the first of the two articles says the following:

Accountabaloney Quote
This is who is supporting Susan Valdes. Do voters in HD62 want to support this PAC?

And if any voter wants to see how heavily funded this group is by Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children PAC or numerous for-profit charter management companies, all he or she has to do is look at the campaign contribution list. All told, between DeVos, Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, this adds up to over 2.3 MILLION DOLLARS.

That sure does buy a lot of influence, and the last thing any constituent needs is another legislator being led around by special interest lobbyists.

The choice is clear for any voter in House District 62: Mike Alvarez is the candidate voters want to serve the interests of the people of his district, Hillsborough County, and all of Florida. Susan Valdes, on the other hand, wants to help faceless corporate profiteers who are trying to privatize public education to pad their bottom lines with public tax dollars. She is a disgrace to public education advocates locally and across the Sunshine State, and the Tampa Bay Times erred greatly when they endorsed this charlatan (UPDATE! Janet Cruz has rescinded her endorsement of Valdes)

But it’s not too late. If you live in House District 62 and haven’t voted yet, vote for Mike Alvarez! And even if you don’t live in the district but know others who do, please share this important and critical information with them, their family members and friends.

P.S. – And if any voter needs one final reason as to why Susan Valdes does NOT deserve his/her vote, never forget Valdes’ “foolishness” when she openly mocked teachers and ESPs who poured their hearts out to the HCPS School Board. If she is so openly hostile to the people who work with our children every day, imagine how dismissive and disrespectful she will be to the constituents of HD62.

Susan Mailer Edited
This is what the flyer should have said if she/it were being HONEST

Ernest Hooper
Ernest Hooper, Columnist and East Hillsborough Bureau Chief, Tampa Bay Times

If you live in the Tampa Bay area–and perhaps anywhere in Florida–the man above needs no introduction. Ernest Hooper has been sharing his thoughts with readers for many years, always concluding with his characteristic “that’s all I’m saying.”

I have had the honor of knowing Ernest for about a year now, and how our relationship started and since blossomed is nothing short of serendipitous. We first met through a chance introduction at a local coffee shop last fall. We shook hands, I told him that I was a fan, and we parted ways. But life seems to find ways for us to keep crossing paths and building on our friendship.

This past March, Ernest was the keynote speaker at an Alliance for Public Schools event showcasing increasing graduation rates in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. He spoke eloquently about how he started as a journalist because one of his teachers encouraged him to join the school newspaper after reading his sports stories. Before he left, I reintroduced myself, complimented him on his speech, and told him a little bit about the Teacher Voice blog and podcast.

After exchanging emails a few times, he asked me to take part in his Sunday Conversation piece, and I eagerly agreed. We met at a local restaurant and, although the actual interview only lasted 30 minutes, we talked for well over two hours about public education, the Florida Legislature, the coming elections, and just about everything in between. I walked away even more impressed with Ernest. Our wide ranging conversation revealed him to be an extraordinarily inquisitive, insightful, intelligent and humble human being.

Serendipity struck again this past Monday when I found Ernest in the same coffee shop. He asked if I had plans for the next day, and when I said I had none he invited me to attend the “2018 Political Hob Nob” hosted by the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce at the Tampa Convention Center. How could I say no?

Before we entered the ballroom, Ernest asked me if I had a notepad. I left everything in my car so he supplied me with the long type that journalists often carry, and he officially “deputized” me as a journalist. Ostensibly, he was there to write an upcoming column about which candidates for the Florida Legislature would take the FEA pledge to fight for raising teacher salaries to the national average by 2023; Ernest had a vested interest in this story, though, because his son Ethan had started his teaching career in Orlando county the day before.

We were men on a mission.

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The one picture I had the presence of mind to take during the event, mainly because I was engaged in the moment, the conversations, and watching Ernest work.

For over two hours, I was Ernest’s wingman as we walked the room, shaking hands, asking questions, and listening to answers. I kept a tab of who would take the pledge and who would not, but I will leave that for Ernest to tell you about when his column is published on Friday, August 24th. Regardless of their political affiliations, most of the candidates wanted to support public education and were very cordial.

Most, but not all.

Easily the most salient interaction I witnessed involved one in which a candidate said more with what was not said. Ernest approached the candidate, asked about the pledge, and the candidate in question did not know what the national average for teacher salaries is (just shy of $60K), what the average salary is for Florida’s teachers (a little under $48K), or that our state ranks 45th in teacher salaries when compared to the U.S. Instead, Ernest was rebuffed twice: the first time over having to pay for the table to be at the event and that the candidate had to talk to people who could offer support via their vote (Ernest and I were the only ones talking to this candidate); the second time, only a moment later, when the candidate’s aide clearly ushered someone over to take our place. We were dismissed with a “call me for an interview.”

As a Social Studies teacher and active citizen, this was the most shameful, disheartening display from a potential public official. Regardless of whether or not Ernest and I (or anyone for that matter) live in this candidate’s district, this person potentially represents Hillsborough County and all of us. To see a fellow citizen turned away with a dismissive “just a journalist” attitude is the wrong tact to take for any candidate or elected official.

We pressed on.

I had to take my leave from Ernest before I really wanted to, but I needed to get home. I thanked him for the opportunity, and kept the radio off on my drive home to reflect on our time together. While meeting the candidates and networking with future legislators was indeed fun, the biggest takeaway from the experience was simply spending more time with Ernest and learning from his gracious nature. He introduced me each time as his friend first, then as a teacher. He encouraged me to give cards away for Teacher Voice. He invited me into the discussion often, allowing me to share my expertise with the candidates, both in terms of my personal experience as a classroom teacher and as informed public education advocate.

If you don’t know Ernest, I hope that you are fortunate enough to one day meet the man behind the column. He’s quick with a smile, has a great laugh, an affable nature, and is genuinely listening to what others have to say. Just walking around the room for those two hours and talking to him in between candidates was about the best way I could have spent my Tuesday afternoon.

And I can’t wait for serendipity to strike again.

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The notepad that Ernest gave me when he “deputized” me as a journalist.

 

 

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Dr. Stacy Hahn, USF Professor, HCPS Board Candidate

The latest episode of the Teacher Voice podcast features Dr. Stacy Hahn, one of the School Board candidates for District 2 of Hillsborough County Public Schools. With a 26 year career in public education, first as a special needs classroom teacher, then as a professor at the University of South Florida (Go Bulls!) preparing new educators, Stacy Hahn hopes to bring a career’s worth of education experience and advocacy to the HCPS School Board.

During this episode we discuss her career, the local and national teacher shortage, how to draw people into the profession by restoring its respect through teacher autonomy and leadership, her work at a local community school, and several other issues that have cropped up during her campaign.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Stacy Hahn, please visit her website. You can also Like/Follow her Facebook page to keep up to date with her news and campaign events, or join in the conversation on Twitter.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

Support Public Ed

When the Teacher Voice project began over a year ago, another name under consideration was “Teaching Matters”. It was alluring due to the double meaning, but in the end Teacher Voice won out when asking family and friends for feedback. That said, the original essay I wrote is below, and in an election year it is even more imperative that we work to elect legislators and school board members who will support our students, our profession, and will invite us to be part of the conversation for how to improve public education for all stakeholders involved in the process.

While riding up an escalator up to the next level at a mall nearly 30 years ago, my father turned to me and asked me a question: what do you want to do when you grow up? It took me by surprise when he said these words, and I didn’t have an answer at the ready. So I thought about it for a minute and said, “I think I want to be a teacher.” He frowned a bit and told me that I was too intelligent, would be wasting my time and talent, and concluded with “You should think about going into business.” His response left me more than a little perplexed, especially considering he was married to a teacher himself.

Many years later, I never intended to be a teacher. After finishing my B.A. and while working on my M.A., I was pondering whether to go to law school to earn a J.D. or to continue my graduate studies and earn a Ph.D. and become a university professor. But none of that ever happened because I stepped into a classroom as a substitute teacher and never looked back. It only took me a few weeks before an epiphany struck me in a way that all but solidified my career choice—teaching matters.

Teaching matters is a simple yet profound idea, and one upon which we can all agree despite the current political climate here in Florida and across the U.S. What person would disagree with this notion? Aren’t we all teachers in our own way? We teach our children lessons long before they ever set foot in school, and long after they graduate. We teach them by what we say and, far more critically, by how we act. Surely, then, we can all agree on the importance of teaching.

Teaching is so much more than a vehicle for the transmission of knowledge, though—it’s also about inspiring students to pursue their dreams, encouraging them to give their best effort at all times, providing emotional support when their lives are experiencing turmoil, instilling an insatiable inquisitiveness in their minds to ensure they will be lifelong learners, and caring deeply about each and every single one of them as individual human beings who are worthy of dignity simply for having been born—and none of these things that teachers do can ever be measured by a VAM score.

Teaching matters, ultimately, because we care about our kids, our future.

Teaching as a chosen profession, however, is on the decline, especially here in the Sunshine State. I don’t need to quote recent headlines about the national teacher shortage, or about how our legislators are flummoxed by how to address the challenge, or about how Tallahassee has been squeezing blood from a stone and leaving every school district in the state financially hamstrung due to the insufficient funding for education. And while I could offer numerous potential solutions to our legislators about drawing “the best and the brightest” minds into the profession and keeping them here—such as raising the salaries of teachers from the lowest quintile in the U.S. to at least the national average, which itself already lags behind the average of all college graduate salaries by 20 percent—I’ll offer only two that won’t even cost the legislature any money at all: 1) respect the profession; 2) let us help by sharing our expertise.

Many of our legislators are evidently fond of maligning teachers: we’re lazy, or evil, or whatever other negative, sweeping generalization they’d like to heap upon us on any given day. Would our legislators say such things about our police officers, firefighters, social workers, or other public servants who have dedicated their lives to a career that strives to help individuals and our society as a whole? If our representatives and senators want to solve the riddle, it begins first and foremost by acknowledging the that teaching matters and that the tens of thousands of educators who walk into classrooms are worthy of their respect for all that we do for our kids and our future.

Equally as important, legislators should be tapping into our expertise. Virtually all of them have never been in the classroom, yet they act is if they know what’s best for our students. The general consensus about what constitutes being an expert is having at least 10,000 hours of experience in any given field, which means approximately 11 years of teaching if we were to only count time spent in front of students. If we were to include all of the hours spent outside the classroom that are dedicated to developing lesson plans, grading assignments, maintaining records, attending faculty meetings, engaging in professional development, earning additional certifications and advanced degrees, the number would probably drop to 5 years. Thousands of us undoubtedly fit this criterion, and I’m confident many would be willing to lend a hand to provide insight into the challenges our educational system faces.

I don’t think that our legislators are going to suddenly respect us or ask us for our informed opinion any time soon, however, which is why this open letter serves as a clarion call to every teacher in our state and beyond. We need to do what we do best, which is teach. But not only must we teach our students, we must teach our legislators about the issues we’re all facing. We can do this by sending emails and letters while they are in session and, perhaps more importantly, starting to build relationships with the legislators representing our individual counties by requesting face-to-face meetings to have engaging discussions and exchanging ideas.

We all know that teaching matters. It’s time to work collaboratively to do what’s best for our kids and our future.

 

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Vote for Scott “Mr. H” Hottenstein for District 6, Hillsborough County School Board

In the final weeks of July, the Tampa Bay Times released its list of endorsed candidates for the Hillsborough County School Board. While I do concur with the editorial board’s picks for District 1 (Bill Person), District 2 (Stacy Hahn), and District 4 (Melissa Snively) (click the links to learn more about these candidates or donate to their campaigns), I believe the board does not see the intangibles possessed by Scott Hottenstein that make him the best candidate for this role.

Although the Times called Scott Hottenstein a “teacher in the district” and “first time candidate,” that is not how we should view Scott at all. Having interviewed nearly all of the District 6 candidates for the Teacher Voice podcast, what stood out were Scott’s attributes from his previous employer: The United States Navy. We shouldn’t view Scott only as a teacher; instead, we should see him through the lens of a career Navy veteran with half a lifetime of leadership who also happens to have five years of classroom experience.

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“Mr. H” and family during his Navy career

Here’s why anyone who cares about Public Education here in Hillsborough County should vote for Scott Hottenstein:

  1. 24 year career as a Navy Officer, culminating as Lieutenant Commander and second in command of his entire base on Sicily when he retired. Quite simply, the man would not have advanced through the ranks without demonstrating tremendous leadership capacity.
  2. Successfully navigated and excelled in a large bureaucratic organization (U.S. Navy) Being a school board member for the 8th largest district in the United States, then, would be an easy transition in which Scott could use his intelligence and communication skills to the benefit of all stakeholders, especially our students.
  3. As second in command of his base, Scott also had experience managing budgets that numbered into the tens of millions, all of which filtered through multiple revenue streams, much like our own school district’s $3 billion behemoth budget that includes local, state, and federal funding. Surely his past skill set in this regard will scale up for his primary job of being a sound fiscal steward of our tax dollars.
  4. Scott is a public servant, plain and simple. After dedicating over half his life to serving his fellow citizens as a United States Naval Officer, Scott willfully chose to become a teacher and continue his public service by educating the next generation. Scott left his post in the Navy with numerous security clearances and easily could have commanded a six figure salary working with a private company that does contractual or consulting work for our nation’s military. Instead, Scott chose to spend his days teaching 7th grade Civics at Barrington Middle School, coaching track, initiating a chess club and a school government chapter, and even manning the school when it became a shelter during Hurricane Irma. Scott is the very living embodiment of servant leadership.

In summation, Scott “Mr. H” Hottenstein is an honorable man of integrity who has always sought to give back to his fellow citizens, first in the Navy, now in our schools. He has earned my vote for the above stated reasons as well as running his campaign on small donations, and a grassroots effort powered by student volunteers so they can gain first-hand, real world experience with civic engagement. But I am only one vote, and I would encourage all of residents of Hillsborough to vote for him as well. Scott dedicated the first half of his life to our country, let’s help him dedicate the next phase of his public service to Hillsborough’s students and their future.

If you’d like to hear from Scott Hottenstein himself, here is his interview on the Teacher Voice podcast; we discuss his Navy career, why he became a teacher, and why he wants to run for the Hillsborough County School Board. You can also learn more about his campaign platform and/or make a small donation at his website, Like or Follow his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. Please consider voting for Scott Hottenstein and sharing this post with other friends and family who live, work and vote here in Hillsborough County. #VoteVeteran #ElectATeacher

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Scott, his wife Laura, and their two sons, William (left) and Iain (right)

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Nick Guy
Nick Guy, District 1 Candidate for Sarasota School Board, along with Heather, Reese, and Riley.

In Nick’s own words, he’s about principles, not politics.

The former teacher turned IT analyst wants to help his former profession and all students throughout Sarasota county, mainly by fighting back against the march of privatization of public education that has been happening during the last decade. He is in a formidable race against an incumbent who is largely funded by “dark money” pouring in from PACs that have ties to voucher and for-profit charter proponents.

If you’d like to learn more about Nick Guy, you can check out his website, Like or Follow his Facebook page, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Be sure to check out Nick’s cool commercial below, please share the podcast with other Sarasota voters / public education advocates, and have a great weekend, everyone!

Charlie Kennedy
Charlie Kennedy, former high school teacher, District 2 Manatee County Schools Board member

All over the United States this election season, numerous teachers are running for office on the heels of the wave of teacher walkouts that happened in states such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. Long before that, however, one of Charlie’s students challenged him to run for his local school board in 2014.

To his surprise, he won.

Charlie first appeared on the Teacher Voice podcast nearly one year ago, which provided listeners with his backstory and his advocacy for public education in Manatee County and beyond. Now Charlie is up for re-election, has an opponent, and we sat down recently to discuss his accomplishments during his first term as well as what he would like to achieve over the next four years.

If you’d like to learn more about Charlie, you can read his blog/website here, Like / Follow his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. And if you are a voter (or know one) who lives in Manatee County, please share the podcast with others.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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Mike Alvarez, Democratic Candidate for House District 62, along with his wife Amanda and daughter Abigail

This week’s guest on the podcast is Mike Alvarez, a Democratic candidate for House District 62 here in Hillsborough County. He is a former U.S. Marine who is looking to continue his service to the public by helping his home town of Tampa, directly addressing issues such as public education, mental health, and veterans. Mike learned first hand as a child that public schools are necessary to thrive later on in life, and wants to ensure his own family and all children also have the same opportunity to receive a high-quality free public education.

If you are a voter who lives in HD62 and would like to learn more about Mike, his campaign, or the endorsements he has already received, you can learn more at his website or Facebook page. If you do not live in HD62 but know someone who does, please share this podcast with him or her, especially if they are planning on voting for Susan Valdes.

Thanks again for listening and sharing with others, everyone!

P.S. – Although she is not pictured, Mike and his wife Amanda recently welcomed their newest addition, Madison, to their family. Click the Facebook link above to see pictures and/or Like/Follow his page.

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Waterset, the newest Charter Schools USA located in Apollo Beach, Hillsborough County

Two weeks ago today, on June 28th, I attended my first Charter Schools USA board meeting at Waterset, the newest CSUSA school that was built in the Waterset development on the south side of Big Bend Road in Hillsborough County. Nestled among a sprawling development that includes a clubhouse and homes for the upper-middle class residents of the area, Waterset is a handsome facility with state of the art technology and classrooms that are surely meant to lure in unsuspecting parents who only want the best for their children.

Before getting to the meeting itself, let me unequivocally state that I am not opposed to charter schools or school choice on principle. As an International Baccalaureate teacher at an A rated magnet school here in Hillsborough County, it would be dishonest of me to take a stand against school choice when I work at a choice school. And if the Florida Legislature adequately funded public education here in this state so that all choices could receive equal funding, I would probably have little to rail against.

But this is Florida, after all, and our elected officials clearly have a pet project of underfunding traditional public schools while shoveling money at charters and vouchers. So rail against this inequity I must.

 

When Al Shanker first proposed the idea of charter schools in 1988, they were meant to be a place that allowed teachers to take control and offer innovative approaches to students who struggled with traditional education. He wanted professionals who knew best to be unencumbered by bureaucratic red tape, allowed to propose and administer their own programs, and flourish alongside students who needed their help. It’s a noble idea, yet one that has been co-opted and corrupted by corporate interests.

For those who are unaware of the charter taxpayer scam being perpetuated by several privately held companies—the two largest of which are Academica and Charter Schools USA—the following is a brief primer (although you can listen to this excellent podcast with Pat Hall to gain a deeper understanding):

In 1996, Florida approved charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools. By law, these schools are considered non-profit just like their traditional counterparts and are funded with taxpayer dollars. Many of the early charter schools were small operations set up by parents or other community members who wanted to serve niche student populations who struggled in traditional settings, just as Shanker had first proposed (Pepin Academies and F.A.C.E. are good examples of charters that are genuinely non-profit here in HCPS).

Somewhere along the way, however, this model has been perverted due to a loophole in the legislation, which has allowed for-profit charter management companies to create an industry that is bilking Florida taxpayers to the tune of tens (if not hundreds at this point) of millions of dollars per year. In essence, this scam works with three key players: real estate, construction, and the for-profit charter management companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, Charter School Associates, etc. These companies have numerous subsidiaries that allow them to rig the game at the expense of us all. One LLC will purchase the land for cheap, another LLC will build the school, and, after the for-profit company has installed a technically “non-profit” board, this board effectively turns around and pays the for-profit management company for back office services, “management fees”, and exorbitant rental-lease agreements that are typically astronomical compared to what other buildings in the area receive on a per-square-foot basis. In the end, on average, these companies end up siphoning off nearly HALF of the public dollars meant for students and classrooms.

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Ryan Construction works alongside Red Apple Development, the construction LLC of CSUSA

Worst of all, Tallahassee’s incestuous relationship with these for-profit charter management companies are a direct result of the legislation we have seen in the last two years under House Speaker Corcoran. Manny Diaz, for example, one of the principal architects behind HB7069 that ensured more money was devoted to charters, draws a six figure salary for Doral College, a for-profit institution affiliated with Academica, the largest of these profiteers in the Sunshine State. Hello conflict of interest! Florida ethics laws are clearly a joke to these elected officials.

***Back to the CSUSA Board Meeting***

When I walked into the meeting, I was greeted by Kerianne, a woman who works for CSUSA and travels the state to act as a board liaison on behalf of the company. Although technically a public meeting, it was held in a fairly small room that included a long table with chairs around it and only three empty chairs for onlookers. Clearly these meetings are not well attended, which I am sure they would prefer.

The meeting itself was fairly quick, and the people I met were all quite friendly. I have no doubt that the administrators and parent-facilitators at the table (as well as the teachers and staff who work at these schools) genuinely want the best for the students they serve. Ultimately I believe anyone who works directly with children on a daily basis are simply giving back to the next generation and their local communities. But there were a few highlights that are noteworthy:

  • The CSUSA board liaison, Kerianne, effectively ran the meeting. The board members are simply there to go through the motions and rubber stamp everything.
  • One of the items approved regarding SB7026 was described as “lots of boilerplate insert school here”, which contained information for how CSUSA would handle school safety initiatives. Some districts are allowing them to “piggy back” on their SRO or SSO initiatives, but other counties are resisting and telling the charters to pay for officers themselves (HCPS has told them that they are responsible for the cost). CSUSA plans to use their employees as guardians or contract with private security firms if the need arises.
  • Most notably, the SB7026 legislation also includes provisions for addressing mental health, but if CSUSA doesn’t receive enough funding from the state or districts for school psychologists or social workers, the schools are to kick the problem back to the parents for them to handle privately.
  • Rod Jurado, the board chair, noted that CSUSA has been speaking with Senator Bill Galvano (the Senate President in waiting) about “seeing what we can do to get into Manatee County.”
  • Board members apparently have term limits, yet were given extensions by a vote.
  • Noted that CSUSA will be opening (or recently opened) 9 new schools, serving 8500 students (sidenote: at $7408 per-student this means CSUSA will receive $63 million in new revenue, with approximately $28.3 million being added to their bottom lines—all at taxpayer and traditional public education expense).
  • A mention of growing concern about securing bonds for the new schools being built before the interest rates went up.
  • Review of school grades for the local CSUSA schools under the board’s purview; interestingly enough, they only discussed the three schools that received an A. Waterset barely earned a C with 337 points.

And, perhaps in an unintentionally ironic yet comical statement, Mr. Jurado explicitly made mention that the schools and board are non-profit, carrying on about how he nor any other board member receive a salary or stipend, and that they should all help correct this misconception when speaking to the public. I still wonder if he would have even said it had I not been in the room.

In the end, the board meeting is largely a ruse that is intended to look like an actual board meeting. Not once was there any discussion of any agenda items, and what discussion that did transpire was mostly explanations that were given to the board from the CSUSA liaison, Kerianne. Although other meetings typically revolve around “recruitment and retainment” of students to maximize profit, most of the money talk was confined to securing bonds for their new buildings, which are owned by the companies themselves and not the public that funded them. The entire enterprise is a racket, and all taxpayers in Florida should be aware and demand better from our elected officials. The Florida Legislature should legislatively close the loophole that allows these charlatans to legally steal from public education coffers that are filled with our tax dollars.

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The one page agenda, featuring a picture of a curiously homogeneous classroom

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Debra Bellanti, Democratic Candidate for House District 60, along with her husband, Anthony, and their daughter, Josephine.

As we continue the summer of podcasts, this week’s special guest is Debra Bellanti, the Democratic candidate for House District 60 of the Florida Legislature. While she is running as a Democrat, Debra is building a bipartisan coalition of mothers who are deeply concerned about the level of funding devoted to public education and how it affects our students’ safety. For these efforts and others, she has received numerous endorsements and distinctions.

In addition to discussing education, Debra also shares her views on several other issues that are critical for the entire Hillsborough delegation in general and her South Tampa community in particular. Please listen and share with other voters of House District 60 or concerned public education advocates!

If you’d like to learn more about Debra, you can check out her website here, like or follow her on Facebook, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

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Sue Woltanski, Co-Founder of Accountabaloney and Monroe County School Board Member

This week’s guest on the Teacher Voice podcast is Sue Woltanski, a mother, pediatrician, public education advocate, and now recently elected Monroe County School Board member. We spoke over the phone this past Thursday, one day after the FLDOE released the school grades, which happens to be her area of expertise and what prompted the creation of the Accountabaloney blog. For those of you who are parents and don’t know how school grades are calculated or ever wondered why we have so much testing here in the Sunshine state, this podcast will be particularly insightful.

If you’d like to learn more about Sue and her advocacy efforts, you can also like or follow the Accountabaloney page on Facebook, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Thanks again for tuning in, everyone, please listen/share with others, and have a great week!

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Phil Hornback, Democratic Candidate for HD 58

This week’s episode of Teacher Voice podcast features Phil Hornback, a small business owner, former bricklayer, and former public school science teacher. Phil is a hard working guy who wants to bring a common sense approach to Tallahassee by standing for the constituents of the community rather than the special interests who dominate our state’s legislative sessions.

Although our conversation focuses mainly on public education, Phil also discusses his personal history, why he’s running, as well as the other important ideas for his campaign. Please listen and share this episode, especially with those who live in House District 58.

If you’d like to learn more about Phil Hornback and his campaign, check out his website here, you can Like/Follow his Facebook page, or you can also follow him on Twitter.

Thanks for listening and have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

P.S. – This is Phil speaking at the HCPS school board meeting on June 5th about for-profit managed charter schools, a topic that we discuss during the podcast itself.

PhilFor58

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Best Twitter Profile Pic Ever

This week’s Teacher Voice guest is well known in public education circles here in Florida, as I’d imagine just about anyone listening to this episode knows Jeff Solochek, education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and creator of the Gradebook blog.

This podcast is a special one year anniversary edition. Teacher Voice officially started on 6/17/17 with this first post, and I always knew I wanted Jeff to be a guest after appearing on the Gradebook podcast when I started the Teacher Voice project. On this episode we discuss how Jeff became a reporter, why he chose education, how his speed reading ability allows him to get through so many articles and write summaries on each, among many other topics. Anyone who knows and/or reads Jeff will really enjoy this episode.

It’s been an amazing first year of the Teacher Voice project. I’ve met so many great people doing the podcast, and all have a vested interest in our students, their education, and their future. Honestly, I still cannot believe the overwhelmingly positive response from others, both locally and across the state, and I look forward to what the next year brings. Thank you so much for listening to the podcasts, reading the blog posts, and sharing them with others.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and Happy Fathers’ Day to all the dads out there!

P.S. – If you haven’t heard the latest edition of the Gradebook podcast Jeff references in our chat, you can listen to it here.

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Nearly six months to the day after calling for Susan Valdes’ resignation due to her “foolishness” comment, the District 1 member of the HCPS school board has officially resigned to run for the Florida Legislature in House District 62.

Better late than never.

The following is an open letter to the constituents of House District 62 as well as a political playbook for her primary campaign opponents.

As noted previously in podcasts and other posts, Susan Valdes’ commitment to the Hispanic community specifically (and all minorities generally) is both noteworthy and laudable. No one can deny she has advocated for these students during her time on the board.

But numerous problems remain and all voters should beware her motivations, especially in light of her alleged “three P’s” comment and other troubling revelations from the last two years since she won re-election in 2016.

Three Ps

If I were a campaign manager for Valdes’ opponents, here are several points I would address every time when speaking to the constituents of House District 62 so that every voter knows exactly who Susan Valdes is and what she stands for:

  1. Campaign Contributions from For-Profit Charter Management Companies

Public Education is a tried and true campaign platform for any and all Democrat candidates and, typically, this party is the only one that has cried foul against the taxpayer fraud being committed by these for-profit charter management companies (learn more here). In essence, these companies establish “non-profit” boards to comply with the law, and these boards turn around and hire the company for management, back office services, pay them rental/lease agreements above and beyond market value, etc. Nearly half of the money doesn’t even get to the kids in the classrooms; instead, it goes to pad the profit lines of companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates.

All three of these companies gave handsomely to Susan Valdes during the 2016 election cycle and should call into question her advocacy for public education. While most Democrats are trying to defend it, she is silently cheering on its demise by taking money from privatizing profiteers.

2. Ethics Investigations

It’s no secret that Member Valdes has abused her power while on the school board, which led to the state of Florida opening up separate ethics investigations against her. Her family received free day care even though she was never technically an employee; it would appear she helped her friend and campaign manager get a job in the county for which she had no qualifications; she interfered with the open bidding process during the “cone of silence” to ensure that a local company–whose CEO donated heavily to Valdes’ re-election bid–had a second chance to change their pricing, resulting in a contract that still cost taxpayers $50,000 more than it could have had the district gone with the original bid winner, Arey Jones.

Now that she has resigned, however, those ethics investigations cease. But that doesn’t change the fact that there was enough evidence to merit the investigations by the state in the first place, and any primary opponent would be wise to constantly mention these investigations and not let her off the hook for her past transgressions.

3. Taxpayers Footing the Bill for Valdes’ Excessive Travel

As the linked editorial above notes, this has been a chronic problem since Susan Valdes was elected in 2004. In her first term she spent over $50,000 and, despite her pledge to be more mindful of it in the future, she never quit. She infamously made news again in 2016 when she spent over $14,000 from May of 2015 to May of 2016, which was more than the remaining six board members combined. This also coincided with the first time I spoke at an HCPS school board meeting, mainly because I was so distraught over her reckless use of taxpayer dollars at a time when the district was trying to shore up its reserves by cutting spending.

4. Susan Valdes – Career Politician

For the last fourteen years, Susan Valdes has served as a school board member for Hillsborough County Public Schools. This year, the Florida Legislature tried to pass legislation to enforce term limits on school board members, an effort that ultimately never passed yet was bundled into Amendment 8 by the Constitution Revision Commission (please vote NO on 8!). This amendment, however, also includes a provision that will allow for-profit charters to circumvent local school boards altogether, so despite its attempt to limit school board members to two consecutive terms–something many people across the Sunshine State want–it comes at too steep a cost to public education.

Now she wants to jump ship and try to “serve the people” (i.e. herself and her campaign contributors) of House District 62. The voters of this district should fully repudiate her and end her career in politics now before she wreaks more havoc on Hillsborough County. If you are a resident of District 62, please vote for one of her primary opponents; if you know someone who lives in 62, please share this post / information with that person.

Please vote in this critical midterm primary election.

Just vote for anyone other than Susan Valdes.

FEFP
For two decades the Florida Legislature has been squeezing blood from a stone

Three weeks ago the Florida Legislature’s Office of the House Majority put out this video in an effort to combat the bad press it had been getting over the 47 cent increase to the BSA, or Base Student Allocation.

After my own rebuttal to this reprehensible attempt to characterize all education professionals as everyone’s favorite disheveled ingrate, Frank, Politifact Florida weighed in on the matter to state that the House Majority’s video about the #47centmyth (boy, I love it when Corcoran and Co. coin hashtags) is “mostly false.”

So what did the Office of the House Majority do? Did it see the error of its ways and decide to use an archaic method to have the Florida Legislature return for a special session via roll call so that it could properly fund public education?

No, it made another video.

Let me save the reader a valuable 4 minutes and 27 seconds of life and sum it up: according to the Florida Legislature, the only number that matters is FEFP, which stands for Florida Education Finance Program. This is the number that we should all reference when talking about education spending so that we have a single measurement by which we can accurately discuss how much the Sunshine State spends “per-pupil.”

For the upcoming school year of 2018-19 that “per-pupil” number is $7,408.

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Everyone’s favorite lovable ingrate, Frank, is overjoyed with the Florida Legislature’s largesse.

As much as the GOP-led Florida Legislature wants to argue about what constitutes a fact, here are three numbers/facts that make it incredibly tough to argue against:

20 years ago, Florida spent $6,443 per-pupil; adjusted for inflation, this number would have to be $9,913 in constant dollars to keep up with rising costs.

10 years ago, Florida spent $7,126 per-pupil; again, adjusted for inflation, this number would have to be $8,311.

Yet here we are, 20 years later, and we still haven’t increased per-pupil funding by even $1,000 from two decades ago. And all of this transpired under the watchful eye of a GOP-led Florida Legislature and Governor’s mansion that has refused to keep up with rising costs, let alone make a meaningful investment in our children and their future.

Numbers don’t lie, people. Inflation happens. And when the Florida Legislature touts the FEFP per-pupil number as the only one that matters, it opens itself up to even more criticism precisely because costs have risen the last two decades the GOP has been in power, yet the purchasing power of that money has simultaneously declined.

Despite Governor Scott’s, House Speaker Corcoran’s, and Senate President Negron’s claims that this year’s per-pupil spending is “historic”, “unprecedented”, and “record-level”, $7,408 lags the national average by over $4,000 and, as previously demonstrated above, its own inflation-adjusted spending by over $2,500.

Oh, and here’s one more number/fun fact for our GOP legislators: in 1998 Florida was 27th in per-pupil spending, putting our state at roughly the national average back then (27th in the U.S.); now, in 2018, just about every measure shows that we rank in the bottom 10 percent (45th or lower) of the entire United States.

And until we vote these people out, they will continue to squeeze blood from a stone…

P.S. – Is this more “Corcoran fuzzy math”? Not sure where this inflated number comes from, but it shows up briefly on the side of the bus in the new video (almost like a subliminal message) and $7,408 is never mentioned.

Supposed K-12 Spending
Yipee! Even if this number were correct–it’s not–we’d lag the national average by ONLY $3,000!

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Sarah Fortney, Candidate for Polk County School Board District 3

Sarah Fortney is a science teacher with 33 years of classroom teaching experience, and she wants to bring that experience to the Polk County School Board. Any classroom teacher who listens to this edition of Teacher Voice will be able to relate to many of the struggles she describes. She hopes to change things for the better for every stakeholder in the education process, especially her future constituents in Polk County.

If you’d like to learn more about Sarah Fortney or her campaign, you can visit her site by clicking here. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter (click either). And if you like what Sarah has to say, please share with friends and family who live in Polk County.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

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Lane Weaver, former Hillsborough County Public Schools student and recent Summa Cum Laude graduate from the Florida State University’s College of Education

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast welcomes one of my former students, Lane Weaver, who is about to embark on his new career as a high school Social Studies teacher in Orange county this coming August. He emailed me a few weeks back just to share the exciting news and update me on his life, so I invited him to join me for a conversation about his time as a student in HCPS, at Florida State, and why he decided to become a teacher and make a positive difference in the lives of his future students.

Are you a new or veteran teacher who would like to share your voice on the podcast? Please send an email to 1teachervoice@gmail.com and perhaps we can get together this summer.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Enjoy the Memorial Day holiday weekend!

April Griffin
April Griffin, Countywide District 6 School Board Member for Hillsborough County

Thank you, Mrs. Griffin.

This genuine expression of gratitude is long overdue, and I hope it sheds light on why I began the Teacher Voice project.

As I told Ernest Hooper a few weeks ago, the first time I ever spoke up about anything affecting our school district was in late February of 2016. I was concerned about the changes being implemented to the new teacher mentor program, a role in which I was then serving. The questions I sent to Marlene Sokol were reprinted verbatim on the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog, and my phone started blowing up when it was published online.

The following Monday, February 29th, I sat in a room with 24 other new teacher mentors, Mrs. Griffin, and one of the assistant superintendents, Mrs. McManus, both of whom came to hear out our concerns. Many of my peers were deeply bothered by the sudden change to a successful program, and rightly so. For the entire duration of the meeting, I sat mute, listening, taking it all in.

Toward the end of said meeting, Mrs. Griffin said a famous quote I had even used in my original email: in dark times we must speak truth to power.

I couldn’t agree with her more then, and I still believe this is the case now more than ever.

Several months went by before I spoke publicly at my first school board meeting. Emboldened by Mrs. Griffin’s endorsement of my voice, my wife and I addressed the board on November 1st, 2016. I even used the line and publicly thanked Mrs. Griffin that day.

 

 

This was then followed by a 75 minute conversation in January of 2017 with our Superintendent, Jeff Eakins, who encouraged me to use my “voice” by writing op-eds, reaching out to legislators, and other public education advocacy efforts.

I mulled this over for the next several months before finally taking the plunge, and “Teacher Voice” was born on 6/17/17 when I wrote my first post (be sure to come back for a special edition one year anniversary podcast with someone who every public education advocate knows!).

And then today this unfortunate piece appeared in La Gaceta.

To be honest, the publisher, Patrick Manteiga, should be ashamed for multiple reasons, least of which as a “journalist” he should try to steer clear of sensationalism in all of its forms. Although this bit of #FakeNews reads like a gossip column in the National Enquirer or, better yet, World Weekly News, he doesn’t even properly contextualize the comments being made when he decided to include me in this conversation.

And so to set the record straight, let’s recap:

On November 12th, 2017, I sent a joint message to both Melissa Snively and Lynn Gray, two of our other school board members who oversee HCPS. This was two days before the first planned rally of our local union, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, and, for the sake of full disclosure, I had asked them to make a motion to suspend the rules on employee comment so that all teachers and ESPs could be heard at the 11/14/17 school board meeting. This was after I had already written an open letter to the entire school board asking them to do the very same thing, because a few months earlier Susan Valdes had established a similar precedent by allowing a large number of speakers from the Hispanic community to bring their concerns to the board.

Time-Date Stamp

 

I had sent this message to them through this medium for two reasons: 1) I didn’t know if they would see it in time had I sent it via my regular school email; 2) I wanted to suggest that they make the motion and second it because they have often been the two members who publicly and frequently advocate for the employees of HCPS while on the dais.

Today, however, Mr. Manteiga made it sound as if this conversation had taken place on March 10th, which is patently incorrect and demonstrates a lack of fact-checking on the part of not only a “journalist”, but a responsible publisher.

The reason I even mentioned Mrs. Snively being chair and Mrs. Gray being vice chair was because I was asking their permission to make this suggestion in my public comments. Mrs. Snively never even responded to my inquiry–which calls into question the speculative claim that any Sunshine Laws had been violated–and Mrs. Gray only answered me nearly four months after the fact on March 10th of 2018. Therefore, if one were to watch my public comment on 11/14, he or she would see that I do not make said suggestion before that evening’s board reorganization.

Moreover, this was only one month after the very public spat between Members Griffin and Shamburger at a board training concerning communication, and the general public was quickly losing faith in the leadership of our school district.

Griffin quote

Questions remain, however. Did I break protocol by reaching out to Members Snively and Gray via the Facebook Messenger medium this one time? Possibly. But I did out of haste in trying to ascertain their opinion on the matter, as well as deference and respect to their position as elected officials.

Larger questions loom, though. As a Theory of Knowledge teacher who has an entire unit on ethics as an Area of Knowledge, I cannot help but wonder how these pictures of Member Snively’s Facebook account were acquired.

Was her account hacked and the claim that she left it open merely a ruse?

Even if it were left open, does any person, even an elected official, not have some expectation of privacy on a device that may be left logged in? For instance, if I were to leave my laptop open and logged into my Facebook page in a public forum such as a library, does that mean any person in said public forum has the right to walk up to my computer and use it as he or she sees fit?

What right did the person who garnered these pictures have to snoop through her account? It’s not as if all of these messages were displayed simultaneously on one page, so clearly someone had to select several message feeds in order to gain access to these conversations did they not?

As an elected official working to meet the needs of constituents in the 21st century, is it not reasonable to expect that many people reach out to Member Snively via Facebook Messenger to communicate their concerns? If so, is it not possible that the private information and issues of citizens from Hillsborough County have been compromised in what appears to be an unethical (illegal?) search of this device?

Again, what does Patrick Manteiga gain by publishing what amounts to a gossip column on his website or in his paper? Does he have any relationship with other school board members who might seek a political advantage by airing these messages? (I’ll save the reader the time by unequivocally stating that, yes, he does)

There are more questions I could generate, but they will only belabor the point. In closing, I want to again express my heartfelt thanks to Mrs. April Griffin for giving me the courage and moral fortitude to speak truth to power. I started the Teacher Voice project to do just that, whether it be our local school board or the Florida Legislature, and I will unapologetically continue to speak up and out about critical issues that affect public education, our students and their future.

Sincerely,

Ryan Haczynski

P.S. – To all of my fellow colleagues who positively and directly affect the lives of the next generation of Floridians and U.S. citizens here in Hillsborough county and across the Sunshine State, may you enjoy a restful and rejuvenating break with your family and friends. Happy Summer!

 

 

The Truth Matters
Why, yes! Yes it does, Florida GOP!

Apparently the Florida GOP is tired of getting beaten up in the media by public education advocates who cried foul after the education budget increased the base student allocation by 47 cents. Pardon the bold, italicized wording at the end of the last sentence, it’s only to ensure that specific wording is employed to clarify any misconceptions. So, to combat this endless churn in the news cycle, the Florida GOP–you know, the ones who are always touting fiscal conservatism while budgets continue to balloon for everything except public education–have decided to waste more taxpayer dollars to produce this video that up to this point has been watched a whopping 472 times.

If you haven’t seen this gem, go ahead and waste five minutes of your life so you can see for yourself just how much the Florida GOP thinks of teachers.

On the heels of National Teacher Appreciation Week, the Florida GOP likens all of us a disheveled lout named Frank. Make no mistake about it, there is no way their opening analogy can be construed any other way. Apparently anyone who has the nerve to call out the Florida Legislature is, according to the GOP, perpetuating a “myth.”

For those who are unaware of the etymological roots of that word, it simply means “story” (and nothing more) in ancient Greek. We all tell stories, and this is the Florida GOP’s attempt to craft a narrative of convenience that clearly demonstrates their disdainful views about teachers, teachers’ unions, and our profession in general.

At the end of the video, when the narrator (myth-maker?) says that “the truth matters”, he talks about facts being stubborn things. So here are a few of which the general public should be aware:

1. 2007-2008 per-pupil spending was $7,126; next year’s will be $7,408. 11 years later, not even $300 higher. Can’t ignore inflation and the declining purchasing power of the almighty dollar…adjusted for inflation we should be at $8,311 just to have kept up.

2. But wait! It gets even better! As this chart indicates, Florida spent $6,443 per-pupil in 1998-99, which was 20 years ago for our Florida GOP who struggle with math and logic (trust me, I’m a 99th percentile Best and Brightest teacher!). This was just shy of the national average for per-pupil spending at the time (27th in the U.S.), and we now rank in the bottom 10% of all states in the U.S. (45th). What happened during that 20 year period?

Oh yeah, the Florida GOP took over our state government.

3. Despite all the bombastic claims of “historic”, “unprecedented”, “record-level” public education spending, we lag the national average by roughly $4,000, which is clearly seen in this chart (one can also see we still haven’t even fully recovered from the Great Recession, one of the many reasons we’ve had teacher walkouts/strikes erupting in GOP-led states). Also, as another stubborn/fun fact, if we kept up with inflation from our 1998-99 spending, we would need to spend $9,913.

National Average

The fact of the matter is that the Florida GOP’s little video isn’t fooling anyone, least of all public education advocates. But it’s clearly a message intended to be seen by “working Floridians”, you know, that 45% of Florida’s population that is considered “working poor” and has clearly prospered so much under the Rick Scott administration, especially in rural counties where they have been left even further behind than before he began his tenure.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, Florida GOP, but the only ones who are in the myth-making business is your party.

And, no, I’m not a Democrat or whatever else you’d like to call me in case you want to jump straight to ad hominem attacks.

P.S. – This is my favorite scene in the entire video. What the Florida GOP unwittingly included was a meeting of Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, three of the largest for-profit charter management companies who all donate heavily to the Florida GOP to ensure they will continue to siphon off tens of millions of dollars from the kids and classrooms to pad their profit lines. Sorry/not sorry about that stubborn little fact too.

For-Profit Charters
This message sponsored by the Florida GOP and their For-Profit Charter Management Overlords

Joanne McCall
Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall

This week’s guest on the latest Teacher Voice podcast is FEA President Joanne McCall. I reached out to Joanne on Twitter to invite her on the podcast, especially considering so many teachers across Florida have been wondering what our next steps should be in light of the wave of teacher activism that has been sweeping through many other right to work states. Though she did not mention a possible #RallyInTally, she shares some of the other FEA ideas such as the “Me Plus Three” campaign and what other locals can do to increase membership and activism as we move toward this year’s election season.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Please be sure to share with other concerned education professionals and public education advocates!

P.S. – I tried my best to eliminate the background noise of the landline I called, but it may still be noticeable at times.

FEA Logo

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One view of the Arizona #REDforED movement marching on the capitol

All across the Sunshine State, education professionals and their supporters just closed out National Teacher Appreciation Week. During this time, public education was celebrated by students and parents alike. Many people wore #REDforED to stand in solidarity with teachers in other states that have accomplished change by banding together, as well as to highlight the similar challenges we face here in Florida.

Many people also took to social media to share their support and to say thanks to those who work with our children on a daily basis. A few even used this platform and time to illustrate important points to our elected officials about the starvation budgets that have been served up during the tenure of Governor Rick Scott. These are a few of my contributions, for instance, that I used to help spread awareness and build momentum as we move forward to this year’s election cycle:

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Numbers Don’t Lie, Governor Scott

 

Clearly one of the most effective forms of demonstration that has helped along the situations faced by states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona was marching on the capitol. What if we could do this here in Florida? Is it time for a little rally in Tally? It certainly has a nice ring to it and could easily be used as a hashtag to build further momentum during the summer and beyond. There are even two dates that would be perfect for taking this simple, effective action:

Monday, September 17th, 2018, which is U.S. Constitution Day, an idea that was originally proposed by retired educator and all-star public education advocate, Donna Yates Mace. Teachers from central to north Florida could easily drive up Sunday during the day, stay over night, march on / hold a rally in the capitol the next day, and then return home that evening. This would be a perfect time to celebrate democracy and demonstrate civic engagement to our students and communities (something the Legislature clearly thinks we don’t teach based on attempted legislation and CRC amendments). Furthermore, considering the primaries will be over by this point, it will send a strong message about voting for pro-public education candidates and hopefully all candidates will be addressing the need for increased funding for our students and schools.

And what better way to celebrate the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself than by marching / rallying again on Monday, January 21st, 2019, only a couple of weeks after committee work begins for the upcoming legislative session. Granted there probably won’t be any activity that day, but legislators will be there or returning for work on Tuesday. But if we can get tens of thousands of teachers to show up and get high-profile media coverage of the event, it would definitely put the Florida Legislature on notice.

We educators will no longer be silent about the damage being done by the gross lack of funding for our public education system. As MLK himself reminds us all: the time is always right to do what is right. The time is now. The fight is here. We can take action that doesn’t require us to strike yet still be “highly effective.” Just close your eyes and imagine it…a sea of red set out to #RallyInTally.

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Time to #RallyInTally

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House Speaker Richard Corcoran brings the hammer down on the status quo, or so he claims…

Long before Richard Corcoran became Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, he claimed that what was “destroying this country and this state” was “the status quo and the protectors of it.” He again recently harped on his favorite phrase–this time in relation to “institutionalized school boards”–when he penned a column that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times just over one week ago.

What follows herein, then, is a direct rebuttal to many of the points addressed within the Speaker’s column. As an independent voter who has never had a party affiliation, I am one of many citizens who feels disenfranchised by a two-party system that has been largely hijacked by extremists on both sides of the aisle. The entire Sunshine State needs collaboration and compromise between its lawmakers; our citizens have received very little of either in the two decades I have lived in Florida, however, and this is especially true during the last two contentious legislative sessions overseen by Speaker Corcoran.

The Speaker’s column begins with a bombastic claim that Floridians will have the opportunity “to vote on the best slate of constitutional amendments ever.” Much of what follows from there is largely opinion with few facts to corroborate his assertions, so let’s examine his claims individually to see how they stack up against reality during Governor Scott’s tenure in office as well as Representative Corcoran’s time as Speaker of the House.

Speaker Corcoran initiates his column by proudly stating he and Governor Scott have cut taxes 80 times totaling over $10 billion dollars since 2010. As someone who is personally fiscally conservative, this would be welcome news if my perspective weren’t already tempered by the realization that all Floridians have an obligation to the future, which requires investment in public institutions and services, something our state cannot afford to do by constantly curtailing revenue streams for no other reason beyond pandering to an ultra-conservative political base.

As opinion editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Tom Tryon, noted last year during the 2017 legislative session, Florida ranks 49th in per-capita revenue generation despite the fact that we are the third most populous state in the U.S. This lack of revenue ultimately leads to frequent actions such as raiding trust funds to cover rising costs while politically saving face with the GOP’s core constituency. Tampa Bay Times columnist, John Romano, noted similar concerns in a recent piece that called these “anti-tax laws…ticking political time bombs that could blow up our future.”

All it will really take is the next economic recession–something that Speaker Corcoran surely knows is coming considering how much he touts his love of free markets as a panacea for every economic ill–and the boom and bust cycle will ensure that our consumption based revenue will collapse in on itself much like it did during the housing crisis a decade ago.

Instead, however, the Speaker is pushing for yet another homestead exemption that will further reduce revenue by $637 million dollars at a time when we desperately need funding for Medicare and Medicaid expansion, infrastructure, and public education. And what do Floridians stand to receive if this amendment passes? $250. Annually.

Taken another way: this is 68 cents per day, which will not buy anything of value in today’s day and age. To the Speaker’s credit, though, it should be noted that 68 cents per day is much better than the 47 cent per-pupil increase school districts will receive in 2018-19 for the entire school year, a move that has left nearly all 67 counties financially hamstrung.

And while discussing per-pupil funding, let’s acknowledge how abysmal it has been for the last decade despite constant claims by Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Joe Negron that this year’s “record-level” $7,408 per-pupil amount is “unprecendented” and “historic”; adjusted for inflation, the $7,126 from 2007-2008 would need to be $8,415 to have the equivalent purchasing power, a fact anyone can check with the U.S. Department of Labor’s CPI Inflation Calculator.  $8,415 is clearly far more than the $7,221 our schools received this past school year, meaning we are at least $1,200 behind and lag the national average by approximately $4,000.

Corky and Joe
Remember, Joe: “Historic”, “Unprecedented”, and “Record-Level”. If we just keep repeating these words perhaps everybody will believe us about public education spending here in Florida.

This point is perhaps best summed up in another John Romano column when he states the following: “The Legislature likes to brag about education funding being at record-high levels, but it’s a disingenuous argument. It does not take into account inflation. It does not take into account new state mandates that force schools to spend more money. It does not take into account that Florida’s K-12 spending is woefully inadequate when compared to the rest of the nation. In short, that argument is a load of bull.”

At a bare minimum, the students, parents, and education professionals deserve a special session so that the Florida Legislature can actually provide the $400 million it pledged for school safety, rather than shuffle all the money around in the education budget and still claim to have increased funding. Far more importantly, it also begs the question of why education spending did not increase by $1.5 billion when the entire budget climbed by over $6 billion. Public education is already one quarter of the state’s budget after all; shouldn’t it deserve an equitable increase as a total proportion of the new budget?

It’s not just education that needs the funding, either. Two other areas that sorely need attention are healthcare and infrastructure. Despite being a donor state that sends more money to the federal government than it receives, Governor Scott famously rejected federal dollars for both Medicaid expansion that would have meant coverage for over one million Floridians in poverty, as well as a high speed rail that would have connected Tampa to Orlando and eventually Miami. In a recent column written by Sue Carlton of the Tampa Bay Times after she slogged through hours of traffic on I-4, she reminds us all that “in the name of politics, Scott turned his back on what would have been an important step toward the kind of modern transportation this state will need. Make that: already needs.”

Speaker Corcoran then points out the 1.5 million jobs that were created during his and Governor Scott’s tenure, yet without noting that “much of the job growth during Scott’s tenure has come in low-paying corners of the economy” or that “45 percent of households across the state…still find it practically impossible to obtain even the most everyday necessities – lacking what it takes to pay bills, afford health care, housing and transportation, regardless of regular employment.” When one adds these two facts together, it is no wonder why Florida has an affordable housing crisis.

At this point it is worth noting the about face of Speaker Corcoran, who, lest we all forget, was chief antagonist of Governor Scott for much of the 2017 legislative session, fuming over “corporate welfare” and wanting to eviscerate the funding of both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, two of the governor’s beloved pet projects. This animosity evaporated almost immediately at the end of the session after a closed-door horse-dealing session that every public education advocate knows all too well.

Corcoran and Scott
Psst! I’ll sign HB7069 if you give me an $85 million dollar jobs slush fund.

After detailing how he–along with Governor Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga–appointed the 37 members of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commision, a group that has set out to attempt to install its politically conservative agenda into our state’s most precious civil document rather than listening to what the Sunshine State’s citizenry wants, Speaker Corcoran segues into hollow words about ending corruption in Tallahassee because of his “ethics reform package.”

For someone who constantly preens himself over his record on challenging special interests and ending “corporate welfare”–a point upon which he and I philosophically agree, interestingly enough–Speaker Corcoran’s words run diametrically opposed to his actions when it serves his own interests and agenda.

Case in point: HB7069 and HB7055, both of which go out of their way to steer our public taxpayer dollars to the for-profit charter management industry. Rep. Manny Diaz, for instance, who sits on both the Education Committee and K-12 Appropriations subcommittee, is paid a six figure salary for a job he supposedly holds at Doral College, which, in turn, is a subsidiary of Academica, the largest of the for-profit charter management companies. Along with Charter Schools USA and Charter School Associates, Academica heavily donates to the GOP coffers and must not be regulars on what Speaker Corcoran dubs the “capital [sic] cocktail circuit”. As Fabiola Santiago notes in her excellent Miami Herald piece, Florida’s ethics laws “are a joke” and further states “it’s a clear conflict of interest for members of the Florida Legislature who have a stake in charter schools to vote to fund and expand them.”

Speaker Corcoran also goes on to boast of his and Governor Scott’s education priorities, noting–quite incorrectly, one might add–that “Florida is one of the only states in the nation to significantly improve math and reading scores.” He is referring to the NAEP, which is small sampling of random students and schools that deals with proficiency not growth. Truth be told, all the NAEP report demonstrates is that some random students did better than other random students from several years ago.

It is noteworthy, however, that Polk School Board member, Billy Townsend, keeps pointing toward an exhaustive report done by Stanford University that clearly tracks all students across multiple grades to build a robust picture of student growth (or lack thereof) on standardized tests, which, as anyone in public education knows, is the only metric deemed worthy of consideration by the Florida Legislature. This report, oddly enough, has been routinely ignored by every single person in Tallahassee. Why? This map speaks for the entire study:

Purple Is Bad
All one needs to know is that purple is bad and represents a lack of test score growth.

With regard to the school board term limit proposal in Amendment 8, Speaker Corcoran neglects to mention that this is one of the “bundled” amendments that will also establish a state governed charter school authorization board that can circumvent the power of our own locally elected officials in addition to establishing a parallel “public” school system that will not answer to local school boards, which is only another ploy to redirect precious, scant taxpayer dollars to entities that have little oversight or accountability.

Finally, as an insult to all Social Studies teachers across the entire Sunshine State, Speaker Corcoran tells us that the Florida Legislature and the CRC have set out to enshrine civics education in our Constitution in an effort to ensure “a student should not be able to graduate without understanding what makes America great. Our founding documents and the values of our free society should not just be taught, but understood by every student who comes out of a Florida school.” This is already happening here in Hillsborough where Civics in a mandatory course that all students take in 7th grade, and undoubtedly everywhere else throughout the state. How else could Parkland students so quickly organize the “March For Our Lives” events and eloquently share their views if we had no robust civics education in Florida schools?

At the end of his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Richard Corcoran has clearly failed at what he set out to do when he took the gavel and stated he would disrupt the status quo. What he failed to realize was the paradoxical nature of his quest that did not acknowledge a single fact of paramount importance:

That Speaker Corcoran–and by extension the entire ideologically-driven, GOP-dominated Florida Legislature of the last two decades–is the status quo.

 

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This year during National Teacher Appreciation Week, Let’s Do More by Sending a Message

In the previous post on Teacher Voice, I rhetorically asked all of Florida’s Teachers’ Unions, especially the Florida Education Association, “why can’t we do more?”

The simple truth is we can and must do more, and we should do so from now until the coming elections in November. There are fewer than 200 days left until the election, and we should use every spare moment to continue to generate momentum and share our message about the very real plight of public education here in Florida.

The first action we can take is continue to pressure Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature to return for a special session and make a proper investment in our students and their future. At a bare minimum, our elected officials should commit to providing the $400 million that they pledged for school safety and security measures, which ate up all but 47 cents of the roughly $100 increase in per-pupil spending (and that still lags total inflation adjusted spending from a decade ago by nearly $1500).

So how can advocates help make that happen? The FEA just launched a petition that is a snap to sign and share, and it takes less than 30 seconds to do both. Here’s the link to the petition.

In the previous post I also envisioned a “walk-in” happening here in Hillsborough at a minimum, and in all 67 school districts across the Sunshine State if the idea had reached critical mass. For reasons that are too long to enumerate, the idea didn’t get traction, but I think we can do something much simpler and still be highly successful:

Let’s get everyone to wear RED from May 7th through the 11th to coincide with National Teacher Appreciation Week. And by everyone, I mean every single education professional, administrator, guidance counselor, student, parent, community activist…essentially anyone who cares about our students and their future.

Why will this be so powerful? 1) It’s easy; 2) it will send a strong message if we have thousands upon thousands of people doing this; 3) it will be a conversation starter and a chance for every single person working in education to help share his or her story and the current plight of public education here in Florida. As FEA president Joanne McCall said recently, the only way we can change this is at the ballot box, and what better way to continue to gain momentum than sharing our platform by all stakeholders banding together and using social media to spread awareness with the already ubiquitous hashtag #REDforED.

As noted previously, the time for action is now. We must use this week to stand together in solidarity with teachers who have protested or are protesting currently. As this PBS article states, the majority of people in the United States support raises for teachers (although I think the more important point is raising per-pupil spending overall). Even though we can’t go on strike in Florida, if we get the backing of parents and other concerned community members and all take action together it will send a strong message that we intend to change things for the better.

Please share this post and idea with others starting today. National Teacher Appreciation Week is still nearly two weeks away, which gives us plenty of time to organize this simple action. And if we’re lucky, we can gain enough traction to not only make it #REDforED week here in Florida, but across the entire U.S. as well.

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Robert Pechacek, Coleman Middle School Teacher and HCPS School Board Candidate for the District 6 Countywide seat

This week’s guest on the Teacher Voice podcast is Robert Pechacek, a military veteran, business owner, and now public school teacher who is running for the District 6 Countywide school board seat for Hillsborough County Public Schools. Robert and I discuss his reasons for becoming a teacher and why he is running in this year’s race. Please listen and share with other interested voters.

If you like what you heard and would like to learn more about Robert, you can visit his website www.votepechacek.org or like/follow his page on Facebook.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

RP District 6

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Nadia Zananiri, Social Studies teacher working in Miami-Dade, Public Ed advocate /activist, author of Kafkateach, and creator of the Florida Educators United Facebook group page

The guest on the latest Teacher Voice podcast needs no introduction to nearly 3,000 public education advocates who have joined the Florida Educators United Facebook group (click the link to see the page/join the group). She has been blogging for half of her career, so be sure to bookmark Kafkateach on your web browser to read her regular posts, many of which are downright hilarious due to the satirical wit with which she writes.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

Please be sure to check out / join the Florida Educators United group on Facebook, as well as share this podcast with other public education advocates who want to get involved to help foster change by voting in the upcoming election cycle.

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In the wake of recent rebellions by teachers and other public education advocates that have been taking place in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, the teachers’ unions in Florida have been largely silent on getting involved, mostly reminding education professionals that we cannot strike here due to the deal we made with the Florida Legislature in 1968 that exchanged our right to collectively bargain for our right to strike.

50 years later, many are starting to wonder if that deal has been broken by the current Florida Legislature, a governing body that seems to care little about what nearly 200,000 education professionals think and in the last two years especially has tried to circumvent the Florida Constitution with bad faith legislation like HB7069 and HB7055.

And yet with all of this unprecedented teacher organization and activism, our main union for the entire state,  the Florida Education Association, and its current president, Joanne McCall, have done two things: 1) issue a statement reminding everyone that we cannot strike and that there are draconian consequences awaiting us all if we do; 2) create ads and a commercial about the damage done during Rick Scott’s tenure that encourage us to vote for public education advocates in August and November. There’s nothing wrong with these actions per se, but we could do so much more by banding together NOW and having demonstrations, rallies, and marches between today and November.

It’s evident on Facebook alone that teachers throughout the Sunshine State want to take action, even if only as a demonstration of solidarity with educators in the aforementioned states. Several “Florida Educators United” group pages have already appeared on Facebook, and comments made there and on other education blogs are riddled with questions about why teachers’ unions are not leading the charge while the plight of public education and its woeful funding in southern states is in the public spotlight.

We cannot squander this opportunity, which is why President McCall and the FEA should start mobilizing the local unions to engage our communities without going on strike. As I wrote in my comments to the Hillsborough County School Board last week, the time is now. The reason why we must take action now rather than later is two-fold:

1) non-members need to see how the state and local teachers’ unions are being pro-active and taking the fight to Tallahassee while simultaneously standing in solidarity with those who are still protesting in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. This may encourage them to join their local unions and further strengthen our numbers, which is especially critical in light of the union decertification language that was packaged into HB7055.

2) by starting our efforts to organize and activate our members, we can consistently build momentum and share our message all summer long and into the upcoming election cycle. Unions could use the summer months especially to network with local candidates that they endorse, help register young voters who have Parkland on their mind and want to radically change the status quo in Tallahassee, and just help phone bank / knock on doors to help get out the vote during primaries in August and the general in November.

While many local unions may come up with other ideas, here are two excellent ones that I would personally love to see the FEA champion and help coordinate. The first was proposed during our executive board meeting last week. Arizona has decided to stage a statewide “walk-in” rather than a “walkout”; teachers, parents, and other community supporters will all line up to walk in to school together. Imagine if all 67 districts could coordinate this effort to demonstrate similarly at every school throughout Florida on the exact same day.

One of our board members proposed a day: May 8th, National Teacher Appreciation Day.

This gives us one month from today to start spreading the word on social media and getting the locals on board with the aid of the FEA and its leadership team. It might also be a good idea to wear red that day in honor of the #RedForEd movement that is currently sweeping the nation, especially in GOP-dominated states that continue to lag public education spending levels that existed prior to the Great Recession.

Donna Yates Mace, a retired teacher, outspoken public education advocate, and manager of Teacher to Teacher also had another suggestion for a demonstration day: September 17, U.S. Constitution Day, which is perfect timing due to the beginning of committee work in Tallahassee for the 2019 legislative session as well as closing in on the general elections that will happen in November. That one is far enough away I am confident we could easily amass a giant rally on the steps of the capitol in Tallahassee, demanding better funding to support our students and their future.

Union members and non-members alike are perplexed and frustrated by the limited action the FEA has taken thus far, and locals feel beholden to fall lockstep into whatever FEA leadership suggests. Many of us are asking the question: why can’t we do more?

I believe that not only we can do more, we must.

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Sign from my classroom that I referenced in my comments at the school board meeting

When I wrote these comments yesterday before speaking at the Hillsborough County Public Schools board meeting, I was thinking about MLK’s quote “it is always the right time to do the right thing.” Though I didn’t include it in my words, it is fitting to reflect on this with today being the 50th anniversary of his untimely death.

Good afternoon, board members, Superintendent Eakins, and staff. About half way through my first fifteen years of teaching, I took the clock off my classroom wall. Most kids cannot read analog clocks, so it eliminated questions such as “what time is it?”; “how much longer until the bell rings?”; and “when do we get out of here?” Instead, I replaced the clock with a sign on the wall that simply said “the time is NOW” with the word NOW capitalized and underlined.

As cliché as it may be, there’s no time like the present. In fact, the only time we can take charge and enact change is always in the here and now. There is no point in grumbling about the past or hand-wringing in worry about the future—both are futile and only consume precious time and energy.

So while the moment is upon us, let’s talk about what we must all pull together to do. First, I would ask that district leadership decide to return to the table so we can bring a long overdue conclusion to this school year’s bargaining session before we have to go through impasse. Well over 20,000 education professionals have worked into the fourth quarter of the 2017-18 school year without receiving their earned year of experience and contractually obligated step movement on the pay scale.

Second, and more importantly for our students and schools here in Hillsborough county, we must push for a half penny sales-tax referendum. Whether citizen-led or district-led, we need to educate our community about how Tallahassee continues to starve us financially. Whether needlessly rolling back already low tax rates or outwardly supporting charters with nearly triple the PECO money, the Florida Legislature is unwilling to help. I believe, however, that the citizens of Hillsborough County will support us.

Last year Hillsborough County collected nearly $27 BILLION dollars in taxable receipts. If that were to remain steady, a one half penny sales tax would generate almost $133 MILLION per year. While the money would be limited to capital expense projects, think about how much good we could do for our students in our schools. In one year alone we could raise enough money to buy more buses, change out multiple HVAC systems, replace roofs, repaint numerous schools, add increased safety and security measures to our existing schools, AND still have enough money to build the new TTT high school as well as rebuild Lee Magnet. Beyond the physical structures themselves, the money may also be used to upgrade technology, purchase land, or servicing indebtedness from previous building projects.

We know more growth is coming to Hillsborough County. We know that new schools must be built and our nearly all of our existing schools need many, many repairs that we currently cannot afford. Now is the time to begin educating the rest of our county about the needs of our students. Now is the time to put a referendum before the voters. Now is the time to invest in our students and their future.

But perhaps more importantly, now is the time to take a stand against Tallahassee. There has been a revolution in public education taking place. It started in West Virginia, spread to Oklahoma, and is now taking off in Arizona and Kentucky. When will everyone in Florida stand up? This should not be about teachers striking. It should be about everyone who has a hand in Public Ed working together to force the Legislature to properly fund our needs. Think about these numbers for a moment: the national average of per-pupil spending is $11,392. In West Virginia, where these protests began, they spend $11,359; Oklahoma spends $8,082; Kentucky spends $9,630; and the only state that spends less than us is Arizona at $7,208. Remind me again how our $7,401 this year is “unprecedented, record funding”?

Now is the time for us to band together and demand a special session. After the Parkland shooting and Governor’s Scott promise of increased spending, Superintendent Eakins as well as other superintendents asked that the $400 million be added to the current spending levels; instead, the Legislature shuffled money around and left us with 47 cents. This cannot be ignored or accepted. It is my hope that all superintendents, along with all school board members, will stand with all teachers and ESPs and tell the Legislature to minimally provide the $400 million from the state’s $3.3 billion dollar cash pile. Even better, however, would be to hold the entire state’s accountability regime hostage by having all 67 districts not administer state tests until the Legislature makes a meaningful investment in public education. The time is now. The moment is here. And we must impress upon elected leaders that this sorely needed investment is for our children and their future.

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According to Governor Scott’s office, school districts have “plenty of money.”

We’ve had this problem since the Great Recession and Governor Scott came into office, but it’s one that has been largely ignored by Tallahassee: a lack of adequate funding for public education.

To have Governor Scott, Senate President Negron, and Speaker Corcoran tell their version of this story, however, comes across as boastful, always touting “record levels of funding,” despite the fact that superintendents across the Sunshine State point out, most famously by Superintendent Runcie, that Florida ranks 44th in per-pupil funding.

The Tampa Bay Times and Florida PolitiFact investigated these claims of “record funding” and rated them “half true,” and even that’s a stretch in my book.

And then there’s the most recent “plenty of money” comment from Governor Scott’s office when asked about the money allocated for increased school safety and security, which clearly has most school district officials hand-wringing over yet another underfunded mandate from our state’s capitol. His response to districts’ concerns about not having enough funding to cover these increased costs?

Take it out of your reserves.

Meanwhile, the state sits on a $3.3 BILLION dollar cash pile.

Clearly what’s good enough for the goose is NOT good enough for the gander. Why would Republican leadership, the party that champions itself on fiscal conservatism, encourage the school districts to engage in deficit spending? The state has more than enough money to really invest in public education–or at least for these student safety issues–yet it is unwilling to do so.

Many superintendents across the state–including our own here in Hillsborough County–asked the governor and legislators to not take the $400 million for school safety and security from the per-pupil spending, which is exactly what they did. Rather than pay for these additional needs out of the state reserves and then give us enough flexible funding to cover the extra costs, they instead repurposed the money that had been earmarked already for the education budget and left virtually all districts in a mess.

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And yet this lack of funding for school safety and security is only one small aspect of a much bigger, growing problem presented by the lack of public education investment: teacher salaries.

Florida already lags the nation in teacher salary averages (bottom ten states on every list), but the broader trend for all teacher salaries is even more alarming: from 1996 to 2015, adjusted for inflation, the national average of all teacher salaries actually declined by $1500, whereas the national average of all college graduates across the same two decades increased by $6500(!). This represents an average salary gap of 17.5% between public school teachers and their college-educated peers.

Where does that leave us? Just look to West Virginia, Oklahoma, and now Arizona. It is clear that the “Red for Ed” movement is gaining traction and momentum, and it is not just teachers who are threatening to strike if public education is not properly funded. While it is educators themselves who are leading the charge, it is evident that many parents, students, and community members support these teachers and want an increased investment in education, which would mutually benefit everyone.

The students, first and foremost, would have access to recent curricula, upgraded technology, smaller classes, and additional enrichment opportunities that come with greater funding, all of which would make for a brighter future for them and for us all. For the education professionals themselves, higher salaries would be an economic boon for the entire community in which the educators live because it would mean additional dollars spent on goods and services, thereby helping businesses in the local area. In essence, better funding and a proper investment in public education would foster a virtuous cycle of economic activity that will help students gain the best education possible, keep them here in Florida rather than being siphoned off by brain drain, and have them hired by local companies who are growing and expanding thanks in part to the largest public sector workforce in the state being able to live a little rather than work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

John Romano’s recent column in the Tampa Bay Times highlights many of these issues, particularly how the lack of funding for the school safety and security measure will leave most school districts scrambling to fund this initiative while simultaneously facing increased costs for retirement contributions, health benefits, etc. He suggests that a special session be called to address the issue, and public education advocates couldn’t agree more.

But the truth is we need to do even more than that. A lot more. If our elected officials want to do something about the growing teacher shortage, they will have to make a sizeable investment to public education as a whole. Since Governor Scott came into office, the purchasing power of the “record funding” we’ve been given has deteriorated anywhere from $1400-$1600 per pupil depending on the inflation calculator and dates used. But the point is the same:

Tallahassee created this problem. Now it’s time to fix it.

Pat Hall Pic
Pat Hall (second from left), the Education Committee Chair for the League of Women Voters, Hillsborough County Chapter

This episode of the Teacher Voice podcast focuses on one of the most critical issues facing the Sunshine State: the citizens and taxpayers of Florida being defrauded by the for-profit charter management corporations.

The guest on the podcast is Pat Hall, a retired public educator now turned public education advocate. Pat, along with other key players in the League of Women Voters, is on a mission to expose the fraudulent ways that these for-profit management companies keep nearly HALF of the money that is meant for students in the classrooms. Our discussion covers how these companies bilk the taxpayers while peddling influence at the state and local levels. Please listen and be sure to share with other concerned citizens and public education advocates!

If you’d like to learn more about this situation, Like or Follow the League of Women Voters of Hillsborough County on Facebook,  and be sure to click any of the linked articles below the LWV logo:

LWV Logo

 

2014 investigative piece by Noah Pransky of Channel 10 News about how Charter Schools USA were charging exorbitant rents and nearly had their charters pulled by Superintendent Elia

The League of Women Voters Education Blog curated by Dr. Sue Legg from the University of Florida (this link will open up to a post about for-profit charters)

An interim report written for the LWV by Pat Hall and Dr. Sue Legg about the business practices of Charter Schools USA

“Charter School Explosion” – A 7 part series written by Pat Hall and published exclusively in La Gaceta. All of these pieces are highly informative, but if you only have time for one, be sure to read part 5, “Following the Money,” which was featured by Diane Ravitch on her own education blog.

Charter School Explosion – Are They Fulfilling the Promise? (Part 1)

Charter School Explosion – Are They Fulfilling the Promise? (Part 2)

Charter School Explosion – Are They Fulfilling the Promise? (Part 3)

Charter School Explosion – Doing It Better

Charter School Explosion – Following the Money (MUST READ!)

Charter School Explosion – Accountable to Whom?

Charter School Explosion – On the Fringe of Legal?

Publisher’s note/two minor corrections: 1) SLAM stands for “Sports Leadership and Management”; 2) Hillsborough County School Board member for District 1, Susan Valdes, received $12,000 total (not as in a single day) from for-profit charter management companies or people during the last election cycle. $6,000 came on a single day (5/25/16), and the three individual checks I reference from John Hage (CEO of CSUSA), Charter Schools USA, and Red Apple Development were all donated on 12/17/15. You can find campaign contribution records for her or any elected official in Hillsborough County by clicking this link here.

Poor Pants
What the Florida Legislature has for Public Education: NOTHING

Well, thanks for 47 cents, actually.

On October 20, 2016, Emma Brown of the Washington Post wrote an article about the decline of funding in public education since the Great Recession beginning in 2008. The article can be accessed here, but the chart below says it all.

Numbers
Notice which state has the dubious distinction of being at the top of this list.

And this is the central point we should address with Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Negron: inflation. No one will deny that inflation has been at happening at historic lows due to the Federal Reserve’s use of monetary policy. But inflation has still occurred nonetheless. Costs continue to rise, and school districts all over the Sunshine State have been scrimping and saving to get by on shoestring budgets passed by the Florida Legislature during the last decade.

If we were to use the pre-recession high watermark of $7126 back in 2007-2008, adjusted for inflation that number would have to be $8726, which means eleven years later we are $1600 dollars behind. And yet across that intervening decade our costs continued to climb while the spending power of money earmarked for public education has continued to shrink despite the minuscule increases that have been made.

But let’s be honest with each other, Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Negron: all of you have been lying to the citizens of Florida. They are not outright lies per se, but they certainly are lies of omission. Take the word “unprecedented” that has been bandied about recently. That may be the biggest reach of any adjective in the English language the way you’re using it. It would be one thing if per-pupil spending in Florida suddenly jumped up to $10K…that might warrant an “unprecedented” tag. But simply calling any level of funding that tops the previous year’s “unprecedented” is abusing the adjective. The phrase “record funding” also belongs in this category.

My favorite, however, was this boast from Governor Scott’s Deputy Communications Director, McKinley Lewis: “Since Governor Scott has taken office, total operational funding for Florida schools is up 27 percent, while the amount of flexible funding to school districts has grown by 21 percent.” This is a classic case of cherry picking data to make the situation seem better than it really is. How so? The first year in office Governor Scott slashed education funding by just over 1 BILLION dollars. Look at the chart below for greater clarity. The modest decline in funding in the last two years of Charlie Crist’s tenure were a result of a state economy that is predicated on tourism and construction, both of which took a massive hit during the Great Recession. But the first budget approved by Governor Scott was the 2011-2012 budget and then the nominal increases over time for the rest of two terms. The most interesting observation about this data? The year Scott slashed the budget was toward the tail end of the macroeconomic trough we had experienced during the Great Recession and by 2012 we were in recovery mode.

Florida Ed Spending Last Decade

So why are we in such dire straits? Because of a lack of revenue (read more here). The GOP-led Florida Legislature wants to continually tout cutting taxes while starving essential services, plain and simple. All they clearly care about is the immediate future of their political careers, not making a meaningful long-term investment in the public institutions that will sustain future generations of Floridians for many years to come. There are numerous sensible solutions that have been proposed by many caring citizens, but these are roundly ignored by Tallahassee politicians who seem all to eager to cater to the whims of special interests and their donation dollars.

And so here we are. Governor Scott has signed the $88.7 billion budget, which increases the BSA (base student allocation) by a whopping 47 cents. All that remain are hard questions and disturbing facts:

How will this “unprecedented” level of funding help improve our national status as 44th in per-pupil spending? Numbers range in this metric: the highest seen has been 39th, whereas the lowest has been 50th when adjusting for certain factors; however, the number is consistently in the bottom ten states of the U.S.

How does the Florida Legislature and Governor Scott think this “record level” of funding will help abate the teacher shortage, especially in light of our salaries ranking 48th in the U.S. when adjusted for cost of living?

How long before we have a repeat episode of 1968? How long before teachers, which represent the largest public sector workforce in the state, demand that the Florida Legislature meaningfully fund public education? Even if we had kept apace with inflation and had $8729 per student, we would still be woefully behind the national average by at least $3000.

When will the Florida Legislature make a meaningful investment in our students and their future?

47 Cents
This just about sums up how all of us are feeling…

BP Campaign Pic
Bill Person – Candidate for HCPS School Board – District 6

The latest guest on the Teacher Voice podcast is Bill Person, an Air Force veteran, a retired teacher and administrator with 35 years of experience, as well as a public education advocate. We sat down to discuss his current candidacy, his close race for the District 1 seat in 2016, and what needs to be done to help the current situation facing our school district.

If you’d like to learn more about Bill and his campaign, you can find additional information at his website. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter as well.

And if you are a current candidate running for an HCPS school board seat, whether running for the first time or seeking reelection, please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com so we can set up an interview on the podcast.

Thanks for listening and have an awesome week!

IMG_1747
The Florida Legislature wants to arm teachers as part of a “marshal program”

In the wake of the Parkland tragedy, ideas for how to make schools safer have taken over the current legislative session. Governor Scott forwarded his proposal, as did the House and Senate. While I applaud the multi-pronged approach including raising the age for gun purchases to 21, implementing a mandatory 3 day waiting period, better background checks, increased funding for mental health services, adding more SROs to campuses, et cetera, I firmly do not believe that arming teachers in schools should be part of the solution.

Before I get into the data and enumerate my reasons, let me unequivocally state the following: I am not “anti-gun” per se. I have handled guns, fired them, and fully comprehend the power that they possess. I believe it is reasonable for people to own a pistol, shotgun, or rifle for home defense or hunting. I do draw the line at assault weapons such as the AR-15, and do not believe anyone should have access to guns that have so much destructive power.

I am not a gun owner, however. And yet, as an independent voter and someone who assiduously tries to be a political moderate/centrist, I have no problem with those who own guns and even carry them legally with a concealed carry permit. But I object to arming teachers on mathematical and philosophical premises, which are intertwined and I hope to explain.

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that nearly 60% of Americans are against arming teachers, and just over 60% of Americans want a full ban on assault weapons.

Beyond these two data points, I conducted my own hasty research today to provide additional data. Granted, I acknowledge my data set may be relatively small and considered insignificant, but it’s still illustrative of broader trends I’ve seen online and in other articles.

Administration: 100% of my school’s administration do NOT want teachers armed.

Students: 80.4% of my students do NOT want teachers armed and would NOT feel safer if teachers had guns on campus.

Teachers—and not just any teachers, I specifically only asked teachers who work at my school who also happen to also be veterans—86% do NOT want teachers armed and expressed additional reservations about this idea. In fact, Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science is a former Marine who teaches at another school in Florida and wrote an op-ed that expresses much of what I heard today.

Beyond the data points and still in the mathematical realm is basic probability. By adding any guns to any campus the chance of being shot at school statistically increases. It’s really that simple. It may not be much, but it would be an increase nonetheless.

There’s also the funding issue, which is one of my chief concerns. While Governor Scott certainly made headlines with his promise of $500 million dollars, how can the state even afford this? Each year it seems the state has to rob various trust funds just to keep up with rising costs because the Republican-led Legislature is so unwilling to raise fees or taxes, a stance that will, in the long run, completely jeopardize Florida’s future. And if the state simply had $500 million lying around, why wasn’t that already included in the education budget (or for healthcare, infrastructure, affordable housing, or any other number of priorities that could use the additional funding)? We cannot count on this to be recurring funding either, which would further hamstring an education system that is woefully underfunded and completely cash strapped.

From a philosophical perspective, schools are not places for guns, they are the physical manifestation of learning. They are places where each and every day caring adults try to instill good habits of mind and character. We want our children to become lifelong learners, to be engaged citizens, and to learn how to care for others in the broader community. Education professionals carrying guns will only heighten anxiety among our students and be disruptive to the learning process. Piles of studies have clearly demonstrated that students who are experiencing chronic stress do not learn well, and they’re already stressed out enough due to high stakes testing, bullying, social media, and just being a child in the 21st century in general. Why would we add to their stress?

More than anything else, I want every legislator in the state of Florida to take a long hard look at the political cartoon at the top of this post. Teachers are already overburdened, overworked and underpaid. We do so much for kids day in and day out, but we shouldn’t have to worry about being responsible for a gun on top of everything else we already do.