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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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org so we can set up an interview on the podcast.
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.
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.
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.
Today’s Friday Five (read: rant) is about what happened this past Wednesday when the House summarily dismissed HB219, a bill sponsored by Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith that would have banned assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Representative Randy Fine then went on CNN to state why he and his fellow Republicans voted down the debate before it happened despite MSD High School students being present (although he somewhat comically claims to not have known they were there). After seeing this live on television while getting ready for work yesterday morning, I had to respond.
If you listen to this, please contact your local legislators and demand that they at least hear these bills. If they vote them down–which they most likely will–then so be it. But by allowing the debate to be had, it will be a small step in the right direction for the victims of the mass shooting in Parkland.
Are you a concerned public education advocate? Interested in seeing a FREE movie about the for-profit charter school industry and the slow, steady privatization of public education here in the United States? If you answered yes to either question, you cannot afford to miss Backpack Full of Cash at Tampa Theatre on Monday, February 26th.
Those who know me personally or have been following the Teacher Voice project since its inception realize that I have no love lost on the for-profit charter industry, which, to be completely honest, is defrauding taxpayers here in Florida and all over the U.S. But before I make any further statements, let me preface the rest with the following two premises:
Philosophically speaking, I have nothing against school choice. It would be disingenuous and hypocritical of me to work at a magnet school in an International Baccalaureate program and rail against school choice as a blanket indictment of all charter schools. What I do have a specific issue with is the lack of funding to support school choice in a meaningful way, because at the current substandard rate of funding here in Florida, it is the traditional public schools who suffer the most while trying to serve the 85+% of parents and students who still choose their neighborhood schools.
Perhaps more importantly–as a taxpayer and fiscal watchdog–I find it absolutely shameful that there is so much corporate welfare and outright fraud happening right in front of our eyes. Our own Florida Legislature–especially elected officials who take donations from companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates–are complicit in the fraud because they are bilking taxpayers for tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars per year, the result being the slow and steady decimation of our public education system in the Sunshine State.
Not all charters are equal. Some of them are undoubtedly started by well-meaning, caring individuals who want to provide a niche program for our students. They are genuinely run by true non-profit boards and nearly every scarce per-pupil dollar is spent on students and the classroom.
The schools run by the for-profit charter school industry, however, siphon off much of the money to their bottom lines in various, ethically dubious ways. Here are a few examples: the for-profit company will install their own handpicked boards that in turn hire the company for “management,” and these fees routinely cost up to 15% of the school’s FTE; the for-profit company will demand that parents purchase supplies directly from the school itself, which is often another LLC that charges exorbitant rates for the basics; in many cases, the biggest part of the scam is one LLC (e.g. Red Apple Development, the construction arm of Charter Schools USA) will purchase land to build the school on and then turn around and charge the school (read: taxpayers) rent that is substantially higher than the going rate/property value, sometimes as high as a million dollars a year. Between all these scams, the for-profit charter magnates routinely take around 25% of all FTE that should go to kids and classrooms.
If you are a teacher here in Hillsborough County, last year alone the charter schools received approximately $125 million in FTE. If even half of our charters are managed by these companies, and if 25% of the money they are skimming from the top for their own bottom lines is correct, then that means they profited to the tune of nearly $16 million. That money could have done a lot of good in our school system, including funding all employees’ scheduled salary increases.
This movie is trying to expose a fraudulent trend spreading across America. As citizens, we have a civic duty to be informed and to demand our elected officials to STOP wasting precious taxpayer dollars, fostering and facilitating a peripheral education system that has little to no accountability, and to make a real investment in public education that serves the interests of our children and their future, not padding the profit lines of these for-profit charlatans.
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