I am a public school teacher in Tampa, FL who has lived in Florida since 1998 and have been teaching since 2003.

Today’s topic: A Question of Equity

There’s been a lot of talk concerning equity now that we’re back to school this week, which made me think about how inequitable the funding is here in Florida. Clearly Tallahassee is content to put their thumbs on the scales, so to speak, to ensure that charter schools receive far more funding than their traditional counterparts. Listen to the new Friday five for just a couple examples.

Thanks for listening, everyone, and have an amazing weekend!

P.S. – Always looking for fellow education advocates to talk about the issues on the podcast and/or be a contributor to the blog side…are you interested?

TeacherAndStudent
Why do we teach? We care about our kids.

Every year I anticipate the start of school. My favorite part of this job is always the students. I’m anxious to get to know my new students. I’m curious to see which of my previous year’s students I get to teach again, since I teach multiple grades. I can’t wait to connect with the students in their writing and in our class discussions. I look forward to seeing and appreciating all the different personalities and learning styles. I know that by the semester break, I will have bonded with them, raging hormones, idiosyncrasies, and all. (Like most teachers, that connection with students is long-lasting. They are my kids even when they are having their own kids.)

This year, however, I feel my student radar is at an all time high. Last year’s spring semester was difficult for me emotionally. I lost one current student to cancer. I lost two former students to suicide. One of those suicides directly resulted in another former student having a serious breakdown. (She is recovering slowly.)

For years, I have railed against the ridiculous over-testing of our students. I remind them that these tests are “one test on one day of their entire lives”. I have taught them that writing is a form of expression, not testing. That reading should be about discovering, not answering “gotcha” questions. I have tried to bring excitement and relevance back into my classroom. To help them see the value of reading and writing in a world with emojis and text speak.

So, as I anticipate this year’s students, I’m even more compelled to get to know them as people, not just students. To spend time discussing more than answers to textbook questions or current events, but also to discuss the emotions and thinking behind the answers. To help them realize there’s more to education than grades and test scores, no matter what “they” say. To let them know that they are not alone, whatever they may be struggling with. To show them they do have some choice and control, if they are willing to be responsible with it. To help them see their own worth as thinking, feeling people. To focus on being in this all together, not just as teacher and students, but also as human beings.

I know for many of my colleagues, morale is at a very low point. I also know that most of my colleagues will do their best to not let that affect their students. And so I hope that you, my colleagues, join me in this endeavor. However you need to do it, whatever you need to do, please find the energy and emotional intelligence to be human with your students. You never know when one of your kids is going to need it.

Michelle Hamlyn, local public school teacher in Tampa Bay.

logoorig

Here it is! The first feature length Teacher Voice podcast in which I interview a guest. This first podcast features Jai Yarlagadda, a recent graduate of Hillsborough County Public Schools.

We discuss Jai’s passion and project to help others in our local community here in Tampa Bay. Please listen and share with others who may want to help either by making a donation or volunteering as a financial adviser.

P.S. – Be sure to check out The FairPact Foundation’s website–which Jai coded entirely by himself–for more information!

Help Wanted
Want to write a post? Discuss an issue on a podcast?

If you’re reading this right now let me start off by thanking you.

I want to thank you because it means you care about kids, their education, and our entire future here in the Sunshine State.

Teacher Voice started about a month ago to encourage others to get involved and advocate for the next generation and all its promise deserves. Whether you are a teacher, parent, administrator, guidance counselor, school psychologist, social worker, custodian, bus driver, student nutrition specialist, a former public school student, or an elected official at the local or state level–essentially anyone who wants to advocate on behalf of our children, Teacher Voice needs your help. We need to grow this project together, and I would love to hear from any education stakeholders who want to contribute by writing a blog entry or meeting me at a public library (or via phone if you live far away) to record a podcast in which we dive into the issues and have a discussion about how to move education forward in Florida.

But I especially need to hear from teachers…

I genuinely love being a teacher and I know that’s also the case for many, many others. Now more than ever, we need to stand together and add our voices to the conversation. We are the professionals with experience in the classroom, and we have wisdom to share with those who shape our policies and decide the fate of our funding. There are roughly 190,000 K-12 educators in our state, and if we include professors at our colleges and universities it easily eclipses 200,000. Surely we have something to say and make a sizeable contribution to the dialogue that only seems to be happening among legislators.

So how can you help? Though this is just a short list, any of us can do one or more of the following: become highly informed by reading about education issues affecting us all in Florida; develop relationships with your elected officials, both at the local and state levels, and share your ideas with them often; attend local school board meetings to speak or simply oversee the policies being implemented in your district; seek out and discuss the issues with fellow education advocates; be exemplars of humility and life-long learning, something all students should see and emulate on a daily basis; last yet certainly not least, write a 500 word blog post for Teacher Voice or join me for a podcast, even if you just want to brag about your kids and the awesome things they’re doing in your classroom or out in the community.

With the advent of HB7069, education has clearly been at the forefront of many peoples’ minds throughout Florida. It’s not often that our collective attention is so acutely focused on what’s happening happening to this vital public good, and hopefully this project and many others will help sustain this focus so that we can do what’s best for our kids and our future.

P.S. – As always, please continue to share this website and/or Facebook page with your family and friends. I believe we can accomplish amazing things if we all stand together. And, of course, if you’d like to write or meet up to chat, please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com. Thanks!

We The People

A famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill says “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He may have a point, because democracy can be messy. But it’s also hopeful in that we are constantly reminded that our government is by the people and for the people, which is precisely where the hope rests. We can always change our institutions for the better when we all believe and work together toward a common end.

Sometimes we get it wrong, though. Sometimes we elect people to represent us and our values, and those elected officials let us down. They may claim to be doing the people’s work, but actions always speak louder than words and reveal the true character of these “leaders.” And when those whom we believed would best represent us continually let us down, we the people have recourse to remove them from public office.

While the process works differently in each state, here in Florida there are specific guidelines listed in statute 100.361. Here in Hillsborough County, for instance, if we were to hypothetically conduct a recall, this is how the process would work:

  1. The elected official must have served at least one quarter of his or her term in office. Therefore, if the office holder were sworn in on 11/22/16, we would have to wait an additional four months from today to begin the proceedings.
  2. In the initial “recall petition,” a 200 word statement listing the reasons why the official should be recalled must be turned in along with 5% of the electorate’s signatures. All paperwork must be received by the Elections Office no later than 30 days from the initial signature date. For example, if signature collection began on Black Friday when thousands of people will be out and about in public, the complete recall petition must be submitted no later than Christmas Eve.
  3. Once the signatures are verified at a cost of 10 cents each, the elected official would have five days to return a defensive statement. After this has been received, the Elections Office prepares rosters called “Recall Petition and Defense” that has room for 30% of the electorate’s signatures, yet only 15% must be collected and verified; the time frame allotted is 60 days.
  4. After the requisite signatures and paperwork have been submitted, the clerk notifies the elected official who can then resign; if no resignation is tendered within 5 days, a judge selects a date that is 30 to 60 days out, and the people vote to remove or keep the office holder in the position.
  5. If the recall is successful / after the election results have been certified, the judge will then establish another date 30 to 60 days from then to hold a special election so that the seat may be filled for the remainder of the term.

As for the removed official? He or she cannot run for public office for the next two years.

It may require many dedicated volunteers to successfully perform a recall, but I believe our democracy works best when others stand together and are willing to find common ground, forge ahead, and overcome adversity.

 

Senator Simmons
Senator David Simmons – R: a pragmatic voice of reason in the Florida Legislature

Happy Friday, everyone! Thanks for stopping by to check out the latest edition of the Friday Five. Please listen and share with any and all concerned education stakeholders you know.

Today’s topic: For-Profit Charter Schools Bilking Taxpayers

And if you ever listen to this podcast, Senator Simmons, thank you for your efforts this past spring to rein in the for-profit charters. Your work has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated! I would love to have you on the podcast to discuss these important issues facing our citizens/taxpayers/education advocates.

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This is roughly what most states spend on education. Here in Florida, it’s a lot less.

If you’ve ever wondered why we have so many financial problems here in Hillsborough County Public Schools and the majority of school districts across the state of Florida, look no further than Tallahassee.

Though it has been dropping a bit in recent years, the national average of per pupil spending across the United States is roughly $10,700. Here in Florida? $7,221, which is barely more than $100 per pupil from a decade ago.

Florida Ed Spending Last Decade

Even Governor Scott, the same man who slashed education funding by over 1 billion during his first year in office, wanted to increase per pupil spending by more than $200 in his recommended budget. He didn’t get his way, obviously.

But what’s truly mysterious, however, is that Speaker Corcoran, the mastermind of HB7069, touted this nominal spending increase on Twitter as if it were a godsend to children all across the Sunshine State.

It’s not.

The truth of the matter is most districts such as ours here in Hillsborough were actually looking at a net decrease in funding based on the education budget that was initially proposed. While the House continually claims this as a victory for education, the additional $100 allotted per pupil through FEFP actually is only a net $43 increase in our school district, and probably similar elsewhere.

What politicians like Speaker Corcoran, Representatives Diaz, Bileca, et al constantly forget to mention when they are extolling their supposed virtuous economic benevolence is that over the last decade costs have continued to rise. It may be true that inflation hasn’t been strong since emerging from the Great Recession, but when you use the federal government’s inflation calculator the $7,126 figure from 2007-2008 would need to be $8,358 in today’s dollars, meaning the purchasing power of our current funding from the capitol is over $1,000 LESS than what it was a decade ago.

It may be a threadbare cliché at this point, but nothing more aptly describes what the Florida Legislature has continually done in my 14 years as a teacher: squeeze blood from a stone.

But, wait, there’s more!

As if that’s not bad enough, our state-level elected officials in their infinite wisdom have continued to further financially hamstring our education system by both restricting the ability of local agencies to levy their own millage rates AND continually kicking the can down to the local level where governing bodies have little to no power to raise additional revenue. This chart from an article by Emma Brown of the Washington Post demonstrates the combined effects of these decisions by the Florida Legislature:

Numbers
Read it and weep, people. Between state and local funding, Florida is the worst in the nation at funding education since the advent of the Great Recession.

So what’s the answer to the $8,358 question? We all need to take a stand. We need to be very vocal in demanding our state legislators finally fund education properly. No more gimmicks and games.

Time to invest in our kids and our future.

SB Pic
Hillsborough County Public School Board Members and Superintendent Jeff Eakins

For those of you who are local to the Tampa area and following the issues in my home county/school district of Hillsborough, you may be aware of me discussing the issues affecting education at the school board meetings. Today’s meeting will be no exception, and I hope to receive the full five minutes of speaking time for which I registered. In the event that I do not receive this time, I recorded my comments for those of you who would like to listen to them.

If you prefer to read what I wrote rather than listen, I’ve also pasted the comments below (they are longer than 500 words, however):

On the afternoon of Monday, February 29th 2016, Mrs. Griffin encouraged about two dozen new teacher mentors to speak truth to power in dark times, which is why I am here today.

As we began the most recent round of bargaining three weeks ago, Chief Negotiator Mark West’s opening statement included a two word phrase that I have been turning over in my mind since that day—good faith.

To have faith is to place a deep and abiding trust in another. Parents have faith in our district’s employees as they entrust the tutelage, well-being, and safety of their children to all employees who directly interact with them on a daily basis during the school year, for instance. We employees in turn have placed our faith in the highest echelon of district administration and the publicly elected officials who sit before us all today.

Since January of 2015, however, our faith has been waning, and there are a litany of reasons. For example, the union negotiated the new salary schedule in “good faith” at the end of 2014 and the vast majority of teachers converted to this pay scale on the oft-repeated promise by Deputy Superintendent Dan Valdez and others that the new pay plan was—and, as an aside, still is—sustainable. The new pay scale offered simplicity and transparency: rather than vague “steps,” it was years of service. Time served was time earned, or at least it should be.

We also had good faith in district leadership last year when we negotiated a specific Performance Pay allocation of $12.4 million to supplement the salaries of instructional personnel who earned a highly effective rating, only to have that faith further eroded by the discovery of duplicitous decision-making that paid 192 administrators nearly $300,000 of the fund, as well as removing over $1.5 million to pay for fringe benefits, something that the district has never done and has always been the responsibility of the employer. While we completely comprehend the district’s purported fiscal constraints, to effectively rob money from the district’s hardest working teachers to pay its bills due to a proper lack of planning and foresight is both outrageous and shameful.

But perhaps most outrageous and shameful of all is the incessant application of double standards from the dais. 26,000 employees cannot constantly be told that there is no money to pay for what is contractually owed when there are clearly enough funds to pay lawyers’ fees that total over two million dollars in the last year, spend nearly one million dollars on the Gibson report, build new school board offices, renovate the ISC to relocate the entire HR department, spend over one third of a million dollars to upgrade the board room, give twenty thousand dollar raises to area superintendents and effectively have two people paid to do the same job, hire over five dozen district-level administrators all earning over one hundred thousand dollars, attend lavish retreats that cost tens of thousands of dollars each, continue to spend exorbitant amounts on travel, pay a public relations firm tens of thousands of dollars because we cannot keep a communications director – all at the expense of the taxpayers’ dollars and employees’ morale.

And perhaps the most egregious form of double standard came only three weeks ago when teachers who came to stand before the dais and courageously share their concerns via their constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment rights were chided like children for cheering, yet a similar rebuke never came when for-profit charter school operators were allowed to applaud their contract approval. We were met with dismissiveness bordering on disdain, and when some of you deigned to make eye contact with the speaker at the podium, those teachers were met with grimaces. And all the while everyone was all smiles for the charters who continue to raid our precious coffers.

It makes zero sense to bemoan the vast proliferation of for-profit charters that has exploded exponentially under the current administration only to greet them with open arms and a smile every time another contract is ratified.

There is still hope, however. If I have been accused of anything for which I am proud it is being relentlessly optimistic. I am an idealist with a pragmatic bent, and I have a solution that would go a long way in restoring the faith that has been eroding over the last two and a half years. First and foremost would be to return to the bargaining table next Monday ready to agree to the terms outlined by our executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins at yesterday’s bargaining meeting; they are fair and affordable, as all of you who have had one on one conversations with her know. Next would be to return the over $1.8 million that rightfully belongs to the Highly Effective teachers who earned it last year. Last yet equally important would for all of you to be the exemplars of servant leadership you were elected and hired to be.

With the advent of HB7069, now more than ever we need to all stand together against Tallahassee. Though money may be tight, I would also suggest we join the lawsuit with Broward and St. Lucie counties. We can no longer afford to have these rifts between district leaders and employees; we need to be working harmoniously in good faith so that we are truly preparing our students for life. We all know what’s at stake—our children and our future. Thank you.

 

Gradebook Logo
Tampa Bay Times
Gradebook Blog Podcast

Rather than record a separate Friday Five for this week, I wanted to share the conversation that I recorded last week with Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times.

Gradebook Podcast – 7/14/17

Please listen when you have a few minutes. As I mention toward the end of our conversation, I would love to speak to any and all education stakeholders on the podcast, especially teachers from the state of Florida. Or, if you are not the talkative type, I’m also looking for writers who would like to contribute to the blog side of Teacher Voice by penning 500 word posts about timely issues affecting our children and our future.

Next week I’ll be recording my first full-length feature podcast with a special guest who is concerned about a critical issue facing our kids in the coming year.