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:

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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.

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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.

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Think you “know” things? Think again.

Socrates once famously quipped, “I know nothing.” It is for this self-effacing statement that the Oracle at Delphi pronounced him the wisest person in all of Athens.

And the older I get, the more I comprehend why he said such things.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a huge nerd and a voracious reader. While I don’t foresee myself writing book reviews of everything I read, I will occasionally pass along something that I think could benefit everyone. The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach is one of those books.

My current teaching assignment, Theory of Knowledge, is the capstone course for the International Baccalaureate program, and I LOVE teaching the class. It is primarily driven by reflection and dialogue, and I get to work with bright and inquisitive young minds who share a love of learning. Though the curriculum delves into various Areas of Knowledge (e.g. Natural Sciences, Mathematics, History, Ethics, etc) and how they interact with Ways of Knowing (e.g. Sense Perception, Reason, Language, Emotion, etc), it is essentially a high-level critical thinking course that examines the nature of knowledge, what knowledge is as a human construct, and how knowledge has changed over time. Perhaps most importantly, it tasks the learner with a central question around which the entire course revolves: how do you know?

This excellent little book, then, is effectively a primer on the subject matter dealt with in a course such as Theory of Knowledge. In the opening pages, the authors ask a simple question: how does a toilet work? They use this as an example of how the vast majority of what we think we know actually exists outside of our own heads and that, ultimately, knowledge is communal in nature (hence the subtitle). Much of the rest of the book details how our brains were never really designed to “know” much, and how that false sense of “knowing”–mostly predicated on an outmoded view of the brain that essentially sees it as a hard drive that stores information and carries out instructions–gets us into all sorts of trouble in our daily lives.

But why read it? Because it gives both pause and perspective. We unfortunately live in a highly polarized political climate, and if we all take a deep breath and realize that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do, perhaps we can have honest conversations with one another. Perhaps we can ask better questions rather than simply make assertions based on scant evidence. Perhaps we’ll be actually willing to listen to the other person’s positions. Perhaps we’ll actually have opinions that can be augmented (GASP!) when new information is presented. Perhaps we’ll have less hubris and more humility, something that all our pundits and politicians could certainly use.

I’ll be 42 soon. I don’t plan on imbibing hemlock at any point in the foreseeable future. But with each passing day I understand Socrates’ pithy statement more and more…

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P.S. – You can read a more in-depth review here or you can purchase the book here.

 

 

 

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Check out the latest episode of the Friday Five!

Today’s topic: HB7069 and The Best and Brightest Scholarship

Thanks for listening, everyone. Feel free to comment here on the page, on Facebook or on Twitter. And don’t forget! I’m always looking for suggestions for things to discuss or, even better, you can join me for a full discussion on the Teacher Voice podcast.

Have an awesome weekend!

 

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Teacher Voice Needs Your Help!

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you are an advocate for high-quality public education. I’m looking for anyone who wants to address the challenges facing education here in Florida. There are many of them, and they all seem to start in Tallahassee.

Over the last 19 years I’ve lived here and the last 14 I’ve taught in Hillsborough County Public Schools, I’ve been a mute witness to the constant assault that has been waged against public education by legislators in the capitol. While many of these elected officials have good intentions, the motives of the few who are driving the legislation that affects hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students is questionable to say the least.

If you are a teacher, administrator, parent, proud former student of the public education system here in this state, or any other stakeholder who has a vested interest in seeing all children in Florida receive a great education, please follow the blog or like the Facebook page to keep up with this project.

But I also need others to write and join me for a podcast. Though I try to be as non-partisan as possible when it comes to discussing these issues (as the previous post pointed out), my passion can get the better of me at times. By having others who are willing to write posts of up to 500 words, I hope that this project will become incredibly diverse and highly collaborative.

Does this sound like you? If so, please contact me. I can be reached via the Facebook page or you can find me on Twitter @1TeacherVoice, or you can send me an old-fashioned email at 1teachervoice@gmail.com

Looking forward to our future collaboration!

Ryan

P.S. – Feel free to pitch ideas for posts about any topic related to education–even something as simple as cool projects you’ve done or will do in your classroom with the kids!

 

Politicization

I’m starting to think I’m a dying breed: a centrist. As best I can, I try to understand multiple perspectives and realize that the truth is far more complex than I can imagine and must exist somewhere in the middle between extremes that we’re given in the 21st century. There are lots of reasons for why political discourse has become so entrenched in particular worldviews and many people have stopped thinking for themselves and are comfortable simply parroting whatever they are told, but I’m not here to talk about those reasons.

What I am here to talk about today is the side effects of politicization, specifically the politicization of education over the last three decades or so. Here in Florida, it seems as if it is endless war waged between two sides. But my guess is that it’s happening in other states as well. And in the midst of this war of words between competing ideologies the only real collateral damage is what matters most: our kids and our future.

I read a great op-ed the other day entitled “I’m O.K. – You’re Pure Evil” that gets to the heart of this problem. We’re so unwilling to sit down and simply talk to one another that we cannot solve the challenges we face together. What’s worse is that many (if not most) of these issues only seem intractable but in reality are not. This unnecessary politicization of a precious public good–education–has only brought acrimony to both sides, but in our own way both sides probably want what’s best for our kids and our future.

How can we reconcile this issue? I believe it begins with something as simple as this acknowledgement: education has become highly and unnecessarily politicized. Let’s all take a step back and realize that we all want what’s best for children so they can grow up to be thoughtful, caring, and engaged citizens who will help their families, friends, and neighbors prosper.

Brinksmanship is no way to go about crafting educational policy or budgets, yet this is where we are in 2017 in the state of Florida. It has created a number of challenges, but I believe any and all of them can be solved if we’re all willing to sit down at a table and discuss our perspectives in a respectful manner. We might not all agree, but talking to one another is a great place to start.

My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am a veteran public school teacher working in Tampa, Florida. In my 19 years of living here–and teaching for the last 14 of them–I’ve seen a great deal of change to the public education system here in our state, some of it good, a lot of it not so much. My goal for this blog and associated podcast is to write and talk about the issues with education stakeholders of all kinds: teachers, parents, local and state legislators…anyone who has something to contribute. I am firm believer in the power of dialogue to foster change, which is why I need your help.

If you are reading this, my guess is that you’re interested in education. Like me, you are¬† passionate about the issues and pay attention to what is happening locally and across the Sunshine State. Ideally, I want this blog and podcast to be a diverse and collaborative project that will feature guest writers as well as people who want to sit down and talk about important challenges currently facing education.

 

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Got an idea you’d like to discuss? Contact me!

Are you interested? If so, stay tuned. I have a lot of ideas and am still putting together other social media outlets to help spread the word and build an audience. If you have suggestions, please contact me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com or through one of the various social media connections.

Thanks!

-Ryan