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L – Billy Townsend, Polk County School Board Member; R – Ryan Haczynski, Teacher-Advocate

In preparing for the #RallyInTally today, I reached out to Polk County School Board Member, fellow advocate, and friend, Billy Townsend. We both planned to be here and knew we should record the first Teacher Voice podcast of 2020 as a discussion about today’s events and whatever else came up organically in our discussion. I will warn everyone that this is a hot take, recorded shortly after the rally wound down, and we pull no punches about what’s to come if we are to turn this thing around to benefit every child in Florida. Please be sure to give it a listen and share with others!

And when you’re done listening to the episode, don’t forget to join Florida’s Fully Inclusive Rebellion for Education (a.k.a #FLFIRE)! In the last two days we have gained an additional 700 members and now more than ever we need to sign up liaisons to help organize the rest of the state, county by county. We hold all the leverage at this point. We have all the power. All it will take is for us to unite and fight as one!

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First Sgt. Lyas and Lt. Col. Ingraham, US Army (retired) and SCHS JROTC Instructors

Now in its third year, the November/Veterans Day podcast welcomes two former Army members who, after more than 20 years of service to our country, continue to serve the public as educators working for our JROTC program at Strawberry Crest High School. First Sergeant Lawshawn Lyas and Lieutenant Colonel John Ingraham have had a huge hand in the success of our program, but as they will tell you during this episode, it really is all about the kids, from who runs the program to why they choose to fill this unique role in our school, district, state and nation.

If you are a veteran of the U.S. military, thank you for your service to all of us. You are appreciated not only today, but each and every day. More importantly, if you live in the Tampa area, be sure to stop by the Golden Corral on 56th and Fowler to not only have a free meal, but to meet these two wonderful people and many of our cadets from SCHS.

Thank you for listening and enjoy the Veterans Day weekend, everyone!

P.S. – Like what you heard and want to hear more from our veterans who became educators? Be sure to check out the previous two episodes!

Teacher Voice – Episode 10 – Scott Hottenstein, U.S. Navy

Teacher Voice – Episode 39 – Ahira Torres, U.S. Marines

 

For the last week and a half or so, Governor Ron DeSantis, Commissioner Richard Corcoran, and the entire FLDOE have been crowing about cherry-picked stats. This brief post is meant to disabuse you of these half-truths and peel back the onion layers a bit more in the report that these people are touting.

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FLDOE sure does love a good old fashioned half-truth…

Does Florida rank 4th in K-12 achievement according to Education Week‘s “Quality Counts 2019: Grading the States” report? Absolutely.

But everyone should know that ranking is largely based on a single snapshot of 4th grade NAEP test-takers, many of whom have had the additional year to prepare thanks to Florida’s terrible third-grade retention policies and practices. Polk School Board member Billy Townsend wrote about how fraudulent all of this gaming of statistics has truly become; it is obviously a ploy to dupe voters and would-be future Floridians to move here thinking the education system is putting out a quality “product” (so many people in power like to speak about our youngest human beings as if they are widgets on an assembly line).

The reality of Florida’s public education ratings and rankings, however, is much more complex. All told, when we factor in the other metrics that no one–whether the FLDOE, the FLBOE, or prominent Ed Reformers in the Florida Legislature such as Senator Manny Diaz–will acknowledge or is talking about, Florida still ranks in the bottom half of America.

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Again, how exactly do we reconcile these facts with those that clearly demonstrate we have a $1 TRILLION economy that is ranked 17th in the world, yet somehow manage to invest so little in our children and their future?

Even this recent report that was updated about two weeks ago has us ranked 45th in public education spending. How could the Florida Legislature have let this happen? Are its members so completely blinded by an overzealous ideological need to continually reduce taxes and restrict revenue generation to the point that we are now ranked dead last for inflation adjusted spending since the Great Recession?

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And don’t forget! We’re ranked 48th in teacher pay too!

Not only does this lack of funding directly, negatively impact every single school choice for parents and their children, it also creates ripple effects on local economies because educators–typically the largest workforce in any given Florida county–have not had meaningful raises in years, to the point where our paltry pay is being decimated by inflation.

How can any legislator be okay with what has happened? How can any elected official scoff at the cries of the very people who serve the next generation of Florida’s citizens by actively choosing to work with children despite the terrible working conditions and pay?

Say it with me again: Abject. Moral. Failure.

Educators all over the Sunshine State deserve better than this in myriad ways. We deserve the respect of our communities and so-called leaders. We are the very people who perhaps play the second most important, nurturing role with a child beyond the parent, if simply by virtue of how much time they are in our care. Most of all, we need more than this kind of empty bluster from our state-level elected and appointed officials. We don’t need you preening like peacocks over meaningless data that you are not even honest enough to completely share. We need you to stop and realize that you need to talk to the experts who are in the classrooms with kids every day.

As of this moment, I am drawing a line in the metaphorical sand. I’d like every parent, student, educator, school board member, superintendent or anyone else who cares about kids and the legacy we will leave behind for future generations to RISE UP. I am personally compelled on principle to push back, but after re-reading this…

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Now I feel doubly compelled due to the oath I have taken on behalf of being a teacher, especially the above section in addition to Section 2(a)1., which is about our obligation to students. It states (the individual/teacher): “Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning and/or to the student’s mental and/or physical health and/or safety.”

It would seem that the entire Florida Education Model would qualify as “harmful conditions” at this point. So where will you stand? With the go-along-to-get-along gang? Those who are only clearly interested in power for its own sake rather than genuinely serving the interests and needs of children? The choice is yours. But whatever you do, when it comes to reading any of these FLDOE pronouncements, as my man Chuck D from Public Enemy would say:

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“I feel strongly that people need to speak up because silence is a tacit approval.”

The first official new podcast of 2019 features Lois Horn-Diaz, the 2017 Teacher of the Year for Polk County Schools. With her wide and varied background, Lois taught children in many ways for over 30 years in public education. We sat down at the beginning of the month to discuss how she became a teacher, what it was like to win Teacher of the Year honors for an entire district and meet others from around the state, and why she is such an outspoken critic of what public education has become in the last 15 years. Please listen to this engaging conversation, be sure to share with others, and use your own voice to speak up on behalf of all children and educators across the Sunshine State.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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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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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.

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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?

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

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Billy Townsend – Polk County School Board Member for District 1

“I want people’s lives to get better. I want to grow the teaching profession. I want kids to enjoy and learn what they’re doing. That’s not happening in this corrupt model and the people who are responsible for it are owed a reckoning.”

Billy Townsend is a maverick, plain and simple. I can think of no other elected official in the Sunshine State with the political courage to take such a stand. It was my honor and pleasure to record a second podcast with him this past weekend. This time, however, we set no time limit and simply had an organic conversation about what is wrong with the system and how we can make education more human and humane once again.

Want to learn more about Billy and his education advocacy? Check out his website at www.billytownsend.com or find him on Facebook or on Twitter.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!