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.

140618_money_gen_7
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.

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.

Suit-Up

It would only be a matter of time before one of the school districts in Florida decided to file a lawsuit against HB7069, and Broward County was officially the first to do so last week.

Who’s next?

All districts across the state should join this suit for multiple reasons; here are just a few:

  • It violates the Florida Constitution, first and foremost. As noted during WEDU’s “Florida This Week” that aired last Friday (and certainly in numerous print publications over the last several weeks), bills that are passed by the Legislature should be a single subject bill. “Education” is far too broad, and each bill should deal with one aspect of policy only.
  • It undermines local control/usurps the autonomy of the school districts in a multitude of ways, the most brazen of which is the demand for traditional public schools to share their capital outlay revenues from the millage rates collected locally.
  • It interferes with Federal law regarding Title I spending by dictating those monies go directly to the Title I schools rather than the school district itself. In the past, the leaders of each district could decide how to distribute the Title I money for wraparound service programs, teacher salary-based incentives, etc; under the new law, the districts have been stripped of their administrative rights.
  • It is inequitable in its demands placed on traditional public schools. For instance, parents across the entire Sunshine State have been advocating for recess for the last several years and this bill mandates that all schools implement recess beginning next year…unless it’s a charter school.

The list could go on, but let’s not belabor the point: HB7069 is just one more way the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature dictates what happens in our communities at the local level.

And this has me perplexed for several reasons. Isn’t “local control is the best form of governance” the mantra of all card-carrying conservatives? Isn’t it considered anathema by conservatives to also “pick winners and losers”? By flushing charter schools with cash while offering nothing but unfunded mandates to traditional public schools, the Legislature has done just that. What about “corporate welfare” that the Republicans claim to despise? How does that square with the conservatism? It doesn’t. Frankly, none of the things this bill has wrought conforms to conservative ideals.

But you know who the real loser is in this legislation? Our students all across this state. The way we pit traditional public schools against charter schools gets us no where. It’s time for the Legislature do something useful such as closing the loophole that for-profit charter companies exploit year after year. It’s time for the Legislature to ensure that both traditional and charter schools are held to the same accountability standards. It’s time for there to be a substantial investment in education combined with an equitable distribution of funds to all schools.

But before the Legislature can get back to work, let’s have every school district band together to join this suit and send a message.

 

VAM Formula
The VAM Formula

If you’re a teacher in Florida, you know all about VAM. Back in 2009, teacher accountability became all the rage, and by the legislative session in the spring of 2010 members of both the House and Senate were putting forth various bills to measure teacher effectiveness. SB6 sponsored by Senator John Thrasher was the first to emerge fully formed, and it was the first that I am aware of to propose the use of VAM, or the “Value Added Model.”

I am a teacher, not a widget. I don’t come off an assembly line, and neither do my students or their learning gains. We are human beings, so I immediately took umbrage with a term we often associate with products we buy, sell, and consume. I was so upset, in fact, that I wrote a letter to the editor of the now defunct Tampa Tribune, and it was featured on the front page of the Opinion section that Sunday. If you’d like to read it, click here, as the words I wrote are still relevant today.

Even though HB7069 is a train wreck…er, train bill, one of the *VERY FEW* good pieces of the legislation is that school districts can now opt out of using VAM as part of the teacher evaluation process. Though it unfortunately takes the Florida Legislature years to realize they’ve implemented bad policy, I’ll give them credit for finally acknowledging it, even if they only did so tacitly by burying something like this in a giant bill.

If you read the post on Facebook that took you to Jeff Solochek’s piece about VAM being eliminated in Citrus County, you know that one of the School Board members, Thomas Kennedy, advocated for its removal (thank you, sir!). Perhaps most importantly, Solochek notes that “other districts are also preparing similar moves.” I sure hope that means here in Hillsborough County Public Schools.

I’ve always thought VAM was suspect for lots of reasons, the least of which was the dismissive way teachers in our district were told by top brass that “you’d need a PhD in Mathematics to understand it.” Nothing like opaque and vague formulas to determine your worth as a teacher, I guess.

The truth is, I never liked VAM for one simple reason that every teacher will agree upon: teaching is more art than science. It’s more how you connect with kids and the relationships you build with them, not how well they do on a standardized test. When you add in the fact that VAM is inequitable in its application (is it fair to judge a P.E. Coach by the school’s overall reading scores?) and that many kids pencil-whip tests because they know the curves are so ridiculously generous, what does that number really even mean?

Nothing.

VAM has never been anything but a charade that has caused consternation for teachers everywhere throughout the state of Florida. Let’s lobby our individual districts to get rid of this mathematical chicanery for good.

VAM Formula Fixed
Here’s how the VAM formula should really read

IMG_1229

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!