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Florida teachers just took another one on the chin from the Florida Legislature

Remember the tail end of last year when Rep. Chris Latvala, the chair of the House PreK-12 Appropriations committee, went on record stating, “I don’t anticipate the type of bills that will dramatically change the education system, as we’ve done the past few years”?

He couldn’t have been more dead wrong.

SB7070, introduced just days after session began, sailed through the process and was recently touted as a crowning legislative achievement by Governor Ron DeSantis‘ office. Setting aside the fuzzy math being used by our legislators that was recently covered in the Florida Phoenix, the legislation wrought numerous changes that only minority special interests and lobbyists wanted to see pass.

Whether it’s arming teachers, using the public’s money to provide private school vouchers to religious schools, subverting the will of local voters, or just flat out ignoring the wishes of Florida’s majority, the Florida Legislature did what it does best–pass legislation no one wants or is asking for.

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YAY! We finally passed completely unconstitutional legislation to ensure that convicts and crackheads can teach kids about how dinosaurs were our pets 5000 years ago!

Instead, teachers all across Florida got a legislative session that will only exacerbate the current teacher shortage and make everything much worse for the tens of thousands of educators all across the state, let alone the millions of students who will be impacted by these disastrous decisions.

Despite the return of phrases such as “historic funding increases” in the news and on the DeSantis press release, the truth is that even with this new FEFP total that is close to $7700, it would still be nearly $1000 shy of an inflation adjusted $7126 per-pupil amount from more than a decade ago, something that has been discussed at length here and elsewhere.

But guess what? Costs have risen and the increases will barely cover expenses.

There’s a reason why 20 out of 20 counties/school districts across Florida voted to tax themselves to cover the financial shortfalls from Tallahassee, and it’s precisely because these citizens realize the value of our public schools and the funding they require to keep up with routine maintenance, technology upgrades, or salary enhancements to local teachers and ESPs. And how does the Florida Legislature react? By trying to co-opt the windfall and force districts to share the funds with charter schools, many of whom are for-profit managed and will simply siphon off much of that money to their bottom lines.

Meanwhile–and as if the Florida Legislature hasn’t done enough to tilt the playing field already–an issue that has largely flown under the radar is that for the last several years the Florida Legislature has continued to give more and more of the PECO dollars to the charters, even after already forcing the districts to share revenue with a provision in HB7069 two years ago. Back then, traditional schools received $50 million, and charters received $50 million. And while that may seem equitable, it’s a lot less money when we consider the fact that there are over 3600 traditional public schools and just over 600 charters statewide. Last year, they gave traditional schools $50 million, and provided charters with just over $140 million, even though they have schools that are only 5-6 years old on average. This year? Well they just went ahead and gave them all of the PECO dollars, a cool $158 million.

So guess where cost overruns outside of categorical spending will come from? The BSA, or Base Student Allocation. But while everyone is cheering the $75 increase–which amounts to a 15,857% increase over last year’s 47 cents, a number I’m honestly surprised the governor, FLDOE, or legislators haven’t put on billboards yet–many forget that with the increased costs much of this will be eaten up and not go toward salaries. Here in Hillsborough, for instance, that portion of the budget would mean a $16.5 million dollar increase if every single student attended a traditional public school. They don’t, which means the number is smaller. Yet even if it were that number, it costs our district $17 million per year just to ensure step movement on our regular pay scale.

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Oh! Every teacher in Florida needs a sizable raise? Silly us! We thought you asked us to CUT your pay, you know, because you’re making too much already.

And that massive loss of gross earnings that nearly 10,000 teachers were fearing? Yeah, that happened too. Only the Florida Legislature could take a really bad idea and make it SO much worse. Setting aside the faulty premise of the previous Best & Brightest program, there were two beneficial aspects:

1) to some extent, it was within the teacher’s control to be rated highly effective (although many have noted the wide disparities in these ratings across districts throughout the state) and to then either have the scores from years past or–like my wife and I did–simply retake the test to get the requisite scores. Ultimately, it was largely about taking initiative and demonstrating individual excellence;

2) even if the scores were not there, virtually all teachers across the Sunshine State got something. If rated “Effective,” last year teachers would earn $800, and “Highly Effective” received $1200. The proposed House version of the updated program this year would have scrapped the scores and given all E rated teachers around $1100 and all HE rated teachers a bonus of $2300. Unfortunately for all of us, the Senate version was adopted, and that one is chock full of terrible ideas for how to “reward” teachers…

A one-time $4,000 recruitment bonus for new hires who are considered “content-experts” (Yet have never taught?! Sort of like the fresh out of college kids who got $6K because of test scores, right?!).

An “anybody’s guess” bonus attached to cockamamie schemes that are largely beyond the control of any given teacher at a school that now has to move up 3 percentage points over the two previous year’s school grade data (Yeah, good luck getting that…here’s your lottery ticket).

A “recognition” bonus of who knows how much based on the “how-much-of-the-previous-two-categories-did-we-spend-money-on-let’s-use-the-leftovers-for-that” plan. And oh yeah, the principal will decide. Nothing like putting him or her in a bad place or having teachers hating each other because they weren’t chosen.

In the end, this was another lousy legislative session for teachers and students all across Florida, regardless of how legislators try and spin this hot mess. There are several veteran teachers who have personally told me they are walking away after this year is over, and until the Florida Legislature actually starts listening to the people who serve our children on a daily basis things will never get better, and we’ll all be seeing more posts like Jonathan Carroll’s on Facebook.

Thanks for the pay cut, Tallahassee!

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It’s 2019, we’ve got a booming economy, and I’m about to take a 13% pay cut.

According to Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel, last year just over 9200 teachers in Florida qualified as Best and Brightest Scholars, the teachers who were both rated highly effective and had 80th+ percentile scores on the SAT or ACT. Between the $6,000 for the “scholar” designation and the $1,200 bonus for being highly effective, the net $7,200 represented an increase of over 13% to my base pay of $54,000.

At no point, however, in any of the announcements from either Governor Ron DeSantis or Senator Manny Diaz, has there been any mention of grandfathering in the previous recipients. Instead, it would seem nearly 10,000 teachers working in the Sunshine State–which already ranks 45th nationally in terms of pay–are about to take a substantial pay cut.

To be blunt, these bonus schemes are a horrible way to increase teacher recruitment and retention in the midst of a nationwide teacher shortage, especially considering one never knows how long they will last. But teachers are desperate to earn more money however they can, and that is the primary reason my wife and I leapt at the chance to take the ACT in the fall of 2016 when I returned to the classroom after spending time as a new teacher mentor. We both passed the necessary benchmark and have received the money for the last few years, but now it would seem we might potentially see a loss of $14,400 between the both of us.

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What’s worse, we both feel responsible for encouraging many of our friends and coworkers to take the test, only to know that they too will face devastating pay cuts if the Florida Legislature’s latest version of Best and Brightest does not earmark money for those who have previously earned it. After all, the way HB7069 had written future dates and expanded criteria into the legislation seemed as if these bonuses were here to stay, with many (if not most) of the recipients planning their finances around these dollars coming in perpetuity.

Shame on us all for forgetting that this is Florida.

But let’s be honest, Best and Brightest was never a good idea. There is zero correlation between how well a person teaches and his or her scholastic aptitude. My original SAT scores from when I was 16 never would have qualified me for Best and Brightest, but at 41 when I sat down to take the ACT on that fateful Saturday morning, I was highly motivated to perform my best due to the economic incentive. Did passing the test help me become a better teacher, though? Absolutely not. Beyond the money, the only thing the test gave me was a sense of accomplishment for attaining my personal goal of scoring in the 99th percentile.

Yet here we are again, pitching a new cockamamie version of Best and Brightest program to help 45,000 lucky teachers with even more fickle metrics beyond their control such as a one point uptick in school grades. It seems glaringly obvious that these bonuses are largely concocted to circumvent collective bargaining / local control of funding by individual school districts, as well as to avoid having these dollars calculated into our paltry pensions from FRS. And just to add insult to injury, the state even goes so far as to direct the local districts to pay their portions of the payroll taxes from the lump sum, in effect taxing teachers twice.

The Florida Legislature needs to do much better than this. In the midst of statewide teacher shortage, our elected officials should start by taking all $400 plus million and sharing it with all education professionals who work with students regardless of whether or not they are in the classroom. ESPs, guidance counselors, media center specialists…anyone who has direct contact with kids on a daily basis deserve so much more than what they currently earn, especially when we take into account that Florida ranks 37th in terms of affordability (it’s the 13th most expensive state in which to live). While Senator Rader introduces bills each year to raise the starting teacher salary to $50,000, his idea is routinely ignored by his fellow legislators. Instead, we will probably continue to see more bonuses such as Best and Brightest, and if the Florida Legislature obstinately continues down this road, the least it could do is not penalize previous recipients by significantly cutting their current earnings.

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Frustrated Teacher
The declining mental health of teachers is an often ignored piece of the puzzle when it comes to why so many leave the profession or so few choose to enter the classroom.

The second guest post of 2019 is finally here! This is a brief bio of the author:

Seth Hopkins-Federman’s career as a teacher started as a way to make sure he wasn’t a starving actor. Through the years, he has taught English and Reading at several different levels and has presented at both state and national conferences. He has finally found a way to substitute his love for the stage with a profound and passionate love for the classroom. He is currently working on his doctorate in Education Leadership with the goal of becoming a striving force in education reform or finding a way to successfully pay off all of the student loans.

It’s not like you haven’t seen the meme splashed all over the walls of Facebook:

A parent is eagerly trying his best to get a loved one to school. After the frequent tries he finally exclaims, “but you have to…because you’re a teacher!”

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Jokes aside, the social emotional piece that is missing from our schools lies not only with the students but with the teachers as well. In the past decade, social health services for teachers have seen an increase of 40% intakes since the implementation of Common Core and higher accountability measures related to evaluation. While it hasn’t been confirmed, there are new suggestions in the data that teachers have been more prone to suicidal thoughts than dentists who are regularly thought to be the profession with the highest suicidal thought capacity. In reviewing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it doesn’t take a scientist or psychologist to see something is not being met. The question is why aren’t we talking about it?

In doing my research, I have found that teachers aren’t necessarily leaving the profession for the common reasons we think. In a review of some of the major strikes in the 2000s, most teachers said pay wasn’t the base need. Instead, it was respect and validation. Can this truly be matched with a pay increase? Research suggests it might, but it deals more with the organizational culture and the approach to how problems are dealt with. We all know that the teachers’ lounge is where we go to kivelt (as my grandmother would say) about our students. But the conversations go from kivelting to beotching (as my second graders in Brooklyn would call it). The conversation doesn’t move to productive solutions just constant complaining. So who’s to blame? Or better yet: why do we need to blame?

It education is going to continuously fall into the cycle of broken bones mended by Band-aids, we have to recognize that our Band-aids are blame accusations and not proactive solutions. Districts need to recognize that class sizes are marring actual learning, school leaders need to be transparent about the way school discipline works, and teachers need to learn more about deescalating than aggravating. This all comes back to a simple social need that all sides are forgetting: validation. Let’s all validate the obvious: this is a tough time to be in education. The phrase lose-lose is unfortunately becoming way too common place in decisions by any stakeholder. Research suggests that if education is to improve, the blame game needs to stop and validation needs to begin. If we can’t begin that cultural shift, it doesn’t matter the test scores or suspension rates, public education will soon see it’s broken bones evolve into organ failure and, ultimately, death.

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Debra Bellanti, Democratic Candidate for House District 60, along with her husband, Anthony, and their daughter, Josephine.

As we continue the summer of podcasts, this week’s special guest is Debra Bellanti, the Democratic candidate for House District 60 of the Florida Legislature. While she is running as a Democrat, Debra is building a bipartisan coalition of mothers who are deeply concerned about the level of funding devoted to public education and how it affects our students’ safety. For these efforts and others, she has received numerous endorsements and distinctions.

In addition to discussing education, Debra also shares her views on several other issues that are critical for the entire Hillsborough delegation in general and her South Tampa community in particular. Please listen and share with other voters of House District 60 or concerned public education advocates!

If you’d like to learn more about Debra, you can check out her website here, like or follow her on Facebook, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

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Sue Woltanski, Co-Founder of Accountabaloney and Monroe County School Board Member

This week’s guest on the Teacher Voice podcast is Sue Woltanski, a mother, pediatrician, public education advocate, and now recently elected Monroe County School Board member. We spoke over the phone this past Thursday, one day after the FLDOE released the school grades, which happens to be her area of expertise and what prompted the creation of the Accountabaloney blog. For those of you who are parents and don’t know how school grades are calculated or ever wondered why we have so much testing here in the Sunshine state, this podcast will be particularly insightful.

If you’d like to learn more about Sue and her advocacy efforts, you can also like or follow the Accountabaloney page on Facebook, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Thanks again for tuning in, everyone, please listen/share with others, and have a great week!

SafeBusForUs

This week’s Teacher Voice podcast is a full-length interview with Josephine Amato, the director of the Safe Bus For Us parent advocacy group. As last week has shown, safe school bus transportation for children living within two miles has become a contentious issue, especially in light of the traffic jams and challenges for local businesses that the additional cars and student walkers on the road have caused.

Please listen and share with others who are concerned.

***Disclaimer*** After we recorded the podcast, Mrs. Amato realized there were two mistakes in statistics she used: 1) a child is struck walking to school every 3 minutes (not seconds); 2) children who are 13 and over (not under).