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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
While there are lots of issues cropping up across the state of Florida when it comes to education, the biggest by far is the lack of funding. Current per-pupil spending here in the Sunshine State hovers around $7200 and is less than a decade ago even though the economy has rebounded substantially since the Great Recession.
And we are way behind the national average of $10,600 per pupil, which is downright shameful considering we’re now the third biggest state in the U.S. in terms of population. You’d think our legislators in Tallahassee would realize that properly funding education means luring more investment into the state, because if you want business leaders to flock here we’d better have a high quality public education system to teach the next generation of Floridians.
But if you live anywhere in the Tampa Bay area (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, etc) and are tuning in to what’s happening, you’re also aware of the “financial woes” facing Hillsborough County Public Schools. Our top administrators and elected officials are coming to grips with a significant budget crisis that includes one billion dollars in debt, one billion dollars in deferred/needed maintenance, and another billion dollars of new schools that will need to be built to handle the exponential growth taking place in southern and eastern parts of the county.
This past Tuesday, the School Board held a public budget workshop to discuss ideas about how to combat this challenge, and one in particular stuck out. Susan Valdes, who has been a school board member since 2004–and you could argue bears much responsibility for our current mess because she has clearly passed budgets that were reckless in their spending–openly floated the idea of freezing everyone’s salary.
Clearly Mrs. Valdes doesn’t understand basic economics…
Hillsborough County Public Schools is the largest employer in the Tampa Bay area. There are over 15,000 teachers, and 26,000 employees in total. All of these employees spend most of their hard earned money locally, and anyone who has lived in Tampa in the last 5 years knows the area is experiencing robust growth. If the school board and administration freeze salaries, this will create a ripple effect that will negatively impact the local economy and make the downward spiral that much worse.
Perhaps more devastating, this decision could force good teachers to leave the profession altogether, which we continually see across the state because jobs are plentiful. The unemployment rate in Florida sits at 4.5%; here in Tampa Bay it’s actually 3.7%(!). This means there are jobs out there, and if veteran teachers can’t make ends meet they’ll go do something else. Even if there weren’t a hiring freeze, HR staff in any organization will also tell you that hiring and training new employees is more expensive than retaining older ones.
Should the school board even be considering this as an option? It will probably do a lot more harm than good, especially if those in charge continue to spend money frivolously while asking the primary workforce to make the sacrifice that will hurt our local economy in the long run.
P.S. – If you’d like to hear more on this topic and why freezing salaries is a huge mistake, don’t forget to check out the latest episode of the podcast located on the right-hand side of the main sidebar. The “Friday Five” will be posted each week and will feature me (and hopefully others in the future) sounding off about a timely issue concerning education either locally or elsewhere in the state.
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