This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast features Fentrice Driskell, a Harvard and Georgetown Law School graduate, partner at Carton Fields law firm in Tampa, and the Democratic candidate for House District 63.
Although she always knew that running for public office would be in her future, she did not realize she would run so soon. We discuss her impressive resume, why she’s running, and what she would like to do in Tallahassee. Please listen and share with others, especially voters in HD63.
The above video contains my complete comments on the lack of taxation. Please watch for context for what is detailed below.
It is no secret that school districts all across the Sunshine State have been forced to squeeze blood from a stone by the Florida Legislature for over two decades, and especially since the Great Recession. As noted in the first “Numbers Don’t Lie” piece, Florida went from 27th in per-pupil spending in 1998 to 44th in 2018. Had we kept pace with inflation alone from 20 years ago, Florida would need to spend $9,913 per student. Instead, we currently spend $7,408.
But it’s far worse than simply not keeping pace with inflation. When Ernest Hooper and I were interviewing candidates at the Tampa Hob Nob a few weeks ago, HD64 Rep. Jamie Grant–by his own admission–stated that the three areas of the economy that have actually outpaced inflation were health care, higher education and K-12 education. This effectively compounds the problem, because not only has the Florida Legislature refused to make a meaningful investment in public education, their decision to be parsimonious has made the reduced spending power of those scant dollars that much more signficant (assuming his statement is true).
Hillsborough County is not the only county seeking tax referenda. It’s happening all over the state, which John Romano wrote about recently in the Tampa Bay Times. Going back to this past March, citizens of various counties are 12 for 12 in voting for some type of tax referendum to support their schools. Clearly voters are starting to understand that Tallahassee has gotten us all into these messes because of its ideological zeal for reducing taxes.
People who stand against the tax referenda do so for two principal reasons: 1) they claim “we’re taxed too much already”; 2) they believe Hillsborough County Public Schools has mismanaged its funds. Let’s examine these claims in detail:
“We’re Taxed Too Much Already”
Regarding the first claim, this is typical response from just about anyone when the subject of raising taxes is mentioned. The facts, however, do not support this claim. If anything, we are taxed too little in a state that is experiencing such rapid population growth. The lack of taxation is directly linked to: the unwillingness to investment in public education by the Florida Legislature, resulting in students and staff sweating in schools; the traffic congestion we get caught up in on a daily basis; why Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has one of the lowest deputy-to-citizen ratios in the state, etc. Simply put, there’s not enough money to go around.
1. Florida ranks 49th out of 50 states when it comes to “tax burden” (i.e. per-capita tax revenue generation).
2. Hillsborough County ranks 52nd out of 67 counties in Florida, which means we have the 15th lowest tax burden in the second lowest state in the U.S.
To say that “we are taxed too much already” is a preposterous statement that clearly ignores these facts and traffics in hyperbole when one considers the actual numbers.
HCPS Mismanages Its Funds
When it comes to the second claim about HCPS mismanaging its funds, it must be addressed in two parts. First, there are the optics of some of the board’s more questionable spending decisions over the last three years. Many critics often cite spending nearly a million dollars on the Gibson Report, nearly a million dollars for new school board offices/relocation of Human Resources from its original location to the Instructional Services Center, remodeling/refreshing the audio-visual equipment in the board room, etc. All told these items add up to perhaps $3 million across the last three years, which amounts to approximately 0.00033% of its total annual budget per year.
This is clearly a case of picking out a few trees while missing the entire forest.
In truth, however, Hillsborough County Public Schools has done a great job of reigning in its deficit spending during the same period. This fact is all the more amazing when one considers the significance of this in light of continually declining purchasing power when dollars are adjusted for inflation. Many citizens of the county, for instance, may not realize that there has been a sharp reduction in “PECO” funding (Public Education Capital Outlay, the source that pays for installation and maintenance of HVAC systems, building and repairing schools, upgrading technology, etc) for several reasons:
1. At the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, the Florida Legislature–the governing body that effectively caps the tax rates that can be applied by school boards–reduced the millage rate from 2.0 to 1.5. Despite the economy recovering and now thriving, Tallahassee has never raised the millage rate back to pre-recession levels.
2. In addition to the millage rate never being restored, outgoing Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, famously quipped “Hell, no” in 2017 when asked if the Legislature would leave tax rates alone and allow rising property values to raise additional funds for education. Despite the Senate being okay with such a sensible compromise, the Grover Norquist anti-tax zealots in the House held firm and rolled back the rates even more.
3. Much of the revenue generated for PECO comes in the form of utilities taxes, including landline telephones, which hardly exist outside of businesses any longer. Therefore, a lot less money is going into those particular coffers at the state level.
Put this all together and what we get is a perfect fiscal storm that looks like this chart.
While no one ever likes paying taxes, I would argue that there is a cost of paying too little. Having lived in Florida for just over 20 years now, I have watched our schools deteriorate and our roads fall apart while simutaneously becoming more clogged thanks to two decades of rampant, unchecked sprawl that has had little oversight and even less funding devoted to overcoming these challenges. I would highly encourage anyone who is reading this and lives in Hillsborough County to share this information with friends/family and vote for both of these referenda so that our citizens no longer have to live with the disastrous decisions being made by the Florida Legislature.
Furthermore, especially when it comes to the school district referendum in particular, please bear the following in mind: 1) the referendum can only be used for capital expenses; 2) there will be an oversight committee comprised of six citizens who have no connection to the district and will oversee how the money is spent on projects; 3) for the average Hillsborough citizen, the additional tax will mean about 17 cents per day. Undoubtedly, there will be naysayers who still want to vote no for their own personal reasons regardless of these facts. To them I paraphrase Voltaire by saying we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Our students, our schools, and our future depend on it.
This week’s episode of Teacher Voice podcast features Phil Hornback, a small business owner, former bricklayer, and former public school science teacher. Phil is a hard working guy who wants to bring a common sense approach to Tallahassee by standing for the constituents of the community rather than the special interests who dominate our state’s legislative sessions.
Although our conversation focuses mainly on public education, Phil also discusses his personal history, why he’s running, as well as the other important ideas for his campaign. Please listen and share this episode, especially with those who live in House District 58.
Three weeks ago the Florida Legislature’s Office of the House Majority put out this video in an effort to combat the bad press it had been getting over the 47 cent increase to the BSA, or Base Student Allocation.
After my own rebuttal to this reprehensible attempt to characterize all education professionals as everyone’s favorite disheveled ingrate, Frank, Politifact Florida weighed in on the matter to state that the House Majority’s video about the #47centmyth (boy, I love it when Corcoran and Co. coin hashtags) is “mostly false.”
Let me save the reader a valuable 4 minutes and 27 seconds of life and sum it up: according to the Florida Legislature, the only number that matters is FEFP, which stands for Florida Education Finance Program. This is the number that we should all reference when talking about education spending so that we have a single measurement by which we can accurately discuss how much the Sunshine State spends “per-pupil.”
For the upcoming school year of 2018-19 that “per-pupil” number is $7,408.
As much as the GOP-led Florida Legislature wants to argue about what constitutes a fact, here are three numbers/facts that make it incredibly tough to argue against:
Yet here we are, 20 years later, and we still haven’t increased per-pupil funding by even $1,000 from two decades ago. And all of this transpired under the watchful eye of a GOP-led Florida Legislature and Governor’s mansion that has refused to keep up with rising costs, let alone make a meaningful investment in our children and their future.
Numbers don’t lie, people. Inflation happens. And when the Florida Legislature touts the FEFP per-pupil number as the only one that matters, it opens itself up to even more criticism precisely because costs have risen the last two decades the GOP has been in power, yet the purchasing power of that money has simultaneously declined.
Despite Governor Scott’s, House Speaker Corcoran’s, and Senate President Negron’s claims that this year’s per-pupil spending is “historic”, “unprecedented”, and “record-level”, $7,408 lags the national average by over $4,000 and, as previously demonstrated above, its own inflation-adjusted spending by over $2,500.
Oh, and here’s one more number/fun fact for our GOP legislators: in 1998 Florida was 27th in per-pupil spending, putting our state at roughly the national average back then (27th in the U.S.); now, in 2018, just about every measure shows that we rank in the bottom 10 percent (45th or lower) of the entire United States.
And until we vote these people out, they will continue to squeeze blood from a stone…
P.S. – Is this more “Corcoran fuzzy math”? Not sure where this inflated number comes from, but it shows up briefly on the side of the bus in the new video (almost like a subliminal message) and $7,408 is never mentioned.
This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast welcomes one of my former students, Lane Weaver, who is about to embark on his new career as a high school Social Studies teacher in Orange county this coming August. He emailed me a few weeks back just to share the exciting news and update me on his life, so I invited him to join me for a conversation about his time as a student in HCPS, at Florida State, and why he decided to become a teacher and make a positive difference in the lives of his future students.
Are you a new or veteran teacher who would like to share your voice on the podcast? Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and perhaps we can get together this summer.
Thanks for listening, everyone. Enjoy the Memorial Day holiday weekend!
Apparently the Florida GOP is tired of getting beaten up in the media by public education advocates who cried foul after the education budget increased the base student allocationby 47 cents. Pardon the bold, italicized wording at the end of the last sentence, it’s only to ensure that specific wording is employed to clarify any misconceptions. So, to combat this endless churn in the news cycle, the Florida GOP–you know, the ones who are always touting fiscal conservatism while budgets continue to balloon for everything except public education–have decided to waste more taxpayer dollars to produce this video that up to this point has been watched a whopping 472 times.
If you haven’t seen this gem, go ahead and waste five minutes of your life so you can see for yourself just how much the Florida GOP thinks of teachers.
On the heels of National Teacher Appreciation Week, the Florida GOP likens all of us a disheveled lout named Frank. Make no mistake about it, there is no way their opening analogy can be construed any other way. Apparently anyone who has the nerve to call out the Florida Legislature is, according to the GOP, perpetuating a “myth.”
For those who are unaware of the etymological roots of that word, it simply means “story” (and nothing more) in ancient Greek. We all tell stories, and this is the Florida GOP’s attempt to craft a narrative of convenience that clearly demonstrates their disdainful views about teachers, teachers’ unions, and our profession in general.
At the end of the video, when the narrator (myth-maker?) says that “the truth matters”, he talks about facts being stubborn things. So here are a few of which the general public should be aware:
1. 2007-2008 per-pupil spending was $7,126; next year’s will be $7,408. 11 years later, not even $300 higher. Can’t ignore inflation and the declining purchasing power of the almighty dollar…adjusted for inflation we should be at $8,311 just to have kept up.
2. But wait! It gets even better! As this chart indicates, Florida spent $6,443 per-pupil in 1998-99, which was 20 years ago for our Florida GOP who struggle with math and logic (trust me, I’m a 99th percentile Best and Brightest teacher!). This was just shy of the national average for per-pupil spending at the time (27th in the U.S.), and we now rank in the bottom 10% of all states in the U.S. (45th). What happened during that 20 year period?
Oh yeah, the Florida GOP took over our state government.
The fact of the matter is that the Florida GOP’s little video isn’t fooling anyone, least of all public education advocates. But it’s clearly a message intended to be seen by “working Floridians”, you know, that 45% of Florida’s population that is considered “working poor” and has clearly prospered so much under the Rick Scott administration, especially in rural counties where they have been left even further behind than before he began his tenure.
Hate to be the bearer of bad news, Florida GOP, but the only ones who are in the myth-making business is your party.
And, no, I’m not a Democrat or whatever else you’d like to call me in case you want to jump straight to ad hominem attacks.
All across the Sunshine State, education professionals and their supporters just closed out National Teacher Appreciation Week. During this time, public education was celebrated by students and parents alike. Many people wore #REDforEDto stand in solidarity with teachers in other states that have accomplished change by banding together, as well as to highlight the similar challenges we face here in Florida.
Many people also took to social media to share their support and to say thanks to those who work with our children on a daily basis. A few even used this platform and time to illustrate important points to our elected officials about the starvation budgets that have been served up during the tenure of Governor Rick Scott. These are a few of my contributions, for instance, that I used to help spread awareness and build momentum as we move forward to this year’s election cycle:
Clearly one of the most effective forms of demonstration that has helped along the situations faced by states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona was marching on the capitol. What if we could do this here in Florida? Is it time for a little rally in Tally? It certainly has a nice ring to it and could easily be used as a hashtag to build further momentum during the summer and beyond. There are even two dates that would be perfect for taking this simple, effective action:
And what better way to celebrate the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself than by marching / rallying again on Monday, January 21st, 2019, only a couple of weeks after committee work begins for the upcoming legislative session. Granted there probably won’t be any activity that day, but legislators will be there or returning for work on Tuesday. But if we can get tens of thousands of teachers to show up and get high-profile media coverage of the event, it would definitely put the Florida Legislature on notice.
We educators will no longer be silent about the damage being done by the gross lack of funding for our public education system. As MLK himself reminds us all: the time is always right to do what is right. The time is now. The fight is here. We can take action that doesn’t require us to strike yet still be “highly effective.” Just close your eyes and imagine it…a sea of red set out to #RallyInTally.
What follows herein, then, is a direct rebuttal to many of the points addressed within the Speaker’s column. As an independent voter who has never had a party affiliation, I am one of many citizens who feels disenfranchised by a two-party system that has been largely hijacked by extremists on both sides of the aisle. The entire Sunshine State needs collaboration and compromise between its lawmakers; our citizens have received very little of either in the two decades I have lived in Florida, however, and this is especially true during the last two contentious legislative sessions overseen by Speaker Corcoran.
The Speaker’s column begins with a bombastic claim that Floridians will have the opportunity “to vote on the best slate of constitutional amendments ever.” Much of what follows from there is largely opinion with few facts to corroborate his assertions, so let’s examine his claims individually to see how they stack up against reality during Governor Scott’s tenure in office as well as Representative Corcoran’s time as Speaker of the House.
Speaker Corcoran initiates his column by proudly stating he and Governor Scott have cut taxes 80 times totaling over $10 billion dollars since 2010. As someone who is personally fiscally conservative, this would be welcome news if my perspective weren’t already tempered by the realization that all Floridians have an obligation to the future, which requires investment in public institutions and services, something our state cannot afford to do by constantly curtailing revenue streams for no other reason beyond pandering to an ultra-conservative political base.
All it will really take is the next economic recession–something that Speaker Corcoran surely knows is coming considering how much he touts his love of free markets as a panacea for every economic ill–and the boom and bust cycle will ensure that our consumption based revenue will collapse in on itself much like it did during the housing crisis a decade ago.
Instead, however, the Speaker is pushing for yet another homestead exemption that will further reduce revenue by $637 million dollars at a time when we desperately need funding for Medicare and Medicaid expansion, infrastructure, and public education. And what do Floridians stand to receive if this amendment passes? $250. Annually.
And while discussing per-pupil funding, let’s acknowledge how abysmal it has been for the last decade despite constant claims by Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Joe Negron that this year’s “record-level” $7,408 per-pupil amount is “unprecendented” and “historic”; adjusted for inflation, the $7,126 from 2007-2008 would need to be $8,415 to have the equivalent purchasing power, a fact anyone can check with the U.S. Department of Labor’s CPI Inflation Calculator. $8,415 is clearly far more than the $7,221 our schools received this past school year, meaning we are at least $1,200 behind and lag the national average by approximately $4,000.
At a bare minimum, the students, parents, and education professionals deserve a special session so that the Florida Legislature can actually provide the $400 million it pledged for school safety, rather than shuffle all the money around in the education budget and still claim to have increased funding. Far more importantly, it also begs the question of why education spending did not increase by $1.5 billion when the entire budget climbed by over $6 billion. Public education is already one quarter of the state’s budget after all; shouldn’t it deserve an equitable increase as a total proportion of the new budget?
At this point it is worth noting the about face of Speaker Corcoran, who, lest we all forget, was chief antagonist of Governor Scott for much of the 2017 legislative session, fuming over “corporate welfare” and wanting to eviscerate the funding of both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, two of the governor’s beloved pet projects. This animosity evaporated almost immediately at the end of the session after a closed-door horse-dealing session that every public education advocate knows all too well.
After detailing how he–along with Governor Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga–appointed the 37 members of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commision, a group that has set out to attempt to install its politically conservative agenda into our state’s most precious civil document rather than listening to what the Sunshine State’s citizenry wants, Speaker Corcoran segues into hollow words about ending corruption in Tallahassee because of his “ethics reform package.”
For someone who constantly preens himself over his record on challenging special interests and ending “corporate welfare”–a point upon which he and I philosophically agree, interestingly enough–Speaker Corcoran’s words run diametrically opposed to his actions when it serves his own interests and agenda.
Speaker Corcoran also goes on to boast of his and Governor Scott’s education priorities, noting–quite incorrectly, one might add–that “Florida is one of the only states in the nation to significantly improve math and reading scores.” He is referring to the NAEP, which is small sampling of random students and schools that deals with proficiency not growth. Truth be told, all the NAEP report demonstrates is that some random students did better than other random students from several years ago.
It is noteworthy, however, that Polk School Board member, Billy Townsend, keeps pointing toward an exhaustive report done by Stanford University that clearly tracks all students across multiple grades to build a robust picture of student growth (or lack thereof) on standardized tests, which, as anyone in public education knows, is the only metric deemed worthy of consideration by the Florida Legislature. This report, oddly enough, has been routinely ignored by every single person in Tallahassee. Why? This map speaks for the entire study:
With regard to the school board term limit proposal in Amendment 8, Speaker Corcoran neglects to mention that this is one of the “bundled” amendments that will also establish a state governed charter school authorization board that can circumvent the power of our own locally elected officials in addition to establishing a parallel “public” school system that will not answer to local school boards, which is only another ploy to redirect precious, scant taxpayer dollars to entities that have little oversight or accountability.
Finally, as an insult to all Social Studies teachers across the entire Sunshine State, Speaker Corcoran tells us that the Florida Legislature and the CRC have set out to enshrine civics education in our Constitution in an effort to ensure “a student should not be able to graduate without understanding what makes America great. Our founding documents and the values of our free society should not just be taught, but understood by every student who comes out of a Florida school.” This is already happening here in Hillsborough where Civics in a mandatory course that all students take in 7th grade, and undoubtedly everywhere else throughout the state. How else could Parkland students so quickly organize the “March For Our Lives” events and eloquently share their views if we had no robust civics education in Florida schools?
At the end of his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Richard Corcoran has clearly failed at what he set out to do when he took the gavel and stated he would disrupt the status quo. What he failed to realize was the paradoxical nature of his quest that did not acknowledge a single fact of paramount importance:
That Speaker Corcoran–and by extension the entire ideologically-driven, GOP-dominated Florida Legislature of the last two decades–is the status quo.
This week’s guest on the Teacher Voice podcast is Robert Pechacek, a military veteran, business owner, and now public school teacher who is running for the District 6 Countywide school board seat for Hillsborough County Public Schools. Robert and I discuss his reasons for becoming a teacher and why he is running in this year’s race. Please listen and share with other interested voters.
If you like what you heard and would like to learn more about Robert, you can visit his website www.votepechacek.org or like/follow his page on Facebook.
In the wake of recent rebellions by teachers and other public education advocates that have been taking place in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, the teachers’ unions in Florida have been largely silent on getting involved, mostly reminding education professionals that we cannot strike here due to the deal we made with the Florida Legislature in 1968 that exchanged our right to collectively bargain for our right to strike.
50 years later, many are starting to wonder if that deal has been broken by the current Florida Legislature, a governing body that seems to care little about what nearly 200,000 education professionals think and in the last two years especially has tried to circumvent the Florida Constitution with bad faith legislation like HB7069 and HB7055.
It’s evident on Facebook alone that teachers throughout the Sunshine State want to take action, even if only as a demonstration of solidarity with educators in the aforementioned states. Several “Florida Educators United” group pages have already appeared on Facebook, and comments made there and on other education blogs are riddled with questions about why teachers’ unions are not leading the charge while the plight of public education and its woeful funding in southern states is in the public spotlight.
1) non-members need to see how the state and local teachers’ unions are being pro-active and taking the fight to Tallahassee while simultaneously standing in solidarity with those who are still protesting in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. This may encourage them to join their local unions and further strengthen our numbers, which is especially critical in light of the union decertification language that was packaged into HB7055.
2) by starting our efforts to organize and activate our members, we can consistently build momentum and share our message all summer long and into the upcoming election cycle. Unions could use the summer months especially to network with local candidates that they endorse, help register young voters who have Parkland on their mind and want to radically change the status quo in Tallahassee, and just help phone bank / knock on doors to help get out the vote during primaries in August and the general in November.
While many local unions may come up with other ideas, here are two excellent ones that I would personally love to see the FEA champion and help coordinate. The first was proposed during our executive board meeting last week. Arizona has decided to stage a statewide “walk-in” rather than a “walkout”; teachers, parents, and other community supporters will all line up to walk in to school together. Imagine if all 67 districts could coordinate this effort to demonstrate similarly at every school throughout Florida on the exact same day.
One of our board members proposed a day: May 8th, National Teacher Appreciation Day.
Donna Yates Mace, a retired teacher, outspoken public education advocate, and manager of Teacher to Teacher also had another suggestion for a demonstration day: September 17, U.S. Constitution Day, which is perfect timing due to the beginning of committee work in Tallahassee for the 2019 legislative session as well as closing in on the general elections that will happen in November. That one is far enough away I am confident we could easily amass a giant rally on the steps of the capitol in Tallahassee, demanding better funding to support our students and their future.
Union members and non-members alike are perplexed and frustrated by the limited action the FEA has taken thus far, and locals feel beholden to fall lockstep into whatever FEA leadership suggests. Many of us are asking the question: why can’t we do more?
I believe that not only we can do more, we must.
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