State, teachers union spar over merit pay
After two hours of arguments, Judge John Cooper seemed certain of one thing: It will likely be up to an appellate judge or the state Supreme Court to decide ultimate fate of Florida's law tying teacher pay to student test scores. The Leon County Circuit judge noted at one point that "there are so many gray areas" between public employees' right to negotiate their terms of employment and the Legislature's authority to set policies that affect government workers. Where courts draw the line will decide the fate of one of Florida's most significant education policies, established in the first law ever signed by Gov. Rick Scott. Cooper said that after reading the briefs and wrestling with the arguments through the first half of Wednesday's hearing, he was unsure how to resolve the competing legal claims. He told the two sides not to read too deeply into his questions. Members of the Florida Education Association sued to block the law. They argued that by setting new terms of employment for Florida's teachers, it violates the clause in the state constitution that guarantees the right of labor unions representing government workers to negotiate terms of employment through collective bargaining. Michael Mattimore, the attorney hired by the state to defend the law, argued that the union must meet a "very heavy burden" when asking a judge block an existing state law. The state constitution also requires the state to provide an adequate public school system. "I guess I'm being asked to be sort of the judicial education czar, aren't I?" Cooper mused at one point. "You know, that's a little bit uncomfortable." "I understand exactly what you're saying, because we're asking you to do tell the Legislature they don't have the authority to do something that they've done," responded Thomas Brooks, an attorney who argued the case for the teachers union. "That makes you nervous, I don't blame you," Brooks told the judge. "But what we're asking you is something that's settled." The merit pay law prevents school districts from offering contracts that provide job security to experienced teachers and requires them to base teacher salaries on evaluations using student test scores. Brooks said the lawmakers have the authority to set policy, but local school districts must negotiate the terms of teacher contracts and the details of their performance evaluations. "What if the school board of Sarasota County decided it wanted to do the very thing that the Legislature put in this statute?" Brooks asked. "Would it have to put that on the table first? The answer is unequivocally, clearly, absolutely, yes it would,” he said, and under the state constitution, the Legislature is bound by the same rules. Mattimore said the existing state law based teacher salaries on experience and advanced degrees. What is new, he said, is the performance evaluation requirement. "There was policy that defined salary schedules in the past. There's policy defining salary schedules today," he said. Either way, he said, school districts and teachers engage in collective bargaining under the terms set by the Legislature. Brooks’ partner, Ron Meyer, countered that 2011’s Senate Bill 736 went too far in dictating the terms of new teachers’ contracts. "I'm reminded of the old saw attributable to Henry Ford: 'You can have any color Model T as long as it's black,'" Meyer said. "That's what they say in this statute: You can have a salary schedule that has to look exactly like this." Cooper said the ultimate question is whether the new law intrudes too deeply on negotiations between teachers and their employers. "I'm not sure whether the policy is good or bad is the consideration that I'm permitted to take into account," he said, adding: "I think that's a legislative determination, not for me to determine. The only issue for me is whether that policy, good or bad, affects collective bargaining." Cooper said he did not know when he would rule, and said he might call the two sides back for additional hearings.
Cooper spent most of the two-hour hearing peppering both sides with questions. He acknowledged that he was nowhere close to making a decision. "I normally have an idea where I'm going in a case by the time we get to this point," he said. "I do not here. I do not have that idea yet." Cooper asked both sides to prepare sample orders for him, but did not commit to a deadline to rule on the case.
The union lawyers argued the law is so restrictive that it implicitly prohibits collective bargaining. Cooper asked Mattimore what would happen to contracts signed under the law if he should strike it down. "I think we're inviting labor chaos," he responded.
Senate education spending panel considers school safety price tag
Florida lawmakers are beginning to compile a shopping list of security items for public schools. The Senate Appropriations Education Subcommittee on Wednesday invited representatives from Baker, Orange, St. Johns and Volusia counties to a brainstorming session as it prepares to write legislation in response to last month’s Connecticut elementary school massacre. “We’re doing a review of all of our schools (80 campuses). It could be fairly expensive,” Gary Marks, the director of Alternative Programs and Security for Volusia County Schools, said after the discussion. “It involves fencing, it involves the locks and it involves depending on what you put in place: panic buttons for each teacher, if that is something undertaken that is going to be a significant cost.” First order of business for lawmakers is to get to the bottom line. Items that educators said would minimize opportunities for intruders to terrorize public schools include a resource officer-type program, a single-access point for campuses and retrofitting buildings. Florida provides each school district with security money under a $64 million Safe Schools Program; the federal government contributes another $1.2 million. The money is distributed according to a formula based on enrollment, the district’s Crime Index and a base allocation of $63,660. About two-thirds of the money is being used by 62 counties to pay for a school resource officer program -- five don’t have such a program. However, because of different accounting procedures used by the districts the committee was unable to determine how much it costs to staff a school with someone trained to recognize and handle potentially deadly situations. According to figures mentioned by educators the cost could range from a low of $70,000 to almost $100,000 to pay, train and equip a law enforcement officer to provide security.
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New brief addresses causes, prevention of dropping out
The fifth in a series of briefs summarizing education policy research advises policymakers on how to decrease dropout rates. The brief is written by William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center. Efforts in recent years have sought to measure dropout rates -- and graduation rates -- more precisely and consistently and thus compare rates among various schools and districts. Depending on the state, 70 percent to 85 percent of students graduate within the traditional four years. Adults lacking a high school diploma suffer from dramatically lower wages -- on average only slightly more than half the average wages for high school graduates -- and poorer life chances, with lower employment rates, poorer health histories and greater rates of incarceration. No single factor, Mathis notes, explains or predicts dropping out; instead, the National Dropout Prevention Center has identified no fewer than 25 significant predictors, with the presence of three or more factors putting a student at risk. Low socioeconomic status, low parental educational level, family disruption, high-risk peer groups, low achievement and poor attendance are just some of the risk factors. Examining the research, Mathis notes that some dropout prevention strategies have found little support in research, including two that are common in many districts: elaborate data collection and analysis as well as behavior and social skills programs for older (rather than younger) students. Other approaches and programs have shown success. These include academic support and enrichment for students at risk of dropping out; assigning adult advocates to at-risk students, while taking care to ensure those advocates have low caseloads and are well-matched to their individual students; the creation of personalized and supportive learning environments; and instruction that is rigorous and directly relevant to the student’s post-high-school options. The brief stresses that the majority of dropout risk factors are centered outside the school, and it accordingly recommends strong coordination between schools, and social and health agencies. “Multiple risk factors must be addressed with multiple strategies,” Mathis writes. He also recommends implementing high-quality early education programs, which have been shown to reduce dropout rates; training educators to spot and report a wide range of dropout warning signs; and passing laws requiring students to attend school until age 18 or graduation. Just as importantly, Mathis urges the revocation and avoidance of policies that encourage dropping out, such as grade retention, high school exit examinations, and out-of-school suspensions for minor offences. He also argues that “great care should be taken in the design of any school accountability system that incorporates drop-out rates.” To do otherwise would hold schools “responsible for matters that are not within their control and for which the policymakers themselves do not provide adequate resources to resolve.” Find William Mathis’s brief on the NEPC website at:
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State to develop way to calculate cost-per-degree
As Florida's State University System seeks performance-based funding from the Legislature, higher education leaders are forming a workgroup to explore the cost-per-degree for students, universities and the state. Chancellor Frank Brogan sent a memo Tuesday to administrators at Florida's universities announcing the formation of a workgroup to develop a way to calculate the annual undergraduate cost-per-degree at each university based on state funding, tuition and financial aid. Brogan wrote in the memo that the cost-per-degree will be a critical piece of data that will help the state university system develop a performance-based funding model. Last month in Tallahassee, university presidents announced they are seeking $118 million in performance-based funding, pledging to hold the line on tuition as long as lawmakers provide the funding. The workgroup, which will be comprised of staff members from the Board of Governors and from universities, will be led by Tim Jones, the board's chief financial officer, and Jan Ignash, the board's chief academic officer. "Since there is no single, nationally accepted model, the group will examine cost-per-degree models from other systems or institutions around the country," Brogan wrote in the memo. He asked the board to determine how much an undergraduate degree costs a student, how much an undergraduate degree costs the state and how much an undergraduate degree costs an institution. Brogan is expected to announce the workgroup this morning at the meeting of the Board of Governors.
UF tops in STEM degrees in Florida
FAMU to make regular updates to Board of Governors http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/F/FL_FAMU_HAZING_FLOL-?SITE=FLTAM&SECTION=STATE&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-01-16-18-03-41
Time to rethink reliance on business tax breaks
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Florida Chamber legislative goals: merit pay, union busting, protecting high-stakes testing
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