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FEA: Legislature needs to heed voters and fund neighborhood public schools

TALLAHASSEE — Time and again, Florida’s electorate has demonstrated broad, bipartisan consensus on the need to increase funding for our students and neighborhood public schools.

The evidence of their support for investment in our schools can be found in the tens of thousands of petitions that the Florida Education Association (FEA) is delivering today, in the nearly 2 million Floridians who voted in 2018 to increase their local taxes in order to help schools, and consistently through public-opinion polls.

However, House leaders don’t appear to be listening.

“Stakeholders around this state have chosen to support their neighborhood public schools through local referendums, choosing to pay out of their own pockets to provide for students and keep qualified educators in classrooms,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “The Florida House now wants to take that money in yet another attempt to defund our neighborhood public schools.”

Under House Bill (HB) 7123, money collected locally to support neighborhood public schools would be sent to charter schools and for-profit, out-of-state charter operators. The FEA calls on the House to leave the locally generated dollars alone and to instead follow the Senate’s lead in funding a substantial increase in the state budget’s per-student base allocation for our schools.

While financed by taxpayer dollars, charter schools are privately run. They differ markedly in several ways from the neighborhood public schools that educate the great majority of our students:

  • Public schools’ budgets are transparent — in order to get public support for local referendums, school districts had to prove the need for additional money. There is no such financial transparency for charter schools.
  • What little we do know about how charter schools spend their money paints a very troubling picture. Charter schools spend a much lower percentage of their revenue on instruction than public schools.
  • Instead of spending money on students, many charter schools spend in excess of $1 million a year of taxpayer money in fees to for-profit management companies.
  • Academic Solutions Academy in Fort Lauderdale, for instance, spends about 25 percent of all the taxpayer dollars it receives on instructional services, according to a school audit.
  • While HB 7123 does include language that says charter schools must use local levies for voter-authorized purposes, there appears to be no enforcement mechanism for that provision. How can voters be sure that charter schools are using the money the way voters intended, and how will charter schools be held accountable if they don’t?

The diversion of locally generated funds would represent one more sad chapter in the story of Florida’s failure to adequately support high quality neighborhood public schools.

Florida now ranks among the bottom 10 states nationally in funding for our students, and education spending remains below pre-recession levels. The average teacher salary in Florida has dropped to 46th in the nation, while many school staff earn a wage below the federal poverty line. We face a growing teacher shortage. More than 4,000 classrooms were without a qualified teacher at the start of this school year, and there may soon be more than 10,000 teacher vacancies according to Florida Department of Education projections.

The public and educators want change. More than 23,000 Floridians have spoken by petition to call for a major reinvestment in our neighborhood public schools. The printed petitions were delivered to the office of the speaker of the Florida House on Tuesday, April 23, following an FEA news conference at the Capitol. News conference speakers included FEA President Ingram; Justin Katz, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association; and Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade.

We must fund our future. Find the FEA petition at https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/time-to-step-up-for-neighborhood-public-schools.

CONTACT: Joni Branch, (850) 201-3223 or (850) 544-7055

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The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational staff professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.

 

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