Today's news -- August 25, 2017





Polk School Board right to fight a bad education law *

As sometimes witnessed during Gov. Rick Scott’s six-plus years in office — during which the state has spent almost a quarter-billion dollars on legal fees — government filing potentially unwinnable lawsuits to make a political point is not a healthy strategy. Yet sometimes a point has to be made. Thus, the Polk County School Board has rightly joined other counties in fighting the dreaded House Bill 7069, the $419 million ideological concoction that some in Tallahassee believe passes for suitable education policy. The board voted unanimously Tuesday to spend up to $25,000 to begin work on the lawsuit. The school district will likely have to expend more before the case is concluded. Yes, we realize this drains away resources from other needs for Polk’s 102,000 students — albeit a tiny bit in a $1.2 billion budget. But the Legislature was wrong to adopt this jumbled mess, as was Scott in signing it. Hopefully, the courts will do what Scott should have done with his veto pen.


Castor says HB 7069 runs contrary to federal law *

Some of the biggest school districts in Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Volusia and Orange counties, have filed legal challenges to House Bill 7069, the controversial education legislation that critics say will undermine local control of schools and expand the charter school system. Hillsborough County is not one of them, but it may be more inspired to after receiving a letter from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who believes the law runs afoul of federal law, specifically Title I provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). “I understand that other school districts and educators are considering legal challenges to the troubling provisions of HB 7069 and I hope my insight on certain federal Title I provisions is helpful as you consider the same,” Castor said in her letter penned Thursday to Cindy Stuart, the chair of the Hillsborough County School Board. Castor says that under ESEA, Congress has established its clear intent that local school districts have the legal responsibility and are most knowledgeable in targeting Title I funds to develop and implement high quality, effective initiatives. “The new Florida law unlawfully allows the state of Florida to change the way Title I funds are allocated, thereby diluting the ability of school districts to educate children in Title I schools in the most effective ways,” she writes. The Tampa Democrat adds that during the recent reauthorization of ESEA, the Congress debated and ultimately rejected “portability” proposals that would have shifted more control over to the states. “The state of Florida the authority to act in contravention of the ESEA Title 1 provisions, especially when the congressional intent is so clear.” In other words, Castor believes the bill is ripe for a legal challenge.


What lawmakers must do to retain good teachers *

The nation faces a critical teacher shortage that can only be described as self-inflicted. The real tragedy in the short term is our children will suffer without trained, qualified, professional educators — but in the long term, it is the nation that will be hard-pressed to endure. Quality public education is what sustains a democracy. In order to continue as a viable republic, an informed electorate is essential. To compromise the public education system is to condemn the democratic institution to failure. Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in Florida, which is the incubator for bad educational programming, undermining public education, profitizing children and driving good teachers out of the profession they love. As across the nation, Florida's children are overwhelmingly enrolled in public schools. Nearly 3 million children attend public school in Florida whereas only about 256,000 attend charters. Yet the state Legislature continues to reward charters with additional tax dollars and resources diverted from public schools' strained coffers and simultaneously exempt charters from the same rigorous demands of public education. Rather than listen to administrators, parents and educators on a variety of issues, the Legislature overrides or ignores their concerns and focuses on creating greater opportunities for charters, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of widespread waste, abuse and corruption in the ranks of charters. To recruit and retain high-quality teachers, the Florida Legislature needs to:

  • Listen to the stakeholders. Administrators, educational professionals and parent organizations have sound ideas and specific recommendations to attract quality educators and keep them on the payroll to improve educational outcomes.
  • Implement practices that meet the academic and behavioral needs of students using research-based strategies.
  • Create opportunities for educators to work collaboratively and apply research-based strategies to improve quality instruction.
  • Institute teacher leader groups to support professional development and coaching.
  • Support new teachers through mentoring and other mechanisms.
  • Validate individuals and the profession with recognition of success stories, pay incentives and continuing contracts.
  • Allow more time for teaching. Testing is not teaching, and mandated increases in paperwork or "toxic testing" reduce instruction (learning) time.
  • Provide competitive salaries. Compensation is a direct indication of value and importance in our society. (Florida ranks in the bottom 10 nationwide of teacher salaries.)
  • Retain effective teachers. Turnover is costly to districts, the overall state economy and to students (2014 statistics indicate turnover cost Floridians $130 million a year).
  • Ensure adequate funding. Florida is 41st in per-pupil spending, which should be unacceptable to all who care about children or our democracy.
  • Restore class-size limits. The one thing all research proves is that class size matters. The smaller the class size, the more all students learn, retain and progress. The Legislature consistently ignores this data and the will of Floridians who have voted overwhelmingly for smaller teacher-student ratios.

States like Florida that spend the least on students are poised to grow the most and consistently demonstrate the poorest outcomes when ranked nationally. Establishing equity nationally with teacher salaries and per-student spending would help significantly in teacher recruitment and retention. The lack of stability in staffing negatively affects student learning and outcomes. Furthermore, it deprives students of reliable advocates and erodes confidence in the system. Teachers' groups, parents and allied professionals are not the enemies as some Florida legislators have implied; instead they are the strongest advocates for a viable, sustainable, quality learning environment for all children. Legislators with no knowledge or training keep bogging down and demoralizing school personnel with top-down mandates that are not educationally sound. Legislators need to start listening to the experts, who also happen to be their constituents.


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