Today's news -- March 25, 2014



Lawmakers should keep public funds in public schools (by Joanne McCall)
Once again, those seeking to privatize public education are back with a plan to wring more money out of Florida taxpayers to provide vouchers to a greater number of students. This plan hit an obstacle when the Senate sponsor of the legislation withdrew the bill, but this idea will resurface – if not later in this session -- then in the near future. Instead of making a strong investment and focusing on making every public school as good as it can be, those behind the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program continue to seek to siphon public funds for their unregulated schools. Floridians love their public schools and want them to be properly funded. I know that because we see it in every poll we conduct at the Florida Education Association or in independent polls we monitor. We see it when education-related initiatives are placed before the voters. When the initiative to lower class size was on the statewide ballot it passed. When voters were asked to approve an amendment that would essentially open the state up to vouchers for everyone, it was rejected. If only our political leaders would get the message and follow the clear direction of the majority of Florida voters. If they did, there would be little debate about making a significant investment in our children and our public schools. But, that's not the case. Today, our per-pupil funding is lower than when Gov. Rick Scott took office and more than $300 per student below where it was six years ago. But spending on corporate vouchers never felt the sting of a struggling economy. Throughout the downturn, lawmakers voted to approve increase after increase in a program that doesn't face anywhere near the scrutiny that our political leaders place on public schools. The proposed expansion of voucher schools will grow into an $875 million per year budget item by 2018. And it will grow to include students whose parents never had any intention of putting their children in public schools. The family income level for some of these programs will grow to more than $60,000 per year.,0,4587652.story


Florida teachers, state continue battle over SB 736

It's been three years since Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 736 into law, changing the way that Florida teachers are hired, evaluated and paid. School districts have implemented new evaluation systems and created new pay scales, the state has begun issuing "value-added" scores and creating exams to base the results upon. Still, questions of whether SB 736 is constitutional remain in play, as the teachers have used the courts to fight for their rights in the absence of finding support for their position in the Legislature. This morning, lawyers for the Department of Education and the Florida Education Association head to court in Tallahassee to argue the legal points of the teachers' appeal of an initial ruling against their complaint. The teachers have argued that SB 736 violated their constitutional rights to collective bargaining, by legislating many contract terms that they contended should be left to negotiations. In their appeal, the teachers contended that the trial court misinterpreted statute relating to separation of powers and the setting of student growth scores. The state disagreed in its response: "Appellants’ Initial Brief sets out some basic policy guidelines the Florida Legislature should have addressed for the State Board to follow in implementing Subsection 1012.34(8), Florida Statutes. (Initial Brief 13) (e.g., whether trigger scores should be relative or absolute, considerations in setting relative or absolute levels, whether to set target percentages for any performance level). In the absence of any such guidelines, the statute leaves to the State Board the full responsibility of both determining the guidelines to use, and then implementing them." Oral arguments are set for today. A hearing on a second lawsuit challenging SB 736 provisions has been rescheduled for April 9. Stay tuned.


School accountability bill headed to House floor

After years of confusion, a measure that would overhaul Florida’s school grading system and get schools ready for new tests is headed to the House floor after receiving overwhelming approval at its final committee stop. The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved the proposal (HB 7117) with a bipartisan, 11-2 vote Monday. Modeled on a proposal by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the bill would streamline school grades and suspend punishment for school grades for one year while a new state assessment is rolled out. The proposed changes come against the backdrop of years of disorder within the school grading system, including repeated steps by the State Board of Education to prevent school districts from dropping more than one letter grade in the wake of changes to the school report card formula. The plan adopted Monday would alter the grading formula and do away with penalties schools could currently receive for the grades assigned in the 2014-15 school year. That move is in part an effort to make up for the state switching from the FCAT, now in use, to an exam crafted by the American Institutes for Research. But some Democrats and educators have argued that a one year break is not long enough, especially since Stewart only selected AIR as the developer of the new test last week. Critics say a break of at least three years is needed. “I think a one-year pause is still not going to be enough time. … If we want this to be successful, we should not be rushing it,” said Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, a Maitland Democrat who voted against the plan. The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, also calls for a longer phase-in, although President Andy Ford was largely conciliatory during remarks to the panel. “A one-year hiatus is a good move,” Ford said. “We don’t think it’s long enough, but it is a step in the right direction, and we appreciate it.” The Senate version (SB 1642) is scheduled for its last stop at the Appropriations Committee on Thursday before heading to the floor, if approved as expected.


After vouchers bill stalls, charter school expansion gains traction

While efforts to expand private-school vouchers in Florida have stalled, a push by Republican leaders to help charter schools spread in the state continued to gain traction Monday. The legislation, opposed by Palm Beach County and other school districts, cleared the House education-budget subcommittee in a party-line vote, with Democrats voting against the measure. The charter school bill (HB 7083) is seen as a key part of a “massive expansion” of school choice promised this session by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “We’re trying to streamline the process so that we can get more quality educational opportunities available for our children across the state,” said Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Miami, sponsor of the measure. But another proposal endorsed by Weatherford, aimed at doubling the 60,000 students now getting taxpayer money to attend private schools, looks endangered. The Senate last week withdrew its version of the legislation in a dispute over what kind of standardized tests these voucher students would take. Last week’s blow-up heightens the stakes for reaching agreement this spring on the charter school proposal. The legislation approved Monday includes provisions that would make it easier for “high-performing” charter school companies operating out-of-state to enter the Florida market and expand at-will once they are here. It would require school districts statewide to use a standard contract that would apply to all charter school governing boards. Districts also would have to make available under-used buildings and classrooms for lease to charter operators. School districts say that being forced to use identical contract language will hurt their ability to negotiate with charter school companies.


Walton district, union head back to negotiating table (WCEA mentioned)


Capital funding is top concern for St. Johns education officials (Dawn Chapman quoted in both stories)


After cuts, Pinellas teachers get "up to one hour" to accept new positions


New test rules prompt Orange schools to cut, combine electives,0,3176841.story


Class-size limits may not apply in Duval if open enrollment approved


Florida NEXT and One Spark collaborate to boost creativity


Teacher: I am one of the the worst teachers in my state


Mining student data to keep kids from dropping out


The brainy questions on Finland’s only high-stakes standardized test


NCLB, the law of the land


Teaching as a second act, or maybe even a third


Indiana withdrawing from Common Core standards


UF faculty encouraged by president’s push for raises (Tom Auxter and John Biro quoted)


Financial aid problems cost FSCJ $3.4 million


Bright Futures scholarships are subject of federal investigation,0,


Dreamers deserve tuition fairness,0,2604040.story


Florida legislators won't touch Medicaid expansion


Mystery project may get millions from Florida


Race to enroll Florida Latinos as Obamacare deadline looms


Over-50s boost Florida's economy


Protect trust fund revenue


When the government outsources to private companies, inequality gets worse


Doctors win, jobless lose


When long-term unemployment becomes self-perpetuating


Survey: Economists see U.S. growth pickup this year


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