Foundation for Florida's Future tries to rally support for parent trigger

Is the contentious parent-trigger proposal in trouble? Patricia Levesque, the executive director of former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, held a news conference Tuesday morning to "debunk myths" associated with the proposal.  She was accompanied by Pat DeTemple, a senior strategist for Parent Revolution, the group that helped create the law in California. Nikki Lowery, of former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's organization, StudentsFirst, joined via telephone. The so-called parent-trigger bill (SB 862, HB 867) would allow parents to demand sweeping changes at failing public schools, including having the school converted into a charter school. It would also prevent children in struggling schools from having a teacher deemed "ineffective" for two consecutive years.  The bill has met resistance from the state Parent Teacher Association, grassroots parent groups, school districts and the teachers' union, who say it would enable for-profit charter-school management companies to take over traditional public schools. Democrats have voted against it at nearly every committee stop. At the news conference, DeTemple rejected claims that the bill is part of "a vast conspiracy to privatize education in America. The noting that there is an army of charter-school operators out there ready to take advantage of this law flies in the face of facts." Levesque noted that under current law, parents can already petition for change. "The difference is, they would now have a legal seat at the table," she said. After the news conference, the Florida Education Association's Jeff Wright questioned the Foundation's motives. "Why are not parents from this state participating in this conversation?" Wright said. "We have parents in Florida. ... We don't need California or the Foundation's help."


Stop the giveaway to charter schools

Once again legislators are looking for ways to undermine Florida's public school system by giving more taxpayer dollars and freebies to charter schools, including those run by for-profit management companies. At a time when school district budgets remain squeezed for cash, two House bills would give charter schools more opportunities while undercutting traditional public schools where most Florida students attend. Public schools are bought with public money, and they should not be given away to schools operated by private interests. The bills would turn on its head the notion of charters as alternative schools with considerable autonomy in exchange for less district support. Instead of being outside the system, charter schools would gain favored status yet still lack taxpayer accountability. One bill, HB 7009, would require districts to give unused school space to charters for free, or only for maintenance costs. And HB 1267 would guarantee that charters receive about $1,200 per elementary student -- and more for high school students -- for construction and maintenance from general revenue dollars when the Legislature has now failed for two years to invest construction and renovation dollars for public schools. The Legislature should end its fixation with charter schools as the answer to all that ails Florida's school performance. Some charter schools are successful, but many aren't. Stanley D. Smith, a professor of finance at the University of Central Florida, has done an analysis, controlling for poverty and minority characteristics of elementary schools, that shows "we should question the state's increasing emphasis on charter schools because as a group they underperform traditional public schools." He also studied high school test scores and, using the same methodology, found that charters and traditional schools performed the same.


Union research shows pension overhaul will cost workers, taxpayers

Public employee unions fighting the House pension overhaul rolled out research Tuesday that says the move will cost taxpayers more -- challenging the view of House Speaker Will Weatherford and other proponents that closing the traditional plan to new workers will reduce state costs. A report by Keystone Research Council, a Pennsylvania think tank whose directors include a number of union leaders, underscores many of the points raised by Florida opponents. A key provision is that with a shrinking pool of public employees in the defined benefit plan, investment strategies will change, becoming less risky and less likely to earn sizable returns. The change will force those in the plan to contribute more to offset more modest returns. Public employers, including school boards, cities and the state, will also have to pay more to cover the cost of the rising number of retirees still in the traditional pension, the report concluded. “The bottom line,” said Sarabeth Snuggs, co-author of Keystone’s report and a former Florida Retirement System administrator, “is that the House proposal means higher costs for taxpayers and lower-quality pensions for employees, hurting businesses that depend on the buying power of retirees.”


Scott talks teacher raises, notes bargaining will be needed

In less than an hour Monday with The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board, Gov. Rick Scott repeatedly stressed that his proposed $2,500 raise for all classroom teachers is one of his top priorities. The governor offered recent indicators as bolstering his rationale: Florida’s No. 6 ranking in Education Week’s Quality Counts report card, its impressive showing in fourth-grade reading and its No. 1 ranking in teacher effectiveness by the National Council on Teacher Quality. Asked how he thought the Legislature would respond, he noted that Senate leaders Don Gaetz, Joe Negron and Bill Galvano all have expressed support for the idea on some level. Gaetz is Senate president, Negron chairs the Appropriations Committee and Galvano chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. “They’ve put the $480-million in the Senate budget, so I’m optimistic the House will do the same thing, the right thing,” Scott said. “Our teachers are doing a good job, our system’s doing better all the time. We got rid of teacher tenure so our principals can keep the best teachers. We’re doing the right things. We’re going to Common Core, we have merit pay that’s coming in.” Responding to a question about how the raise squared with Scott’s past support of merit-based pay: “But there is (pay based on merit). Look at all the data. I like data. We have merit pay that’s going to be starting as we move into Common Core. We’re No. 6 for education quality according to Education Week. AP scores are doing well.” Does that mean his argument is that Florida should raise the bottom when it comes to teacher pay? “Yeah,” he said. “The principals know that they’re going to keep the most effective teachers. They have that opportunity.” Scott was asked how he sees the $2,500 being distributed. “My understanding of the way it works (is) … My proposal is $1.25 billion. You put it in there and it’s a line item that goes to that compensation. So I believe that if they do it that way the money will go in that direction (toward across-the-board raises) because the school districts will want to do it and the teachers will want it to happen. But it actually goes to a line item for teachers, so in theory it’s still got to go through the school districts, it’s got to still go through collective bargaining.”


Policy note: K-12 education funding


Weatherford on education policy


Second school staffing report suffers from same flaws as original

In a follow-up to its Bunkum Award-winning report of last year, the Friedman Foundation recently released a second report, again describing a surge in school employment unaccompanied by progress in student achievement. Again, however, the report suffers from faulty premises and inaccurate data. Joydeep Roy reviewed The School Staffing Surge, Part II, for the Think Twice think tank review project. Surge I first points to data that between 1992 and 2009, the number of full-time equivalent school employees grew 2.3 times faster than the increase in students over the same period. It then claimed that despite the staffing and related spending increases, there had been no progress on test scores or drop-out reductions. Surge II disaggregates trends in K-12 hiring for individual states, presenting ratios comparing the number of administrators and other non-teaching staff to the number of teachers or students. Both reports speculate about “savings” that might have been achieved if hiring had been held back. But neither report makes any serious attempt to link employment numbers to schools’ needs or outcomes. Moreover, both reports “[fail] to acknowledge the fact that achievement scores and drop-out rates have steadily improved,” Roy writes. “Neither the old report nor this new one … explores the causes and consequences of the faster employment growth, thus severely limiting the report’s potential contribution.”


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