Today's news -- September 27, 2013


Castor Dentel says budget surplus should go to schools

Talk around the state Capitol about what to do with a hefty budget surplus for next fiscal year includes tax cuts and deposits in the state’s rainy-day fund. Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, said she has a better idea. “The governor wants to hear from the people about how they would like to spend their money; should we hand it out in the form of corporate tax breaks?” Castor Dentel said during a media event in front of Gov. Rick Scott’s office. He recently concluded a statewide swing promoting a half billion dollar tax cut. “Those surplus dollars would be better spent on the education of children throughout the state,” Castor Dentel said. "It is good for kids and it is good for business." The former classroom teacher said lawmakers should direct some of the estimated $840 million increase in tax collections to reduce class sizes, renovate school buildings, hire fulltime guidance counselors and restore funding to voluntary pre-kindergarten programs. Educators say public schools are still reeling from spending cuts implemented during the Great Recession. This past session, lawmakers increased K-12 spending by more than a billion dollars. The boost increased per-student funding to $6,779, but that is less than the amount spent in 2007 ($7,126). David Worrell, president of the Leon County Teachers Association, said the Leon school district cut spending by more than $100 million between 2007 and 2011 and has yet to restore all of it. “Now we have an opportunity to invest additional revenue in schools and we’re not going to let Gov. Scott waste it on another round of tax cuts for corporate special interests,” Worrell said. “The economy is recovering and we are experiencing student growth.”


State revenue up, budget battles ahead for session


Negron wants to boost state reserves by 50 percent


Charter schools: Revolution or wrong? (BTU member Christian Schneider quoted)


Insurance rates stun Santa Rosa school employees


This is only a test (Jonathan Kozol reviews Diane Ravitch’s new book)
Over the past 20 years, a rising tide of voices in the world of public policy has been telling us that public education has fallen into an abyss of mediocrity. Our schools are “broken,” the mantra goes. Principals and teachers -- their lack of “rigor” and “low expectations” for their students -- are the primary offenders. The problem can be “fixed” only if schools are held to strict accountability. “No excuses” are to be permitted. The pressure intensified in 2002 with the enactment of the federal testing law No Child Left Behind, which mandated high-stakes standardized exams that were supposed to bring every child to “proficiency” by the year 2014. When it grew apparent that this goal would not be reached, privatizing leaders pounced, offering business-modeled interventions as, perhaps, the only viable solution. Prominent figures in financial circles and at large foundations became interested in charter schools, encouraged their expansion and provided grant support to some of them. Others, with less philanthropic motives, saw a market opportunity and started running charter schools for profit. What had been a slowly growing movement now became a juggernaut. Diane Ravitch was for many years one of the strongest advocates for the testing-and-accountability agenda. Because of her impeccable credentials as a scholar and historian of education, she was a commanding presence among critics of our schools. Some years ago, however, she reconsidered her long-held beliefs and, in an influential book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” parted ways with her former allies and joined the highly vocal opposition. In her new book, “Reign of Error,” she arrows in more directly, and polemically, on the privatization movement, which she calls a “hoax” and a “danger” that has fed on the myth that schools are failing. Scores go up and down from year to year -- usually, as she explains, because the testing instruments are changed and vary in their difficulty. But, pointing to the National Assessment of Education Progress, which has sampled math and reading scores every two years since 1992 and, in an alternate version, every four years since the early 1970s, Ravitch demonstrates that levels of achievement have been rising, incrementally but steadily, from one decade to the next. And -- surprise! -- those scores are now “at their highest point ever recorded.” Graduation rates are also at their highest level, with more young people entering college than at any time before. What passes for reform today, Ravitch writes, is “a deliberate effort” to replace public schools with a market system. The “unnatural focus on testing” has produced “perverse but predictable results.” It has narrowed curriculums to testable subjects, to the exclusion of the arts and the full capaciousness of culture. And it has encouraged the manipulation of scores on state exams. “Teaching to the test, once considered unprofessional and unethical,” is now “common.”


Castor Dentel: Hit the pause button on testing


Scott’s education indecision


It's about the campaign, not Common Core


Read the business plan for Florida’s new online university


UWF president notes challenges, accomplishments (Steve Belko quoted)


Former professor files discrimination lawsuit against FGCU


Veterans get another chance for in-state tuition rates


Citizens should pay claims, not lawyers


Republican hard-liners block strategy to avoid federal government shutdown


Obama scorns GOP “blackmail” on health law


Biding time on voting rights


Food stamp regression in the statehouse


Report exposes the right-wing tag team plotting against pensions


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