Eye on Legislation

SESSION OVER…WHEW!

Session is finally over…thank goodness. And thank goodness for PARENTS, who joined forces with us once again this year to help beat back some of the most egregious bills. Neither the “Parent Trigger Bill” nor the charter school maintenance funds-sharing bill passed. The Parent Trigger Bill failed by one vote…8 Republicans crossed the aisle to kill that bad bill in the state senate, so that it ended with a 20-20 vote.

While there is no real “good news” in the budget, what IS good news is that there were not additional cuts. Hopefully this will avert layoffs.

Although the session ends with relief (and the sweet triumph of winning our first round of the pension “reform” lawsuit, which is now headed straight to the Florida Supreme Court) at defensive victories, it is no time to rest on our laurels. The same big money that brought us the FCAT, SB 736, mandatory virtual classes, vouchers to put money into private and religious schools, and an explosion of less-than-stellar charter schools run by for-profit corporations is still around, and they are not about to stop pouring money into lobbying organizations like Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future (or FFF–like the grade I give that particular organization!). These bills will likely be back next year. While the union-payroll-deduction bill did not come back as promised this year–perhaps because of redistricting and impending elections–we certainly could see that one come back too. So keep your eyes and ears open, and always be ready to speak the truth on public education.

In case you missed any of the bad bills we managed to kill, with huge help from parent groups, I have left that information below.

HB 1191/SB 1718

The “Parent Trigger Bill” or “Parent Empowerment Bill,” sponsored in the House by Miami Republican newcomer Michael Bileca, was designed to allow a simple majority (51%) of parents in a school under intervention to turn the school over to a charter. While in many places this would likely never happen anyway, in states where this has become law there have been issues (not surprisingly) with for-profit charter management companies lobbying parents to initiate such a petition, feeding off desperation and ignorance. We are fighting this legislation along with the Florida PTA and several other parent groups. Changes have already been made to it as a result (schools would have had to be under intervention for 3 years, for example) but we are still going to fight any attempt at further privatization. This bill has so far received some bipartisan support, so we need to make sure to talk to our friends as well as our enemies about our feelings on it.

UPDATE: This bill is ready to be heard in the state senate. It is a BAD BILL that is about privatization, not about parent empowerment. No credible parents’ group in the state supports this legislation. Indeed, the Florida PTA has taken a strong stand against it. PLEASE CALL OR E-MAIL STATE SENATORS TODAY AND ASK THEM TO VOTE NO! See forwarded e-mails for numbers and e-mail addresses.

SB 1852

You may have read about this bill in yesterday’s Miami Herald; Fred Grimm also did a fantastic column on it. Please check out the links, as this is new and most of what I know about the bill comes from these articles.

In essence, the bill would require school districts to share maintenance and construction money on a proportional, per-student basis with charter schools. This would come at a cost of $45 million per year to our district, when the state allocated not a single dollar to public schools for maintenance and construction last year, despite funding maintenance and construction for charter schools. If you have any doubt that this is unfair to public schools, consider that charter schools are generally NOT public property, but rather owned by for-profit real estate arms of the same company managing them under the title of “nonprofit.” This is directly funding private, for-profit real estate ventures, despite a shred of evidence that charters outperform traditional public schools on the whole (in fact, the contrary has been proven, especially in Florida and other charter-friendly states), and despite the charter companies’ argument from the beginning that their superiority to traditional public schools lay in the fact that they could deliver better results for less money. So far they have delivered inferior results, despite cherry-picking students and failing to serve certain populations such as ESE and ELL, and increasingly they have insisted on taking more and more dollars to reach total funding parity with traditional public schools, despite the fact that they are taking in profits and that their property does not belong to the public.

This bill is an outrage and is undoubtedly written by the charter school management companies and their friends in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future (ask me in private what I think the acronym FFF stands for; it is not fit to publish in a public forum) who take in, and spend, big money to push privatization measures.

I ask you to call or e-mail your representative and state senator TODAY to urge them to vote NO on this bill.

BUDGET

Budgets are also to be kept under close watch. Much has been made of Rick Scott’s budget giving $1 billion more to education, but the majority of that is stop-gap (compensating for the decline in property tax revenue and budgeting for additional students), and some of what is “extra” is allocated to causes that probably will not benefit us much (if at all), such as more money for school recognition funds, reading, etc. Little will come to Miami-Dade and even if some does, it will be far from enough to make up for the money we have lost over the past couple of years in budget cuts. While it is good news they’re not planning on cutting more (can you say election year and irritated parents?), we definitely want to influence if at all possible (probably not) how that money is allocated.

In fact, fully 30% in the governor’s budget is allocated to virtual education. When I was in Tallahassee last week, I attended a conference where the governor addressed those of us attending Dade Days, and I seized the opportunity to tell the governor that we in Miami-Dade feared that very little, if any, of the “new” money (which mostly just replaces lost money) would actually trickle down to Miami-Dade, and that we felt the school recognition fund did not work. I asked him to consider changes to the funding formula that would allow Miami-Dade to receive funding at least equal to other districts (right now we do not), and to consider changing the earmarks for the funds in his budget. He did not even address the first question (about the funding formula)–not in his pay grade, I suppose–and as for the second question, about the school recognition funds, he argued that they do work, because if you give people an incentive to work toward they will meet those goals. He obviously missed the part of my question where I explained that I did not know a single teacher who felt that the school recognition fund was effective, or changed the way they worked. (How many of us think each day, “I’d better work extra hard today, so that maybe our school will climb a little and we’ll get the extra $800 next year”? It’s insulting to the work we do; as with all the merit pay proposals, it implies that we are holding out right now because we are not being properly motivated with their carrots.)

I met with Senator Anitere Flores (who refused to meet with us last year), and, seemingly rather eager for some kind of conciliation, she indicated that the education budgets coming out of the Senate would differ significantly from the governor’s budget in its earmarks, that she would file once again to change the funding formula so that more money would come back to Miami-Dade, and that she would be supportive of HB 1067, which would effectively amend the law made by SB 736 last year so that teachers teaching subjects and/or students not tested by the FCAT could not be evaluated based on FCAT reading scores. Let’s hold her to these promises…

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