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HB 7069 — now signed into law — dismally fails public education in Florida
July 5, 2017

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Why the clenched teeth coming from Lee County School District parents, educators and administrators? It's due to the signing of Florida House Bill 7069, which becomes law on July 1, 2017.

For the first time in recent history our district fought for a veto of this bill, which dismally fails public education in the state of Florida. Our outcry had nothing to do with being anti-charter school. The fact is, we need our charter schools. Many of them do great things, and we as a Board, work very well with them.

Our issue with this new legislation is the short term impact it has on planning and budgeting for the 2017-18 school year, and the long-term threat it poses to public education funding and local control.

Requirement to share construction money with charter schools

Just one month before our district must finalize the overall budget, and two months after we completed our five year capital plan, HB 7069 reduces our capital budget by approximately $45 million over the next five years.

State law used to allow us to levy up to $2.00 for every $1,000 in taxable property to raise funds for construction and maintenance. That was cut to $1.50 during the recession with promises to restore - a promise never fulfilled. In Lee County, that tax raises about $116 million dollars a year.

We are now required to give a share of those taxpayer dollars to for-profit charter management companies. The intent is for them to use those dollars for capital projects, but there is no language in the bill that ensures that. And even if they do, the money is being put into buildings the public will not own, nor can they be used to house traditional schools, should the charter close. In addition, these capital funds will be allocated on a per pupil basis, without consideration of need, meaning companies that might not need the money for these types of projects would get it anyway.

As a district we cannot afford to lose capital funding, especially when, according to student population growth projections, our district will need to build nine additional schools in five years to accommodate the students we have now, and the approximately 1600 additional students moving here each year.

Schools of Hope

By creating "Schools of Hope" and funding them with $140 million, the state diverts education dollars to out-of-state charter operators for the benefit of specific student populations. These dollars go unmatched for public schools with those same populations. This creates unfair competition, not to mention comparative measures of student achievement will not accurately reflect local taxpayers return on investment in public education.

Loss of control over Federal Title 1 funds

Title 1 is a federal education grant intended to be used as supplemental funding for schools with high percentages of children from low-income families. Those dollars help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.

HB 7069 removes local control over the use of the funds by requiring they be distributed directly to schools on a per pupil basis. While that might sound like a good idea in theory, this will negatively impact our students because the District will no longer have the ability to make decisions based on a review of data and needs assessment. More schools will be served with the same amount of funds which will dilute services to the highest poverty and neediest of schools. Districts will be unable to target funds for services that meet the specific needs of students and will not be able to allocate that money for programs that demonstrably improve student outcomes. One of those programs is our 5th Quarter which prevents summer learning loss and helps students continue their education through the summer months so they are ready for the next grade. Another is our Teacher Leader program. These teachers are the best of the best. They work collaboratively with principals and fellow teachers to build a capacity to increase student achievement. Losing the dollars that fund these programs at a district level will be detrimental to all students.

Teacher bonuses vs. teacher pay

HB 7069 adds more money for teacher bonuses. Again, while this sounds like a good idea on the surface, these bonuses are based on data that has no relationship to successful teaching and learning.

For instance, a teacher can get a bonus if his or her ACT or SAT scores are high. For many, those scores are decades old. In addition, these bonuses will be given only if the dollars are available. This is poor practice and an unacceptable precedent. We would be better off if the state simply gave that money directly to our district for compensation purposes, ensuring that we meet the needs of our local teachers.

Lack of legislative transparency

For the second year in a row, the Florida Legislature clumped multiple education proposals in a single bill.

This year, HB 7069 combined bills, some of which were not heard in committee, some of which failed in committee, and some of which had no input whatsoever from educators or citizens into massive legislation. The overwhelming number of non-budget related directives contained in this piece of legislation, compiled without input from school boards and other organizations invested in public education, is unacceptable. Sadly it is becoming House practice and violates the core value of transparency as established in the "Florida's Government in the Sunshine."

Unfair competition

By creating different operating and capital parameters for charter and traditional public schools, the playing field is now uneven. Charters can now operate under different guidelines for school construction, classroom capacity, use of school time, even choosing whether or not to allow recess. Accountability for effective use of taxpayer dollars is compromised when systems that are permitted to operate differently are measured in the exact same way.

The bottom line, HB 7069 threatens local operational, administrative, and organizational controls over efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars. Ultimately, it will hurt our students, our employees and our community. None of these groups can thrive without a strong public educational system.

Over the next few months we will work on a legislative platform to protect our students, ensure our school district's priorities are heard and fight against this assault on public education.

Kathleen Morgan represents District 7 on the School Board of Lee County.

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