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Guest Opinion: Where is the legislative accountability for their votes?

November 21, 2017
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

What many believe to be the most egregious legislation ever passed by the Florida Legislature disguised as an "education bill," House Bill 7069 is set to begin wreaking havoc on Florida's Public Schools. It is no small declaration that a number of Florida school districts, including Lee County, have filed a lawsuit challenging this awful excuse for legislation. Every citizen that cares about quality education for our children should call on our local legislators to publicly explain why they all voted for this bill.

First, a brief background of how this bill came into existence: HB 7069 is a mammoth "education train bill" which includes the contents of 54 other bills - 43 of which were never approved by the full legislature. It was cobbled together during the final hours of the 2017 legislative session and brought to the floor, literally in the last hour of session, with no debate, no opportunity for amendments or any discussion. As stated above, it contains 43 separate bills, which never made it through the legislature during session. Many of these never even made it out of committee! Knowing that this "train" defied the legislature's own rule of "One Bill, One Topic," they lumped them together and called it an "education bill," claiming that satisfied their rule.

Southwest Florida legislators Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, Sen. Lizbeth Benequisto, Rep. Ray Rodriguez, Rep. Matt Caldwell, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, and Rep. Dane Eagle all voted in favor of HB 7069. There has been no public justification of why they voted the way they did, but the public deserves an explanation for voting for a bill with such sweeping detrimental implications for Public Education.

Just a few examples of these implications are:

Stripping local school boards of the ability to authorize or not, for-profit charter schools, while mandating districts to share locally raised tax dollars to go toward building these charter schools. These schools would not have to adhere to school building codes or zoning regulations. Teachers in these schools would not be required to be certified or trained as educators. Parents should ask themselves if they want their tax dollars to go toward building charter schools that are not required to meet the strict building codes a traditional public school must (think Hurricane Irma and shelters), or to be taught by teachers that are not certified or trained.

While it claims to add $200 million statewide in increased funding, this won't cover the costs of growth in enrollment (Lee Co. schools alone add 1500-1800 students per school year), retirement, worker's compensation and inflation.

The share of capital outlay funding this bill sends to charter schools is outrageous. 50 percent of the funding will go to 10 percent of the student population, resulting in a stunningly disproportionate amount of money going to for-profit charters. This also starves traditional public schools, which have far more need of these funds to build and maintain schools.

This bill puts district-wide services at risk, especially for students in poverty. It designates for-profit charter schools as "local education authorities" which means they will get Federal Title 1 funds sent directly to them, again usurping public school board authority. This will result in districts being forced to cut sorely needed student services, such as full day pre-K and kindergarten, extended day programs, summer services, STEM programs, tutoring and more.

So what are the "sweeteners" Speaker Corcoran included that he's been touting as justification for this legislation? In contrast to the damage it will do to our public schools they are inconsequential "benefits."

There is a misleading claim made by those who pushed this bill that it "reduces testing." In reality, all it does is eliminate ONE end of course exam (Algebra 2).

While it makes VAM (a widely discredited evaluation model) optional for teacher evaluation, it still requires "student performance" data be used, without providing any funding to allow districts to develop an effective method to meet that requirement.

It would allow up to 25 schools in a district to apply for "schools of hope" money and receive UP TO $2,000 per student for wrap-around services - BUT, takes away local control from school districts by mandating the state board get to approve those plans.

Bottom line: not one single provision in HB 7069 makes up for the harm it will cause to Public Education in Florida. So, to Senators Benequisto and Passidomo and Representatives Rodriguez, Fitzenhagen, Eagle, and Caldwell, we are waiting to hear you publicly defend your vote for a bill that has been widely described as the worst and most destructive piece of legislation to ever come out of Tallahassee. And that, putting it mildly, is a damning claim.

Mark J. Castellano,

President

Teachers Association of Lee County

 
 

 

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