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Florida has a constitutional obligation to make public education a “paramount duty,” but Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have other concerns.
Here is a report from Fund Education Now on the budget travesty.
To summarize, Florida is in the nation’s lowest quintile in funding. Yet scarce funds are diverted to the state’s booming (but ineffective) charter sector. And to add insult to injury, the Legislature will award a $10,000 bonus to “the best and the brightest” teachers, those with high SAT scores. Note that the bonus is not based on performance, but on SAT scores. This has the effect of rewarding TFA teachers just for showing up, not for their performance or their willingness to remain in teaching.
The Florida House and Senate finally agreed on an Education budget early Tuesday, June 16th at 12:30 am. The budget is expected to pass this Friday, June 19th following the required 72 hour cooling off period.
Despite promises of an historic funding increase, lawmakers fell short of making public education their “paramount duty” as required in Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution. Funding per student will increase by a mere 3% or $200 less than the record 2007 high point. Instead of investing in public schools, the legislature spent an additional $300 million on personal projects and another $400 million on tax exemptions.
It should also be noted that PECO funds were split evenly between for profit charters and public schools, with each receiving $50 million for capital outlay. For years charters have received most of the PECO dollars and districts got nothing, making it difficult to plan for growth. Sharing this year’s PECO is a ploy to justify reviving legislation in 2016 forcing districts to share voter-approved millage dollars with for-profit charter chains that can use the funds to purchase, develop and maintain properties the public may never own.
There are many details buried in the Final Conference Report. Among them is $44 million to provide $10,000 “Best and Brightest” scholarships to up to 4,400 “highly effective” teachers who scored at or above the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT. It’s expected that many of the teachers who receive these scholarships will be from Teach for America. The House wanted $45 million for the program, while the Senate wanted only $5 million. This controversial, expensive program is based on the weak assumption that teachers who did well on either the SAT or ACT will automatically be better teachers. It’s disappointing that once again, legislators have based another funding scheme on a single test when there’s no evidence that high SAT or ACT scores are related to great teaching. It’s equally concerning that Florida teachers applying for the scholarship will be sharing their SAT and ACT test scores, providing a trove of new personal data that the state can use to further disaggregate and sort the profession.
At least $750 million dollars were set aside for just these projects and exemptions. That figure divided by 2.74 public school students would have meant an additional $274 per student, proving that Florida has the money, but political leaders refuse to invest in public education. What is behind their effort to keep Florida from climbing out of the nation’s lowest quintile in per pupil funding?
Open the link to see the numbers.