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SB796’s Massive Conflict of Interest for State BOE May Lead to More Accountabaloney

On April 25, 2017, Senate Appropriations Chair waited until the last 8 minutes of a 4 hour meeting to hear two significant Education Bills SB1552 and SB796. Senator Simmons’ SB1552, in addition to presenting the Senate’s attempted revision of the much maligned Best and Brightest Teachers program, represented the Senate’s ideological stance on how to best attend the needs of struggling students and schools within the traditional public school system. Senator Bean’s SB796 was initially presented to the Senate Education Committee as the “red carpet bill to welcome high performing charter schools” to Florida (4/17/17). After the 17 page delete all amendment filed on 4/23/17, the bill closely aligns to HB5105 “Schools of Hope”, which reflects the priorities of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, not those of the Senate Education Committee. Accepting “delete all” amendments at a bill’s final stop, allowed SB796 to bypass evaluation and approval the Senate Education Committee. Appropriations Chair, Senator Jack Latvala, admitted that both bills were going to be passed “basically just to position ourselves” for conferencing with the House. By taking Bean’s unvetted School of Hope-ish bill along with the fully vetted SB1552, the Senate missed an opportunity to stand strong for their own ideological stance on how to best serve our most needy students.

Senator Bean initially presented SB796 to the Senate Education Committee on 4/17/17. Just prior to that meeting, Bean withdrew a delete-all amendment that would have aligned his bill nearly identically with “Schools of Hope.” During that committee meeting, Senator Farmer expressed his concern that “School of Hope” language might appear later, after bills were approved by the Senate Education Committee: “I believe that this committee should be the one that should have the first consideration of something as dramatic as “Schools of Hope” legislation.” When Farmer asked Bean, directly, if he intended to bring back such language at a later date, Bean skirted the issue by saying he was “always going to look to make it the best it can possibly be.” Bean later claimed his bill intended to give “every kid hope.”

Bean’s amended bill sets up an enormous conflict of interest for the state Board of Education, that has not been discussed or addressed by the Florida legislature. Eager to promote charter schools at every chance, we feel this conflict has been overlooked.

SB796, like the “Schools of Hope” language, creates two separate public school networks, one under the control of the locally elected school board and the other managed and controlled by outside private corporations under the direction of the appointed state Board of Education. In addition to creating separate (not equal) competing networks of publicly funded schools, SB796 creates an enormous conflict of interest for the appointed state Board of Education:

  • State Board of Education members, along with the Commissioner of Education, are appointed by the Governor and, therefore, are immune from public accountability. Locally elected School Boards remain accountable to voters.
  • The state BOE is charged with designating which charter school corporations will qualify as “High Impact” networks. Once identified, these charters are given preference for state Charter Grants, placing established local charter schools at a disadvantage.
  • The BOE is charged with choosing which struggling district schools, in which districts, must undergo charter turnaround.
  • Once established, high impact charters are free to replicate within a district regardless of need.
  • Once a public school enters the High Impact/Schools of Hope Network, the local district relinquishes all authority, eliminating local control of locally-levied tax-funded assets.
  • The state BOE determines the FSA cut scores and, therefore, can control the failure rate on the state assessments. Manipulation of the failure rate could lead to more schools labeled as failing and marked for turnaround.
  • The BOE determines the School Grade calculation. Schools with persistently low grades are required to undergo turnaround. Manipulation of the School Grades calculation could influence the number of schools slated for privatization.
  • The BOE has repeatedly denied District turnaround plans which included continued employment of certified teachers with low VAM scores (calculated from student test scores) stating they want only “the best of the best” teaching these struggling students. SB796 allows uncertified teachers and administrators into the High Impact Charter classrooms.

Keep in mind, many of the current state board members helped put the very same current accountability measures into place that resulted in the labeling of these so-called chronically failing schools in the first place. A primary criticism of our state assessment program is that the goal posts are constantly moving; the tests, the rules, the scores and the school grade calculations are in continual flux, all in the name of higher and higher expectations. While Commissioner Pam Stewart celebrates Florida’s success in raising graduation rates and narrowing achievement gaps, our high poverty schools are labeled as “persistently low performing.” We question the assumption that the current accountability system accurately assesses the progress in our lowest performing schools and, once again, call for a complete evaluation of the accountability system itself, preferably before we allow our state Board of Education, with its penchant for charters, to turn our public schools over to out-of-state charter chains and their investors.

The lack of accountability of our appointed Board of Education and the significant conflicts of interest SB796/Schools of Hope create should give all Floridians pause. Currently, in my Monroe County, more than 90% of a school’s budget comes from locally-levied taxes, yet we would relinquish all local control of a public school slated for turnaround and our local education dollars could be funneled to out-of-state charter corporations and their investors.

SB1552 addresses the needs of Florida’s struggling schools. SB796/Schools of Hope removes local control of our schools and our tax dollars. Senate Appropriations did our public schools a disservice by taking both bills into conferencing. We hope Senators will stand strong for their own ideological stance on how to best serve our neediest students and not cave to the un-vetted, poorly developed, desires of the House Speaker to expand charter schools at all costs.

We urge you to contact your Florida Senator and urge them to turn down any bills involving Schools of Hope/High Impact Charter Language. Such policies deserve a complete vetting in Education Committees and not a cursory vote by Appropriations. Please consider contacting the entire Florida Senate by following this link http://ow.ly/2swR30b8T85

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