Jump to Navigation
Topical Breezes
Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
What are education groups looking for from the 2013 session?
Joe Saunders
Florida's Legislature opens officially on March 5, but the wheels have been turning for months as different groups and lawmakers prepare to push their agendas for 2013. Florida Voices asked school activists, administrators and educators what they're looking for from the Legislature this year. From different political points on the political spectrum – respondents include the Florida School Boards Association, Florida PTA, Fund Education Now, the Florida Education Association and former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future – the answers boiled down to similar themes: help students by helping teachers by helping schools. Just how that should be done, though, is a big part of what lawmakers will be wrestling with in Tallahassee this spring. The goals may sound the same, but the devil, as always, is in the details.
Ruth Haseman Melton
Director, Legislative Relations, Florida School Boards Association

Established in 1930, the Florida School Boards Association serves as the collective voice of Florida’s school board members in advocating for the nearly 2.7 million public school students that they serve. FSBA has steadfastly worked to promote the democratic ideals of public education and to hold the Florida Legislature accountable for the constitutional mandate that the state make adequate provision for “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

In recent years, FSBA’s advocacy efforts on behalf of students and adequate education funding have been sorely challenged by an historic economic recession that had a disproportionately debilitating impact on Florida. This challenge has been exacerbated by the strident voices of self-proclaimed (but uncredentialed) education “reform” proponents, misguided assessment and accountability measures, escalating state micro-management, privatization efforts, legislative tinkering with the Florida Retirement System, and political agendas that sometimes are not aligned with sound public education policies. FSBA expects this challenge will continue during the 2013 legislative session and have an effect in the following key areas:

Education Funding

FSBA believes that a strong and consistent financial investment in education is critical to the academic success of students. In order to make such an investment, funding must be stable and equitable, must not shift state funding responsibilities to school districts, and must include new revenue sources.

Education funding in Florida relies on two main revenue sources: state general revenue – which relies heavily on state sales tax collections – and local property taxes. The Great Recession took a dramatic toll on both of these revenue sources and the Legislature did little to regain the lost financial ground. As a result, during the 2011 legislative session, the Legislature cut state education funding for 2011-'12 by a total of $1.6 billion. This cut was a devastating blow to public education as students, teachers, schools, and school districts were forced to do more with less – much less.

During the 2012 legislative session, FSBA was heartened by the efforts of the governor and Legislature to restore some of the funding that had been cut in the previous year, but hastened to point out that the much-heralded “$1 billion increase in K-12 education funding” actually amounted to an increase of about $600 million and that, even with that infusion of funds, 2012-'13 total funding is still $1 billion below 2010-'11 funding levels and funding per student is still $500 below 2010-2011 funding levels. Indeed, both total funding and funding per student are still below the levels achieved in every year for the past five years, except for 2011-'12.

As we approach the 2013 legislative session, FSBA is, again, heartened by the slow but steady improvement in the state’s economy and by the continuing interest expressed by Gov. Scott and others in directing more state revenue to education.

FSBA will certainly advocate to rebuild the state’s funding commitment to our students and we will also caution against new and existing unfunded mandates or new educational programs and services that will divert attention and funding away from this primary goal. We will also seek to secure new, earmarked funding for the currently underfunded and growing costs for technology. For this purpose and others, we will continue to encourage the Legislature to consider new state revenue streams, particularly with regard to collection of sales tax on Internet and remote purchases.

State Assessment and Accountability

FSBA supports assessment and accountability systems that are designed to support and enhance student learning, accommodate individual student needs, and accurately reflect student progress and achievement. Unfortunately, this is an arena in which the Legislature appears to have gone sadly astray.

Under Florida’s current high-stakes testing structure, student performance on these tests has been used – sometimes exclusively – to determine student progression, retention, remediation, course credit, graduation, and/or access to desired and elective courses and programs. In making the determination of whether to apply these potential consequences, in many cases, the student’s performance on class work, tests and grades has significantly less weight than the student’s score on the single, statewide assessment. This is unfair and discouraging to students who see their year’s worth of work and learning reduced to a day’s worth of testing.

Furthermore, student performance on statewide standardized tests has been used to gauge the performance of school personnel, schools, and school districts and to provide or deny state funding – purposes for which these tests were not designed. For more than a decade, FSBA, students, parents, educators, and testing professionals have expressed profound concerns about the validity, reliability, costs, and related ramifications of Florida’s use of high stakes testing, but to little avail. However, during the 2011-'12 school year, numerous ill-conceived and poorly executed changes to the state’s assessment and accountability system were implemented with disastrous results. This put a spotlight on the system’s weaknesses and failures that incited a widespread public demand for modifications to the system.

If Florida hopes to successfully continue the transition to the national Common Core Standards and related assessments, the 2013 legislative session, will offer the best opportunity to replace the current system with one that will better serve the needs and interests of students. FSBA will advocate for adequate funding for the development of valid and reliable state and local tests that accurately measure student achievement, progress, and areas for improvement, to eliminate the use of test results for any purpose for which they were not designed, to ensure that test results weighed appropriately within the context of other student course work and grades, and to establish a reasonable phase-in period for the transition.

School Choice

FSBA believes that public school choice programs, such as charter schools, virtual schools, and magnet programs, can offer environments that meet individual student needs and enhanced opportunities for students to excel. FSBA is pleased that Florida is a recognized leader in support of charter and virtual schools, but we have concerns about the too-rapid expansion of these options because, to date, there are no comprehensive research studies on the effectiveness of virtual schools and no credible evidence that charter schools provide better educational results than traditional public schools.

Nearly every legislative session includes a bill that seeks to provide more flexibility, more funding, and less local accountability for charter and virtual schools. During the 2012 legislative session, the Legislature carried the campaign to encourage the proliferation of charter schools a step further with the consideration of legislation that would require school boards to share dwindling district discretionary capital outlay revenue with the charter schools in their districts, regardless of whether the charter school needed the funds and regardless of any other pressing capital outlay needs of traditional public schools in the district. This legislation did not pass in the 2012 session, but is expected to be introduced again in the 2013 session. FSBA will advocate for a common sense approach that will provide criteria by which both state and local capital outlay funding will be provided for charter school facility needs.

Furthermore, FSBA will work to expand revenue sources for state capital outlay funding and to restore the local authority to levy up to 2.0 mills for capital outlay purposes.

The 2012 legislative session also presented a first look at the so-called “parent trigger” legislation that seeks to impose a turnaround option on a low-performing school without the consent of the elected school board. This blatantly misleading proposal did not pass but is expected to be proposed again in the 2013 session and FSBA will work to quash it again.

Additional Key Issues

It is expected that legislation may arise as a function of recent or expected events. Given the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, FSBA expects to be actively engaged in shaping legislation addressing school safety and gun-free school zones. Also, depending on the nature of the Florida Supreme Court ruling on changes to the Florida Retirement System, we expect to be involved in legislation relating to employee pension options.

For more information about the Florida School Boards Association, please visit the FSBA website at www.fsba.org.

Patricia Levesque
Executive Director, Foundation for Florida's Future

The Foundation for Florida’s Future is working to make the future brighter for all Florida students by focusing on the following initiatives in 2013.

New technology for a new day

Our children are growing up in the digital age. The knowledge they need to prepare for both college and careers is significantly different from the last generation. We must provide schools with the technology they need to customize teaching and learning to further the success of all students. By laying a strong academic and technological foundation for our students, they will be able to adapt to an ever-changing environment in college and beyond.

Supporting our teachers

Florida’s education success story is student-driven and teacher-fueled. Just as the economic environment is changing for students, the educational environment is also rapidly changing for our teachers. We want to show our commitment to teachers and provide them with excellent teacher training and professional development. Let’s make sure that: high-quality teacher education is a priority at our colleges and universities; teachers have the tools they need to teach the new Common Core State Standards; and teachers receive training to customize their teaching to meet the needs of our diverse student populations, including our students with disabilities.

Teacher Evaluations

New evaluations systems are being developed and used by teachers across the country, including here in Florida. Our teachers deserve fair and accurate evaluations that provide meaningful feedback to help them continuously improve. Incorporating the feedback of teachers as we hone these new systems helps to ensure the ultimate goal is achieved: academic success for all students. We support emerging research and teachers’ recommendations to provide the option to include additional measures of review in Florida’s new teacher evaluations.

Empowering parents

Parents want to be sure their sons and daughters are getting the very best educational opportunities, regardless of their circumstance. The voices of all families should be heard in decisions about how to improve schools and where and what type of school their children attend. We believe that all parents should have a say in designing individual education plans for their students. Parents and students should have greater choice and flexibility. Some parents and students find their neighborhood schools to be the best fit, while others find charters, virtual schools, private schools or even home schools best meet their needs.

Equality and equity in school choice

Currently, more than 200,000 of our children attend public charter schools in the State of Florida. But did you know that students at these public schools receive less funding than their peers at other public schools? We support equitable funding for all Florida public school students, whether they are utilizing neighborhood, charter, magnet or online schools.

Onward and upward

Over the last decade, our schools have dramatically improved, but there is still so much more to do. We believe that Florida should continue its commitment to funding critical school improvement programs for our students and teachers. The Sunshine State should recognize schools for great results, providing extra support to schools that are struggling and preparing our students for the future by providing funding to allow our students to access essential technology.

Andy Ford
President, Florida Education Association

The Florida Education Association has worked to improve Florida’s public schools since it was founded in 1886. Today, we have more than 140,000 members who are teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, office workers, teacher aides, guidance counselors, professors in higher education, students who are working to become teachers and retired education employees.

We believe that every child in Florida deserves a high-quality public education in their neighborhood school. That goal can be achieved through high-quality teachers, proper funding of public education, small class sizes and working closely with students who need improvement. We don’t agree with many of the efforts that have been introduced over the past 15 years in Florida. The constantly changing playing field hasn’t served our students well.

Let’s take the question of teacher evaluations. Early in the 2011 legislative session, the Legislature passed a law changing the way teachers would be evaluated. Legislators were told that the evaluation process required by this bill (SB 736) was fair because each and every teacher, no matter what their job title or responsibilities, would be held to the same requirement – 50 percent of the evaluation would be based on student performance. They were told the student data was available, accurate and adequate.

But that didn’t turn out to be the case. Now, a majority of teachers find themselves facing an evaluation process that includes unsubstantiated student data that is unrelated to either the students or courses they teach.

FEA continues to support fair, transparent, reliable, accurate, verifiable and sustainable ways to evaluate teachers. But what teachers are seeing now is far from fair, accurate or reliable. 

  • More than 60 percent of Florida’s teachers do not have students who take the FCAT.
  • Most school districts do not have end-of-course examinations or other valid, reliable tests for non-FCAT courses.
  • Music, art, science, social studies, physical education, kindergarten, and technology are some of the courses for which there is no valid, reliable assessment to determine student growth. Teachers of these courses must be evaluated using student performance data for subjects they do not teach. It does not make sense to evaluate a music teacher on reading scores or the PE teacher on FCAT math or the 12th-grade physics teacher on 10th-grade reading and math test data.
  • Kindergartners do not take the FCAT, but their teachers’ evaluations will be based in large part on the reading and math scores of third- through fifth-graders.
  • Guidance counselors, media specialists, speech-language pathologists, school psychologists and other specialized instructional staff will be judged on school and/or district student performance data. A guidance counselor or media specialist will receive school scores derived from students they may have never met, and district level instructional staff will be assessed using the district’s scores even though these instructional personnel areas of expertise and job assignments have nothing to do with reading or math instruction.

According to the Florida Department of Education, end-of-course exams and tests for other non-FCAT courses are being developed and will not be available until 2013-'14. Nevertheless, half of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on statewide assessment data, whether or not that data relates to a teacher’s work. This is like using the football team’s win-loss record to rate the band director.

We’re certainly concerned about a great many other issues in education, but fixing the messes created in SB 736 are certainly at the top of our list.

Mindy Gould
Legislative Chair, Florida PTA

The Florida Parent Teacher Association is the largest statewide volunteer association working exclusively on behalf of children and youth. Founded in1921 as a branch of the 6 million-member National PTA, Florida PTA is made up of approximately 1,400 local units with more than 320,000 Florida members seeking to unite home, school and community for all children. PTA’s mission is simple: to make every child’s potential a reality.

Top education priorities of Florida PTA moving into the 2013 legislative session are education funding, early childhood education, high-stakes testing, charter and virtual schooling and Parent Empowerment (“Parent Trigger”) legislation.

Education Funding

Florida PTA believes it is the paramount duty of every state to make adequate provisions by law for an efficient, safe and high-quality system that allows students to obtain a first-rate education. Yet, in Florida, education funding has continually decreased over the past several years. In 2012, per-student funding in Florida decreased to levels experienced in the 2001-'02 academic year.

Though Gov. Scott called for $1 billion to be restored to K-12 education funding in the 2012-'13 fiscal year, this action will not offset the decreases of years past.

Early Childhood Education

Florida PTA urges the state legislature to support and fully finance high-quality child care and preschool programs that are affordable and accessible and characterized by high standards for teaching, training, health and safety.

High Stakes Testing

Florida PTA opposes the use of a mandated, standardized test as the sole criterion for measuring a school's or student’s progress. PTA believes that student assessments should identify how instruction and learning can be improved.

Assessments should be used to help parents and teachers determine the specific academic needs of students and increase opportunities for student learning.

Charter and Virtual Schools

PTA supports public school choice and acknowledges public charter schools as one of many avenues to improving student achievement. Florida PTA supports the creation of charter schools based on a set of principles that are designed to keep the integrity of public schools intact.

Charter schools, including full-time virtual schools, must:

•  Be open to all students

•  Not divert public funds from public schools

•  Comply with federal and state laws governing public schools that require fiscal responsibility and accountability

•  Be accountable to local school boards in the districts where they are located

•  Ensure staff are certified for their positions

•  Involve parents in decision-making processes

Parent Empowerment Legislation

Florida PTA opposes “Parent Trigger” legislation that would turn over public schools to for-profit management companies. School Advisory Councils, which are required by law in our public schools, already empower parents to address concerns and impact the school improvement plan.

In addition to education, PTA is committed to the health, safety, and well-being of all children and has additionally placed distracted driving, physical education and booster seats, as legislative priorities for 2013.

For additional information, contact Florida PTA at [email protected].

Kathleen Oropeza
Co-Founder, Fund Education Now

Everyone knows that necessity is the mother of invention. Fund Education Now was founded in 2009 by three Florida moms who saw an urgent need for parents to take action and hold the Florida Legislature accountable for aggressive funding cuts to public education. As mothers, we vowed that Florida's children would never be left unprotected in the halls of Tallahassee again.

Since then, we have been joined by remarkable parent leaders and a broad alliance of hundreds of thousands of concerned voters who value high-quality public education for every child. Fund Education Now is determined to help citizens use their power as constituents to disrupt the Florida Legislature's plan to starve public education, disrespect professional educators and cause deep and lasting harm to the state's 2.7 million school children.

There’s a profound disconnect between politicians determined to defund neighborhood schools and parents whose children attend and love these schools. Article IX, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution instructs legislators that their one paramount duty is to finance a high-quality public education for every child. Instead, Florida politicians waste billions on unproven reforms while slashing school budgets and intentionally bringing districts to the brink of catastrophe.

More than a decade of passing radical education reform has reduced Florida lawmaking to a checklist of pre-negotiated legislation that is pushed and passed, no debates. With few exceptions, these expensive and unfunded “reforms” are implemented statewide devoid of pilot programs, discussion or proof of concept. Why?

The education “reform” agenda benefits adults. It’s all about profit and privatization not what’s best for students. It means a narrowed curriculum, high stakes testing, mandated online classes, teaching to the test, moving cut scores to manipulate test outcomes, micromanaging classrooms and devaluing teachers. It also means telling 8-year-old children that they are failures based on one test/one day.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For starters, children should never, ever be monetized. Instead of bargaining votes for consideration from vendors and lobbyists, legislators should listen to parents, the end-users of public education.

Last session a half a million Florida voices rose up from a broad alliance of parent groups, including the Florida PTA and FundEducationNow. We stood together with many brave senators, led by Paula Dockery and Nan Rich to demand that politicians start listening. We defeated the Parent Trigger. We stopped the push to hand over property taxes to for-profit charter developers to buy property and facilities at our expense. The November 2012 election should put Florida politicians on notice. The smart ones will do what’s right for our children. It’s a choice.

The 2013 Florida Legislature should place every resource and effort into funding high-quality public education. That means a freeze on funding separate for-profit school systems and other unproven reforms. Here are some of our priorities for the 2013 Florida Legislative session:

Parent Trigger

Legislators should drop this one. Florida parents do not support this divisive trick which uses them to “pull the trigger” and pass a public asset into the hands of a for-profit operator. Millions have been spent on lobbyists, fake parent groups, even a movie to sell this concept. Clearly big business sees big profits in the Parent Trigger. How is that good for children?

Level the playing field

Legislators should listen to Gov. Scott and pass legislation that applies uniform standards to all charters, voucher schools and traditional public schools, no excuses.

Charter access to district capital funds: Legislators should deny for-profit charter developers access to the 1.5 mill in taxpayer dollars designated for district capital improvements. Public funds should not be used by for-profit charter school developers to improve/buy/invest in facilities the public will never own.

Loss of Local School Board Control

Legislators should reject the for-profit charter lobby’s plan to create a Governor-appointed Charter Review Board to bypass elected school boards, transferring the approval process to a rubber-stamp entity.

For-profit Charter Expansion and unfair Regulatory Relief: It is fiscally irresponsible to allow charters to replicate, regardless of need, using property tax dollars that have been “cut” from our neighborhood public schools.

Digital Learning expansion

Requires 3 classes instead of the 1 currently required for graduation. Online classes should be optional -- they are not effective for every student. This bill triples the ready-market for vendors. Who is profiting?

Find Fund Education Now on Twitter @fundeducationfl and on Facebook at FundEducationNow.org or on the web at www.FundEducationNow.org

Comment on this Roundtable Using Facebook