› 2011 Releases
The School Board of Alachua County has adopted a new legislative platform for the 2012 session of the Florida Legislature, which begins January 10, 2012. The session will begin two months earlier this year because by law the legislature must redraw state and national legislative districts to reflect population data from the 2010 Census.
The new platform encourages lawmakers to increase student funding, fully fund class size, require accountability for voucher and charter schools, and increase funding and flexibility for career/technical education. It also asks lawmakers to enforce the existing sales tax on Internet sales, a step that has been promoted by several statewide business groups.
The platform was presented during the annual hearing held by the Alachua County Legislative Delegation. All five lawmakers representing Alachua County met October 11 to hear from constituents. Superintendent Dan Boyd spoke for schools at that hearing.
A copy of the legislative platform is available Here.
The district has also published its annual Budget Update, an easy-to-read guide to the district's expenditures, tax rates, lottery information and other budget-related issues. That document is available Here.
Three of our colleagues from Fund Education Now, the education advocacy group based in Orlando, recently flew to Washington, D.C. for a meeting with a high-level education policy staffer in the White House Executive offices. Among many other things, they shared their concerns about the ways federal education and economic policies are implemented in Tallahassee in a way that hurts schools and local districts.
Fund Education Now joined with Citizens for Strong Schools two years ago in a lawsuit against the state for its refusal to follow the Florida Constitution by making public education its 'paramount duty.' That lawsuit is still pending. More details about the lawsuit are below.
The Orlando Sentinel and the University of Central Florida recently sponsored a public forum on education reform. One of the panelists was Kathleen Oropeza, one of the founders of Fund Education Now. Another was former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who continues to push for vouchers, charter schools, high stakes testing, merit pay and other 'reforms' despite research that shows they just don't work.
The panel also debated whether or not Florida has been adequately funding public education. Oropeza and other panelists offered clear evidence that the state is not properly investing in our schools.
The Orlando Sentinel has now posted a video of the forum. It's available Here.
Once again, Alachua County Public Schools and districts across Florida will be required to do more with significantly less money.
For the 2011-12 school year Florida lawmakers cut funding for the state's schools by $1.4 billion, or about 8%. It's the fourth straight year of budget cuts to public schools. Here in Alachua County, that means an overall cut of about $1000 per student, or about 14%.
When you look at just the state's share of school funding, the picture is even worse. Per pupil state funding is down about 30% in Alachua County since the 2007-08 school year.
A recent report from the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy (see Here) finds that even before this year's cuts to education, Florida ranked near the bottom of states in K-12 funding. That includes a ranking of 50th in per pupil funding compared to wealth and a ranking of 47th in per capita expenditures by state and local governments for education.
And while state lawmakers cut school budgets, they continue to adopt expensive new mandates, including more standardized testing, new high school requirements, new online projects and other programs, rules and requirements that districts must implement with no additional funding.
Alachua County is in better shape than many other Florida districts thanks in large part to the 'One Mill' initiative promoted by Citizens for Strong Schools and approved by 65% of local voters in 2008. The additional property tax millage pays for elementary music and art teachers, guidance counselors, media specialists, teachers in academic and career/tech magnet programs, classroom technology and other vital programs and personnel. However, unless approved again by voters, this additional funding ends in 2013.
The district is also getting by with some federal stimulus dollars left over from last year. However, those funds will run out after this school year.
Florida's Constitution says that public education is the state's 'paramount duty' and that the state is required to make 'adequate provision' for 'high quality system of free public schools' for all students. Clearly state leaders are not living up to this constitutional mandate.
Citizens for Strong Schools is one of the public education advocacy groups and public school parents that have filed a lawsuit against the state for failing to meet its constitutional obligations. The state has tried to have the suit thrown out by insisting that the courts don't have jurisdiction over whether or not the legislature is following the Florida Constitution. That argument has already been rejected by a circuit court in Tallahassee. The state has appealed that ruling, and a decision from the First District Court of Appeals is pending.
The August 2011 Issue Brief (see Here) from the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy also includes extensive information on the state's push to privatize education in Florida. The report highlights new laws expanding the corporate tax credit voucher program, McKay Scholarships, charter schools and virtual schools often run by for-profit companies, and other programs that reduce funding for traditional public schools. The report also cites several studies, including some conducting in Florida, on the academic results of such programs. According to the report, "Many other studies have found little if any difference in student learning from either vouchers or charter schools."
Despite the lack of evidence that they improve student achievement, state lawmakers have indicated they will push for even more privatization legislation in the future. Some state leaders have been working with out-of-state corporate coalitions and other organizations that support privatization on new laws for the upcoming legislative session.
Currently Florida's Constitution prohibits the use of public dollars for religious institutions such as church-run private schools. The corporate tax credit voucher program gets around this by allowing corporations to send 100% of what they owe in state taxes to a non-profit organization set up to funnel the money to private schools.
However, many state leaders want to change the Constitution to allow for even more vouchers. They have already succeeded in getting a constitutional amendment called 'Religious Freedom' on the 2012 ballot. The amendment would change Florida's constitution and allow the state to send public money to religious institutions. If approved by voters, that change would pave the way for universal vouchers in Florida.
A lawsuit has been filed by religious leaders and educators, who say the ballot language has been written to hide the lawmakers' true intentions. The lawsuit can be read Here.
Citizens for Strong Schools continues to advocate for public education in Alachua County and throughout Florida, often in conjunction with other grass-roots advocacy groups such as Fund Education Now (Orange County), Marions United for Education (Marion County), Save Duval Schools (Duval County) and 50th No More (St. Johns County). We intend to keep up the pressure on state leaders to support public education through direct advocacy and through the courts.
We also stand ready to advocate again for the One Mill Initiative should the School Board of Alachua County vote to put it back on the ballot in 2012. We are very proud that our efforts in 2008 resulted in the saving of so many of the programs and people that have helped make Alachua County Public Schools and 'A' rate district for six straight years.
If you are interested in joining Citizens for Strong Schools, click Here. And check back to this site regularly for updates on what's happening in public education locally and across the state.
Ft. Lauderdale News/Sun Sentinel, 13 Feb 2011, Editorial, Confusion aside, cuts to education in Governor Scott's budget run too deep: Here
Florida Today, 13 Feb 2011, How to be No. 1 to business, schools: Here
Orlando Sentinel, 10 Feb 2011, Editorial, Education is Job 1: Here
Florida Times Union, 15 Feb 2011, Blog, Slashing education budget will hurt the state's future: Here
Orlando Sentinel, 16 Feb 2011, Commentary,
Starving education will lead to intellectual skeletons: