McGriff Editorial: Dec 2011

December 15, 2011

Voice of the People
The Gainesville Sun
voice@gvillesun.com

Editor: Just before our schools closed for the Winter Break, Governor Rick Scott sent a letter to all of Florida's school superintendents asking them to support his proposed budget for the 2012-13 school year.

In that letter, Governor Scott said "After listening to educators and parents, touring schools and visiting with students, I have heard them tell me that in spite of the educational shortfall we face, our top priority in this budget should be K-12 education."

Under the Governor's proposed budget, Alachua County would gain about $152 more per student for the next school year, an increase of about 2.5%. It doesn't make up for last year's cuts, and it comes nowhere near getting our schools back to where they were five years ago. (He'd have to raise funding by more than $900 per student to accomplish that.) But at least it's a move in the right direction.

Of course, the legislature has the final say in drafting a budget, although in his letter the Governor says "I will not sign a budget from the Legislature that does not significantly increase state funding for education."

Of course, the other side of the ledger involves expenses. Even with more funding, schools can get further behind the eight ball if state leaders keep passing expensive and unfunded mandates.

We can't say for sure whether the advocacy of groups like Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now out of Orlando, or the lawsuit on education adequacy that's been filed against the state, have had an impact on the Governor's thinking-but they certainly haven't hurt!

Governor Scott closed his letter with the following: "As educators, you have incredibly important jobs, and the future of our state literally depends on the work you do every day." We need to keep up the pressure until all our state leaders recognize the truth of that statement-and act on it.

For information about contacting our local legislators or to learn more about Citizens for Strong Schools, please visit http://www.yesforalachuaschools.org.

Mark McGriff, Chairman
Citizens for Strong Schools
1120 NW 13th Street
Gainesville, FL 32601
(352) 372-8406  

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Mark's EditorialHere
Governor Scott's Letter to Dan BoydHere

Advise to Legislators: March 2011

Don't Write a Check Florida Can't Afford to Cash... Who's Going To Pay?

Sadly, the answer is our children and their schools.

The Florida Legislature wants big education reforms, but they don't want to pay. We teach our children that when we want something we can't afford, we save up the money or go without.

When legislators write and pass expensive, unfunded bills, they are writing a bad check on an account they know is empty. It's fiscal suicide.

Legislators are rushing to pass House Bill 7019 (Senate Bill 736) - a completely unfunded $2 Billion dollar initial taxpayer cost followed by recurring annual costs of $1.8 Billion.

This week House will hear HB 7019 in session and a full vote for passage is scheduled this Wednesday, March 16. The 2011 Legislative Session is barely a week old.

Passing a massive $3.8 Billion dollar cost to the general public is called raising taxes, even if it's buried in a reform bill. Concealing unfunded billions in a bill is the height of reckless spending.

There is a profound disconnect between Scott's proposed $3.3 Billion dollar cut to public education and the extraordinary unfunded spending found in HB 7019/SB736.

We must urge House and Senate leaders "Do not adopt Governor Scott's catastrophic budget."

HB 7019/SB736 requires the creation of at least 1,000 new high-stakes tests for courses like art, music and P.E. This bill represents an exponential increase in the power FCAT scores have over our children, their schools, funding and teacher pay.

The long-term ramifications of this unfunded bill are unsustainable. Ten years of HB 7019 will cost Florida taxpayers $18 Billion dollars!

The hardworking people of this state do not deserve to be treated like a money tree.

The November elections were clear. Taxpayers don't want to pay $3.8 billion dollars for an unfunded bill stuffed with unproven reforms. Even the current pilot reform program Race to the Top, with $350 million earmarked for districts, falls far short of funding that effort.

Governor Scott asked Floridians to accept painful spending cuts. That means all Floridians, especially politicians. Lawmakers must stop their own reckless spending.

Tell Governor Scott and Speaker Cannon that unfunded mandates don't work for us.

Let every local legislator hear from you. Click Here to link to Alachua County's list of legislators and their contact information.

Lawmakers have to put their credit card away - it's been declined. Florida taxpayers don't have the money for HB 7019/SB736.

Governor Rick Scott's Proposed Budget

The state budget proposed by Governor Rick Scott in early February includes a $703 per pupil cut in education funding, which is about 10%. That would mean a cut of about $19 million for Alachua County schools.

The Governor's staff says the cut will be less drastic if the Legislature approves his plan to require all state employees, including teachers, to contribute 5% of their pay to the Florida Retirement System. That means a cut in pay of 5% for all of those employees.

If that proposal were approved by the Legislature, it would save the district $6.2 million, which means Alachua County schools would still be facing a cut of nearly $13 million.

Citizens for Strong Schools Chairman Mark McGriff has sent the editorial (Here) about the governor's proposed budget to The Gainesville Sun. We encourage you to review it, then contact your local legislators to let them know that you oppose such drastic cuts in education-especially after the cuts of the last few years. The Florida Legislature will have the final say on Florida's budget, including education funding.

A list of the members of Alachua County's legislative delegation is available Here. You'll find the addresses and phone numbers to their local offices as well as their e-mail addresses.

We'll continue to post updates on the budget, particularly as the Legislature heads into its annual session on March 8.

New state report shows Florida's support for public education has dropped dramatically (March 2011)

The state has just released its annual report on education funding, and that report confirms what most education supporters already know. As a reporter with the Tampa Tribune put it, the new Financial Data Statistical Report shows that the state's share of public education has "dropped like a rock."

In 2009-10, the last year for which figures are available, the state paid just 32% of the costs of educating a student. The federal government kicked in another 16%, which means local communities provided 52% of the costs of educating each student (see page 3 of the report). Alachua County's figures are pretty much on par with the state averages. The state provided just 34% of per pupil funding in our community, the federal government provided 17% and local sources covered the remaining 48% in 2009-10 (see page 18).

That's way down in just the last decade. In the 1999-2000 school year, the state's share of per pupil funding was 50%. In 2005-06, that figure dropped to 40%. When the 2010-11 school year figures come out next April, they will certainly show another drop from last year's 32%, and the trend is likely to continue as the Florida Legislature considers more big cuts to public education.

The numbers being kicked around in Tallahassee right now range from 6% to 7%. Lawmakers insist the cuts won't be that bad if you figure in federal stimulus money left over from this year (assuming districts haven't spent any of it, which is a ridiculous assumption) and a requirement that all state employees pay part of their salaries to the Florida Retirement System. But that's just more camouflage to hide the fact that the state plans to continue ducking its responsibility to fund public schools.

And it's a serious responsibility. Florida's Constitution says funding 'high quality' schools is the state's 'paramount duty'-not the federal government's paramount duty, not the local community's paramount duty, but the state's. Based on its own report, the state is clearly not doing its duty.

Meanwhile, state leaders continue to pile on new mandates with no money attached. The new teacher merit pay law is a prime example. It requires students to take a lot of new standardized tests, but sets aside no money for developing or implementing those tests. It also includes no money to actually fund merit pay.

Whether you agree with the concept of merit pay or not, we can all agree that passing a very expensive new mandate while simultaneously cutting school funding makes no sense.

Citizens for Strong Schools encourages you to let your local lawmakers know how you feel about the proposed cuts to public education and the state's ongoing strategy of dumping its responsibility onto local communities. You can find contact information for Alachua County's legislative delegation HERE.

Mark McGriff Editorial: Feb 2011

PDF Version: Here

February 9, 2011

Voice of the People
The Gainesville Sun
voice@gvillesun.com

Editor: Less than a week before rolling out his proposed state budget, Florida Governor Rick Scott gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal. When he was asked how he could reduce property taxes and still maintain school funding at its current level, he said "What I'm doing is...I'm taking the savings out of the state dollars not out of the school system...so it leaves the funding for education the way it was."

What a difference five days made.

The budget Scott presented earlier this week actually includes a $703 per student cut in school funding, or about 10%. For Alachua County Public Schools, that would mean the loss of almost $19 million for the upcoming school year.

Since the beginning of the 2007-08 school year, funding has dropped nearly $400 per student here in Alachua County. The state has cut its share of funding even more drastically. It's now spending $1300 less per student than it was three years ago, a 27% decrease. It has continued to cut despite language in the Florida Constitution that says providing 'high quality schools' is the state's 'paramount duty,' language that was added by more than 70% of Florida's voters.

Yes, things could have been worse. For the past two years the Florida Legislature has used federal stimulus dollars to help balance the state's budget. This year's stimulus funding amounted to about $8.6 million here in Alachua County and pays for more than 160 teaching positions. But that money dries up when the school year is over.

The Legislature has also refused to fully fund the class size law that voters passed in 2002, even though the law clearly says the state is required to pay for it, NOT local districts. Alachua County Public Schools has had to spend about $1.75 million this year alone on class size.

To add insult to injury, the state plans to fine Alachua County at least $150,000, if not more, because the district refused to limit the number of high school students taking advanced courses or transfer students to schools outside their zones or place students involuntarily in online classes or do any of the other things many districts in Florida did to fully comply with class size requirements.

Meanwhile the state continues to pile on more unfunded mandates, including new high school requirements and more standardized tests.

In some ways, Alachua County Public Schools is luckier than other districts. Thanks to the efforts of Citizens for Strong Schools and the support of local voters, we passed the one mill property tax initiative in 2008, which is bringing in between $12 and $13 million each year.

But that money must be spent on the items listed on the ballot, including elementary art teachers, music teachers and guidance counselors, academic/career/technical magnet programs and classroom technology. It can't be used to save the jobs of other teachers. It also runs out in 2013.

The governor says part of the 10% per pupil cut will be offset by changing the pension plans of school employees. Scott is proposing that all state employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters be required to contribute 5% of their income to the state's retirement plan. Essentially, it's a pay cut.

But even if that proposal is approved, it would save Alachua County Public Schools just over $6 million. That still leaves the district with a nearly $13 million hole to fill.

Scott says he wants to bring more jobs to Florida. But businesses want access to a well-educated work force and quality schools for their employees' children. How many will want to move to a state with such a dismal national reputation for supporting education?

During his Wall Street Journal interview, Scott also said "I also believe that funding for education is part of the success for education." Citizens for Strong Schools agrees, and we urge the governor and the Florida Legislature to back up those words with action.

Mark McGriff, Chairman
Citizens for Strong Schools
1120 NW 13th Street
Gainesville, FL 32601
(352) 372-8406