Author Archive | Travis Pillow

Stop paying teachers like ‘widgets,’ lawmakers say

FORT LAUDERDALE – Too many schools pay all their teachers the same way. And that might be keeping talented people out of the profession, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, told a charter school gathering Friday.

Florida schools need to find a better way to reward top teachers, he said.

Most districts rely on “step-and-lane” salary schedules that pay teachers based on their level of graduate degree, and increase pay with each year of experience. Florida’s foray into merit pay added teacher evaluations to the mix. That had limited effects.

Diaz, who chairs the House’s education budget committee, said the system doesn’t offer enough to young teachers with outstanding classroom skills or unique qualifications in demanding fields. Too often, he said, teachers are treated like one is as good as the next.

“You’re not making widgets,” he said. “They’re treated in a fashion as if they were labor workers in a technical industry. They’re not. They’re professionals.”

Diaz, a former public school teacher and administrator, said when top-performing young teachers prepare to start a family, they often realize there’s only one sure path to a big salary increase. They angle for administration jobs. Every time that happens, he said, “you’re taking the best person out of the classroom.” Continue Reading →


‘Time is of the essence’ for Florida charter school recruitment


Florida needs to hurry up and hash out its landmark charter school legislation, a key member of the state Board of Education said today.

Gary Chartrand is a longtime backer of KIPP Jacksonville. For years, he’s called for the state to recruit more charter school organizations with similar missions, and similar national profiles, to high-poverty, academically struggling areas.

He said the new Schools of Hope law gives him hope that can finally happen. The legislation creates a revolving loan plan, a grant program and a streamlined application process for charter school operators with proven track records that want to open within five miles of a persistently struggling school. Continue Reading →


Breaking down the lawsuit challenging Florida’s major education law

Yesterday, thirteen Florida school boards filed their long-awaited lawsuit challenging a massive new education law approved earlier this year.

The 25-page legal document takes aim at six individual provisions of House Bill 7069. But one sentence on the second page sums up what the legal battle is about:

Under this far-reaching law, the State has encroached on the authority vested by the Florida Constitution in locally elected district school boards to operate, control, and supervise the local public schools located in their respective jurisdictions.

In other words, the school boards argue they are defending their power under Article IX, Section 4 of the state constitution to control all free public schools in their geographic areas.

That power is not absolute. Courts have held the state Legislature and Board of Education have authority to regulate, and even overrule local school boards.

The lawsuit, however, claims the new law oversteps the state’s authority. Here is a breakdown of the specific arguments

Capital outlay funding

This portion of the lawsuit largely mirrors a case the Palm Beach County School Board filed last month. It challenges provisions requiring school districts to share local property tax revenue with qualifying charter schools on a roughly even per-student basis.

“Locally elected district school boards, including Plaintiffs, thus are stripped of all authority, judgment, and discretion about the best use of these funds, which they are constitutionally authorized to levy,” the lawsuit contends.

The suit also argues the new law violates Article VII, Sections 1 and 9. Those sections of the Florida constitution limit property taxing authority to specific local governments — including school boards. The districts argue charter schools and the state don’t have that authority. And therefore, they contend, the law “unconstitutionally directs that funds legally levied and collected by school boards be reallocated to charter schools without any control by, or even input from, the locally elected school boards.”

Schools of Hope
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Charter school attacks focus on international intrigue while ignoring results

A Florida League of Women Voters attack on a Jacksonville charter school last week would have been more persuasive if it had not so brazenly played a Muslim card and not so blatantly ignored the school’s documented academic success.

The guest column, published Friday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Fort Myers News-Press, provided a granular critique of the real estate practices at River City Science Academy in Jacksonville. League president Pamela Goodwin drew extensively on previously reported connections to Turkey.

Some will remember accusations targeting Turkish exile Fethullah Gulen for backing a failed government overthrow in his home country a year ago. Many quickly became concerned that a network of approximately 170 American charter schools operated by his followers, a dozen right here in Florida, could be involved.

Due to HB 7069 and other laws, Florida is unable to protect itself against a Ponzi scheme operating in our school system. Gulen schools are required to rent or buy property from other Gulenist interests and hire associated construction firms. To see how this works, consider the case of River City Science Academy in Jacksonville.

Some mainstream news media, including The New York Times, have covered the Gulen involvement in U.S. education, and it’s gotten traction among charter school critics. But the Turkish government is working to perpetuate this storyline. In 2015, it hired a British law firm to dig up dirt on dissidents in the Turkish American diaspora, some of whom operated charter schools in the U.S.

An odd nexus has formed between the administration of President Tayyip Erdoğan, its agents in the United States and American charter school critics. They’ve produced a hard-hitting documentary film, published articles in left-wing publications, started anonymous investigative blogs and ginned up the occasional local controversy.

It’s hard to say which attacks truly trace to the Turkish government, and which ones stem from more ordinary opposition research by the usual suspects in education politics. There is certainly no reason to think the League would allow itself to be caught up in such international intrigue. After all, Ms. Goodman’s basic contention is pretty straightforward. She says the charter school’s buildings are owned by private investors who might make money, and that real estate developers who worked on the school facility have ties to the people who run the school.

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Rules coming soon for Florida ‘Schools of Hope’ program

This year, the Florida Legislature passed a new law intended to draw proven charter schools into academically struggling areas.

So far, no charter school networks have applied to open “Schools of Hope.” That might be, in part, because the state Department of Education is still developing rules to carry out the program.

Adam Miller, the director of the state’s school choice office, told a House committee the new law has generated “inquiries, but not applications” from charter school operators.

“We’ve received calls from five or six nationally known organizations from around the country … [with] questions about the policy, questions about the landscape in Florida, the regulatory framework, the funding. [And they are] beginning to look at Florida more than they ever did in the past,” he told the House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee on Wednesday.

There have been “some conversations with Florida operators as well,” he added. Continue Reading →


No charter school conversions on Fla. state board agenda

Last summer, the Florida Board of Education sought changes at three persistently struggling rural North Florida schools.

It seemed likely at least one, Hamilton County’s only high school, would have to become a charter school. Weeks later, the Hamilton school board voted to join other districts challenging a charter-friendly school turnaround law.

Now, though, it looks like a charter conversion may not be in the works. At least not yet.

Hamilton’s revised turnaround plan is on the agenda for the state board’s meeting next week in Jacksonville. The plan calls for bringing in an external operator to help run the school. Continue Reading →


Florida charter schools push to form ‘local education agencies’

Two Florida charter school networks are pushing to take advantage of a new state law that will give them direct control over federal education funding for their students, the state’s school choice director told a House panel today.

A new state law gives more charter schools the ability authority to form “local education agencies.”

Adam Miller of the Florida Department of Education told the House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee that the three Somerset Academy charter schools in Jefferson County and the Orlando-area UCP charter school network are both applying for LEA status.

The Somerset schools are leading a first-of-its-kind turnaround effort. They now run the only public schools in rural Jefferson County. The UCP (United Cerebral Palsy) schools focus on Central Florida students with special needs. Continue Reading →


Fla. House announces new school choice push for violence victims

Byron Donalds presser

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, announces a new school choice proposal during a press conference at the state Capitol.

Victims of bullying, abuse or violence would get access to a new school choice program announced today by Florida House leaders.

Flanked by Republicans who chair the House’s education committees, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, said they plan to provide funding for children who want to transfer to public or private schools after reporting incidents of violence.

The “Hope Scholarship” legislation hasn’t emerged yet. But the lawmakers spelled out some details at today’s press conference.

The scholarships would be funded outside the main public-school budget. K-12 students could qualify 15 days after filing a complaint. While Corcoran didn’t list all the specifics, he said students report nearly 47,000 qualifying incidents of bullying, hazing or abuse each year. The majority involve violence.

Donalds said the goal is to help students escape trauma. He said they shouldn’t have to hide from tormentors while they’re trying to focus on class.

Continue Reading →