Florida Education Association
Schools closed until April 15, testing and school grades canceled, graduations, teacher pay and more
District joins vaping suit, student killed by school bus, education spending, teacher pensions and more
District joins vaping suit: Seminole County School Board members vote 4-1 to join school districts in Palm Beach and Brevard counties and around the country in suing the e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs. Superintendent Walt Griffin recommended the board join the lawsuit because of the health risks to students and the resources the district has been using to deal with vaping-related problems. If the districts win the suit, Griffin said any money collected would go toward anti-vaping education programs. Orlando Sentinel.
Student hit, killed by bus: A 15-year-old Palm Beach County student was struck and killed by a school bus as she crossed a street in West Palm Beach on Wednesday morning. Natasha Dwyer, a sophomore at Inlet Grove High School, was in the crosswalk when she was hit by the bus. The bus driver had a green light, according to sheriff’s deputies, and he told them he didn’t see the girl. Grief counselors are at the school to provide assistance for students. The death is thought to be the first time in a decade that a county school bus has hit and killed a pedestrian. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPTV.
U.S. education budget: U.S. spending on education would increase by $1.3 billion under the budget approved this week by the House of Representatives. The Senate is expected to pass the bill by Friday. Title I funding would increase by $450 million, an extra $410 million would go into grants for the education of children with disabilities, early learning and child-care programs would get $1 billion more, and the federal Charter Schools Program budget would remain at $440 million. Education Dive. Education Week.
Retirement funds concerns: The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating a retirement investments company that has arrangements with several affiliates of the Florida Education Association teachers union. Those affiliates are urging members to buy investments from Valic Financial Advisors Inc. as a way to help the union make money. But left unmentioned are the higher fees associated with the products, which cut down on the retirement savings of teachers. Wall Street Journal.
Contract negotiations: While contract negotiations are moving slowly in Palm Beach and Broward counties, new taxes approved by voters are putting teachers on track for significant boosts over the next few years. Those tax increases are increasing teacher salaries by 7 percent in Broward and 14 percent in Palm Beach County, and union representatives in both districts are pushing for another raise of 3.5 to 5 percent in contract talks. The average Florida teacher makes $48,395 a year, the fourth-lowest salary in the United States. Sun Sentinel.
Educators honored: Samantha Hower, an art teacher at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, has been named the Lee County School District’s teacher of the year. She is now eligible for the Florida teacher of the year award, which will be announced in the spring. Fort Myers News-Press. Nancy Crowder of Shadowlawn Elementary has been named the Clay County School District’s principal of the year, and Matt Boyack of Oakleaf High was named assistant principal of the year. District officials also announced the 10 finalists for the teacher of the year award. Clay Today. Rakeem “Rock” Quinn, a paraprofessional who works with students with anger issues in the Bridges program at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, has been named the Gulf County School District’s employee of the year. Port St. Joe Star.
Medical marijuana in schools: The Monroe County School District could soon be out of compliance with a state law that requires districts to make accommodations for students to receive medical marijuana treatments at schools. A majority of school board members declined to pass such a policy this week, saying it would be in conflict with federal law. Florida Department of Education officials have given districts until Dec. 31 to create a policy. If the district doesn’t comply, it risks being ineligible for grants and other payments from the state. The board meets again Friday to reconsider. Key West Citizen.
Using sales tax funds: The Independent Citizens Oversight Committee has approved the Brevard County School District’s spending of money from a half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2014. The tax has generated more than $210 million for construction projects at the district’s 83 schools. The 11-member committee was established by the referendum to monitor the spending. “As the sales surtax program enters the final stages, the ICOC is confident the district continues to implement the program in accordance with the ballot initiative and district policies and procedures,” said committee chair Gary Shiffrin. Florida Today.
School construction: The Bay County School District is borrowing $35 million from PNC Bank to begin repairs to several schools damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018. The loan will allow work to begin while the district waits for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The projects will begin early in 2020, district officials said. WMBB.
From homeless to teaching: Four years ago, Jacob Fricke was homeless, had poor reading skills and was working in a cleaning business. Today, he’s a new graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero and has been hired as a reading teacher at Varsity Lakes Middle School in Lehigh Acres. Fort Myers News-Press.
School shooting aftermath: An appeals court has upheld a ruling that Scot Peterson, the resource officer who didn’t confront the shooter who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, does not have immunity against a negligence lawsuit filed by the parents of one of the victims. Peterson argued that because he was an agent of the state, he should have immunity from civil action. A Broward circuit judge denied that logic, and the appeals court upheld her ruling. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida.
School insurance: Polk County School District employees will have to produce legal paperwork to prove that the dependents they list on their health insurance are eligible for health, vision and dental benefits from the district. “I mean, basically, it comes down to dollars and it can be an extensive amount of money,” said Linda King, director of the district’s office of risk management. “The dependent process is painful. Everybody has to go in and verify their relationships. And this is marriages, these are guardians, this is their children.” She expects that 3 percent of the current dependents will be ruled ineligible, saving the district about $800,000 a year. Lakeland Ledger.
Superintendent search: As the Martin County School Board begins searching for a superintendent, board members can’t agree on how the search should be conducted. The Florida School Boards Association superintendent search services committee has recommended the district create a marketing plan and set up a website, both for transparency and to show off the district. Some members question the need, saying they don’t have the expertise and don’t need to spend the money. TCPalm.
Personnel moves: Cindy Lesinski has been named the chief financial officer for the Brevard County School District. She replaces Pennie Zuercher, who resigned in October. Lesinski had been the CFO of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Space Coast Daily.
Employees and the law: A recently retired custodial and grounds supervisor for the Broward County School District has been arrested and accused of accepting bribes from a district vendor over the past three years. Richard Ellis Jr., 49, is charged with bribery and interfering by threats or violence. He is accused of taking $6,130 in bribes from someone doing work for the vendor. Ellis retired in September. Sun Sentinel.
Students at the law: A Palm Beach County student has been arrested and accused of bringing a gun to Roosevelt Middle School in West Palm Beach. The gun was found in the boy’s backpack after students alerted administrators. Palm Beach Post.
Opinions on schools: Spending on education in the United States has increased over time, not decreased, but the ways in which school leaders and lawmakers use these resources still matters more for student success than how much is spent. Jonathan Butcher, redefinED. I believe that every student deserves a gifted education, and that kids will give their best efforts when they know their teachers support them. Heather Young, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Before lawmakers follow the statewide grand jury’s recommendation of harsher punishments for schools districts that don’t comply with state laws, state and local officials should collaborate on a sober evaluation of school-security policies and make adjustments where necessary. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Among the eight education lessons learned from research in 2019: school segregation affects whether black students are identified as having a disability, students of color benefit from working with adults of color, and police inside and outside schools can depress student learning. Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat. The FHSAA failed two schools in 2015 by failing to know the history of these schools and prayer, and by not employing a little pragmatism and common sense. Lakeland Ledger.
Student enrichment: Hear the Youth, an advocacy group made up of high school students in Duval County, recently won $2,000 from T-Mobile for its idea to provide free high-speed Internet access to qualified students who have no access at home. Florida Times-Union. Fifteen Marion County students graduate from the Phoenix Rising YouthBuild program, which provides mentoring and high school degrees to at-risk people between the ages of 16 and 24. The students helped build a Habitat for Humanity home during the 20-week class. Ocala Star-Banner. Four Clay County elementary schools are getting free 3rd-grade National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center STEM educational modules from the Nolan Carroll Foundation. Clay Today.
Editor’s note: This post is another in our fact-checking series, one that focuses solely within the arena of educational choice. The goal of fact-checkED is to bring clinical precision to complex issues that are easily misunderstood, aiming to counteract incorrect information before it continues to circulate.
An Oct. 30 news story in the Gainesville Sun about the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) included an uncontested assertion by the Florida Education Association that the new program will drain money from public schools:
Researchers from the state’s teachers union say according to their calculations with those averages, the program will pull $1.2 million to 1.3 million from the Alachua County School District and $2.2 million to 2.4 million from Marion County Public Schools.
“It’s a hit to public schools,” said Eileen Roy, Alachua County school board member. “Parents need to know that it’s $1 million less to help their children. This is a very scary move, and we can’t afford to ignore it.”
The article continues:
Shortly after the program passed, the Florida Education Association projected that the scholarships would divert $11 million from Alachua County Public Schools over the next five years. For Marion County, they predicted a $19 million loss.
This is false.
It’s appropriate that this claim was published around Halloween, because it perpetuates what amounts to a ghost story aimed at frightening people.
Leave aside the school board member’s us-versus-them statement that “parents need to know that it’s $1 million less to help their children” – which completely ignores the low-income parents in her county who see the new scholarship as a way to help their children find the right education environment. Do they not count in her social order?
Instead, let’s focus on the math.
Florida has 18 years of financial data from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC), on which the new scholarship is modeled. Eight different independent fiscal impact studies have concluded the FTC saves taxpayer money that can be re-invested in public schools. Not a single study has shown otherwise. That’s because the value of the scholarship is less than what taxpayers spend per student in district schools.
A Florida Tax Watch report on the “true cost” of public education, released in March, determined the FTC scholarship in 2017-18 was worth 59 percent of all categories of per-pupil spending for district schools, which Tax Watch calculated to be $10,856.
The new FES vouchers, like the current FTC scholarships, average between $6,775 and $7,250.
Florida will spend about $130 million this academic year to award Family Empowerment Scholarships to 18,000 students. If you add the basic per-pupil funding increases over the last two years to update the Florida Tax Watch calculation from 2017-18, it would cost the state about $200 million to educate the same students in district schools.
It’s worth noting that the Florida Education Association was the lead plaintiff in a years-long lawsuit that sought to kill the FTC scholarship. The Florida Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the suit in 2017, after a lower court found the plaintiffs couldn’t provide any evidence that the program harmed public schools. That included an “analysis” similar to the one the union has trotted out against the FES.
Finally, the state doesn’t pay school districts for empty seats in classrooms, regardless of why students left. If they move to another district, or out of state; if their parents decide to home-school them; or if they leave to attend a private school and their families pay tuition out of their own pockets, the impact on the districts in per-pupil funding is the same.
Oddly, it only seems to become an existential threat to public education when a low-income student takes advantage of a scholarship or voucher to attend the school of his or her choice.
Editor’s note: We add a new feature today, called fact-checkED, that is inspired by the many factchecking efforts across the media landscape these days. Our work will focus solely within the arena of educational choice, and our goal is to bring clinical precision to issues that are often complex and misunderstood. Our intent is not to shame but to inform.
In an editorial Sunday criticizing 19 “bad bills” that became state law this year, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote the following of a new school voucher called Family Empowerment Scholarships:
“Tuition vouchers (SB 7070). For the first time, money goes straight from (the) state treasury – not just by tax credits.”
This is false.
We begin by first acknowledging that the sentence above ends with a phrase describing the money as going “to unregulated private schools, most of which will be religious and can cherry-pick their students.” That’s a handful in itself, particularly given that the participating private schools are subject to roughly 17,000 words of statutory and agency regulations and that annual state evaluations of a similar program, called the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, have concluded it draws some of the state’s poorest and lowest-performing students from public schools.
But our focus here is on the claim that the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) is the first school voucher to draw funds directly from the state treasury. That’s in part because the claim has current legal and political salience. Ron Meyer, attorney for the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, has told reporters he plans to file a lawsuit asking courts to declare the new program unconstitutional. Even before the bill was passed, Meyer told the GateHouse Capital Bureau: “This could lead to the dismantling of the public school system as we’ve known it.” In June, a month after the bill was signed into law, he told the Florida Phoenix: “There is going to be a challenge.”
The Sun Sentinel editorial draws a proper contrast between the new FES program and an existing 18-year-old program called the Tax Credit Scholarship. Both serve disadvantaged students from low-income and working-class households, but the Tax Credit Scholarship is fueled by contributions from corporations. In turn, those contributions receive 100 percent credits against six different state taxes. Last year, the Tax Credit Scholarship served 104,091 low-income students at a cost of roughly $644.7 million. The funding distinction is important, and led in part to the 2017 dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Tax Credit program.
As the editorial notes, FES is funded directly by the state. In fact, it is funded directly out of the operational funding formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), that pays for district public schools. One distinct difference between FES and district schools is that the scholarships receive money only through state general revenue dollars and do not receive any local property tax money (see subsection (11)(e) in the law).
The claim of being first, though, is wrong. FES is neither the first nor the only state-funded education voucher in the PreK-12 arena. It’s not even the only voucher funded directly through the FEFP. Here are the others:
- The McKay Scholarship for students with learning disabilities. It was created two decades ago and last year served 30,695 students at a cost of $219.7 million. The students are tracked inside the FEFP from each school district in which they live, as is exhibited in this FEFP calculation sheet from 2018-19 (note the second column, which subtracts McKay dollars from each district). 1819 FEFP 3rdCalc
- The Gardiner Scholarship for students with specifically named special needs. It was created in 2014 and served 11,917 students last year at a cost of $124.1 million. Gardiner is funded by a direct line-item appropriation (see line item 110 on page 28 of this year’s State Appropriations Act).
- Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten for 4-year-olds. This program was approved by voters in 2002 and took effect in 2005. In 2017-18, it served 133,870 students in private schools and day care centers at a cost of roughly $326.2 million. The VPK program is funded by a direct line-item appropriation (see line item 89 on page 20 of this year’s State Appropriations Act).
To its credit, the Sun Sentinel published a partial correction to the editorial above. We rate the original claim as FALSE.