HB 7069 and its promise of 'hope'
To hear the House Republicans tell it, Florida's newest education law provides hope to students in the state's most struggling schools. They point directly to the Tampa Bay Times' Pulitzer Prize winning Failure Factories series as the impetus for their action.
Cue the video, released moments after the bill signing.
Editorially, the Times has distanced itself from HB 7069. Many school district leaders from across Florida, meanwhile, questioned the Legislature's plan to create "schools of hope" for children in the lowest performing schools.
Hillsborough County superintendent Jeff Eakins, for one, suggested that the plan to bring high-performing charter school operations into the communities that lawmakers say need them seems incredibly ambitious — especially with a July 1 implementation date.
It takes time to find the operators, Eakins said, have them find locations, submit their applications and plans, and simply go through all the aspects of opening up. All the rules haven't even been written, he added.
Charter school providers have said they don't know whether they're coming, or if they'd even be eligible.
"This can't happen in 12 months," Eakins said, speculating that the $140 million lawmakers set aside for the program would sit unused for some time.
Lawmakers have noted there's a rollover provision for unspent funds.
In the meantime, Eakins continued, the law alters districts' use of Title I federal grant money so they can no longer pool the resources at the district level to create programs that individual schools might not afford with their share alone. Hillsborough and Pinellas County district leaders already are talking about ending recruitment and retention bonus programs used to lure top teachers to the lowest performing schools.
"It's not going to serve our highest needs schools well," Eakins said.
Bill proponents have said they scaled back some of the more onerous parts of the Title I money shift, so that schools with the highest percentages of impoverished students will not feel a major pinch. Opponents still want to know why the state would try to place further restrictions on the federal rules.
"Tallahassee gets mad because Washington tells them what to do," said Bay County superintendent Bill Husfelt. "But then Tallahassee turns around and does to us what they fuss about Washington doing to them."
Top lawmakers said they had to act, because districts weren't making the necessary improvements in D and F rated schools. More than one, though, has contended the provisions are laudable but have flaws that must be fixed.
The Legislature has a few months off before returning for committee work. Look for amendments soon into that process.