UPDATE: It's been brought to our attention that one element of the FEA press release below is outdated. While legislators have expanded the scope of tax-credit voucher programs, they deleted a provision that would have given scholarship groups a list of the top 100 taxpayers to aid in solicitations.
Whether you see hope or doom in the education policies coming out of Tallahassee and other states this spring, everyone can surely agree on one thing: these are history-making times. Call it revolutionary, apocalyptic, ground-breaking, triumphant or just plain brutal. Choose your adjective.
Below is the Florida Education Association union's bottom line on this spring's legislative season, now in its final hours. What do you think? Do they get it right?
From their press release:
"The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.
-- Florida Constitution.
"School employees, children among the victims
of Florida's disastrous legislative session
"TALLAHASSEE" - When teachers and other school employees return to class in August, they will discover a radically altered landscape in their schools. The 2011 session of the Florida Legislature will go down in history as one of the most radical and damaging in our state's history.
"In fact, many won't return to class. When the 2007 legislative session ended, Florida allocated $7,306 per student. By the time last year's session ended, that figure was down to $6,811 and 12,000 education jobs had already been lost in Florida. This year's budget calls for the per-student allocation to be lowered once again - this time to $6,268 per student. Districts have begun readying the pink slips for many dedicated and hard-working teachers and other school employees. During those same four years, the Legislature has dramatically increased the requirements for school districts. This year's SB 736 requires the formation and implementation of scores of new standardized tests - yet the Legislature has given school districts far less money with which to complete that order.
"This massive loss of funding and increased reliance on testing in a state that's already turned standardized testing into the focal point of its public education system will have a strong impact on children. Students will see fewer education opportunities as school districts curtail the number of courses they offer to save money. Students will face even more standardized tests in a school year that is already dominated by them. This reliance on testing and preparation for testing deadens a child's natural curiosity and makes classes more and more focused on test success, not on the joy of learning. In addition, children will see much larger classes in some subject areas and far less extracurricular activities as schools try to figure out ways to pay for many of the unfunded mandates handed down by lawmakers.
"Teachers and other school employees, who already make far below the national average compared with their counterparts in other states, will also face 3 percent less in their paychecks. Lawmakers say it's a contribution to their modest and fiscally sound retirement system, but in reality the money is being used to balance the state's budget. The Florida Constitution forbids an income tax, but this session of the Legislature decided to take 3 percent out of the pockets of teachers, school employees and other public servants - while giving tax breaks to corporations and forbidding the legal collection of sales taxes from out-of-state online travel companies.
"Teachers hired after July 1 will no longer have professional services contracts or due-process rights. In fact, teachers who entered the system for the past three years won't have them either. Current teachers who opt for the unfunded performance salary schedule also lose their due process rights, as will any teacher moving from one district to another. The state will evaluate teachers largely on the basis of standardized tests using a value-added model that is untested in measuring standardized test that in a great many cases have yet to be developed. Even the staunchest proponents acknowledge that value-added measurements result in a certain number of errors. If teachers don't meet the standards for student growth set by the state and measured by these tests, they could lose their job - even though the state model will produce errors where high-quality teachers will get erroneous low marks. New York City began measuring teachers in a similar manner four years ago, but the system was so bad, it has already been mothballed. There is no research that says this system will result in higher academic achievement or a higher quality teaching force.
"Understand, Florida teachers and school employees are performing well. Earlier this year, Education Week released its annual Quality Counts report, which rated Florida the fifth best education system of all the states and the District of Columbia. Florida got high marks for its teachers, its standards and its K-12 achievement. But it got its worst marks for two things that are tied together - funding and chance for success, where it was ranked in the bottom half of the country. Imagine what we could do if we only had the financial commitment to succeed.
"Here are some other items teachers and school employees will find when the new school year opens in August:
* They will no longer have seniority provisions that have been collectively bargained with their school districts.
* Advanced degrees will be prohibited from being a factor in determining salary, unless it is in the individual's area of certification.
* There will be greater use of online learning, which allows the use of adjunct teaching -- that is, instructors nor fully credentialed and certified.
* Greatly expanded the number of classes that would not have to meet the class size goals that voters placed in the Florida Constitution in 2002 and affirmed in 2010.
"Other items of interest concerning education:
* Voters will be asked to change the state Constitution to allow the state to fund religious organizations. If adopted by voters the measure would protect private school voucher programs from potential court challenges.
* Voters will also be asked to impose limits on spending in state government. These misguided formulas restrict government's ability to raise taxes, fees, fines or even charges for legitimate services. Colorado tried this approach - and it was suspended after a few years because the state could not meet its basic obligations.
* Expands charter schools and takes some control of these schools, but not the funding, from local school districts. It even guarantees charter schools that receive two A grades in three years 15-year contracts. Ironically, a high performing teacher in this state is limited to a one-year contract. Research shows that charter schools do not perform any better than traditional public schools.
* Expanded the scope of existing voucher plans, increasing the money put into these programs. Research shows that voucher schools do not perform any better than traditional public schools. Also gave to organizations that facilitate corporate tax scholarships a lost of the top 100 corporate taxpayers so they could solicit donations. By the way, no one else could see that list.
"FEA President Andy Ford has expressed his frustration at the approach our political leaders are taking.
"'With all the focus this year on luring businesses to Florida, our political leaders have forgotten a very important aspect of investing in our state,' Ford said. 'Businesses want a tax-friendly environment, but they also want to locate their businesses in places that have high-quality schools and students who are knowledgeable, love learning and who are critical thinkers. The actions taken during this session don't show an awareness of this need to invest in our children.'"