Florida Legislature’s miserly K-12 budget & corporate charter welfare bill spark veto battle
by Kathleen Oropeza, Fund Education Now
Every year Florida politicians reaffirm that Jeb Bush, Betsy DeVos/American Federation for Children and the Koch Bros./Americans for Prosperity with their promises of campaign cash and threats of well-funded primary opposition are really running the show. Given that members of the Florida legislature either profit from, or own charter schools, what could possibly to wrong?
At the close of the 2017 session this May, legislators passed the worst package of public education policy in Florida history by a single vote. HB 7069 is blatantly designed to accelerate the privatization of Florida public education. In addition, legislators passed another significant bill that allows voucher expansion.
Making matters worse, legislators passed an austerity K-12 budget despite existing revenue surpluses. Florida’s K-12 per pupil funding has stood still since 2007 without an increase. House and Senate leaders promised transparency in 2017 and then proceeded to negotiate the entire budget shrouded in in secrecy. Budgets that are traded behind closed doors reflect the partisan process of picking winners and losers, which has become a sad Florida trademark.
As of this writing, Gov. Scott still has not received either the Budget or HB 7069 from the legislature. Once certified copies of these documents land on his desk, Gov. Scott has fifteen days to either sign them into law or issue a veto.
This is what nearly 20 years of single party rule looks like. Today the combined Florida House and Senate reflect a 3:1 ratio of GOP to Democrats. Florida public education advocates, teachers, districts and administrators are left with no other choice than to ask Governor Rick Scott for a veto on HB7069 and the K-12 education portion of the budget. Here’s an overview of the reasons why:
HB 7069 is a “train bill” representing at least 55 House and Senate bills plus language never discussed in committee. In the last 24 hours of session, legislators were handed this new 278 page bill filled with leadership priorities, many of them too controversial to pass on their own. This is the scheme Florida legislators use to pass horrific school reforms. To make it even harder to vote down, HB 7069 was tied to the budget and offered some good things such as K-5 recess to justify the damage this bad bill will cause.
One of the worst parts of HB 7069 is a $140 million dollar corporate charter welfare policy called “Schools of Hope” ,which assumes that out of state charter chains are more qualified than school districts to turn around struggling schools. This program grants charters a range of unfair advantages to aggressively tip the scales against district schools. This summer HB 7069 will trigger the immediate transfer of 115 “D and F” public schools to out of state charters, entrusting them with the education of Florida’s most vulnerable students with zero proof than these charter operators will produce turnaround success.
This quote from Sen. Gary Farmer captures the urgent reason for a veto:
What did [the House] leave us with? A piece of junk they’re forcing us to vote on now. It’s a monstrosity, we know its bad public policy but here we are in a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Schools of Hope are so utterly offensive and repugnant to teachers, principals and parents…
Highlights – why Governor Scott must veto HB 7069. Read full checklist here:
- Redirects and dilutes district Title 1 Funds – a foreshadowing of the DeVos plan
- Charters get to grade District public schools
- Schools of Hope/High Impact Corporate Charter welfare – $140 million
- Charter School Land Use Allows charter schools to bypass land use or zoning requirements of local jurisdictions strips communities and school boards of their right to object.
- Charter access to public facilities at deep discounts, including taking over floors in existing public schools
- Charters can hire non-certified teachers
- Exempts corporate charter chains from paying for District services
- Grants Charters power to usurp Superintendent Authority/Schools of Excellence
- Grants Charters power to usurp locally elected school boards
- Forces School Districts to give Charters a portion of locally levied capital outlay funding which the public will never recoup
- School Grade Manipulation – Factors private school student data into a district school’s grade, despite the fact that the school provides zero services to the student.
- Teachers – substitutes $1,200/year re-tooled “Best & Brightest” bonus only available to some for long overdue increase in pay – $234 million
- Recess – Mandates 100 minutes of recess for all K-5 students in District public schools – exempts charter schools granting a carve-out from any expenses
Florida politicians sent a clear message to Florida’s public school children by failing to invest in them again. The proposed 0.34% increase puts public education funding at its lowest point since the Great Recession. To put this in perspective, look at the Base Student Allocation – the number needed to keep the lights on and teachers in classrooms. In 2007 each student got $4,163.47 and the 2017 proposal offers $4,133.64.
Here are the details:
- Budget provides $7,220.72 in total Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) funds per student – an increase over the current year of $24.49 or 0.34% on a statewide basis. Florida per-student funding remains among the lowest in the nation with no real increase since 2007/08
- Budget represents a negative $27.07 or -0.65% decrease in the Base Student Allocation
- The sole revenue increase, $241.4 million will be spent on meeting the needs of 24,000 new students
- Rate increases for the Florida Retirement System will consume about $54 million of the $69 million, leaving about $5.32 per student for districts to address all other increased health care, utility, fuel and other operational costs.
- Reduces Required Local Effort from the current 4.638 mills to 4.322 mills for a loss of at least $500 million in potential local funding for education programs and services
- Invests more than $400 million in unproven policy initiatives such as Schools of Hope and the Best and Brightest Teacher Bonus
- When compared to the budget 10 years ago, the current operating budget remains below pre-recession levels
- There are about 200,000 more students in 2017/18 than were funded in the 2007/08 budget
- The Exceptional Student Education allocation that serves over 540,000 students with disabilities is nearly $50 million less than 10 years ago.
- The Transportation allocation is about $45 million less than 10 years ago.
- The Instructional Materials allocation is $36 million less for our students than 10 years ago
Florida politicians view public education advocates with great disdain. Since the end of the 2017 session, there has been a significant grass roots citizen-driven objection to both HB 7069 and the budget. As a result, House leadership and the Koch Bros have been busy paying for an expensive Astro Turf YesOn7069 campaign. This includes the powerful charter school lobby offering parents credit for their volunteer hours and students extra class credit if they call or write in support of HB 7069. There’s been a glossy social media presence, expenditure of at least $20,000 on editorial placement and a series of op-eds all designed to create the illusion of support for this bad bill. It’s reminiscent of the fake parent groups and the $2 million spent to promote the passage of parent trigger which was defeated twice in Florida.
Florida “Choice”/reform legislation is aggressive privatization and re-segregation with the intention of shutting down school boards and teachers unions. This legislation is being spread across the states and is being given a boost by Jeb Bush’s longtime ally, U.S. ED Secretary Betsy DeVos.
This is an all-out war. If we don’t fight, we will lose our public schools.
Founded in 2009, FundEducationNow.org is a non-partisan group who works to educate others about the realities of “education reform” and bring voters into a thoughtful discussion about the best education policies for Florida’s public school children. For more information, contact: Kathleen Oropeza, firstname.lastname@example.org; 407.234.8948.