Welcome back educators! It is hard to believe that summer is coming to a close and the sound of school bells are already ringing in the 2017-18 school year. Where has the summer gone?

Many of you, I am sure, have not had much of a summer because of working other jobs, recertifying or just preparing for a new year. For many of us at the FEA we have not had much of a summer either because we have been sifting thru the 200-plus page bill that was added to the budget in the 11th hour of the 2017 legislative session.

HB 7069 has become a major issue for our students, our members and our public schools. This bill would have never passed on its own. They had to add HB 7069 to the budget or it never would have passed. 
Why, you ask? Because many of the stand-alone measures in this bill did not even make it out of committee on the Senate side. Bills are not supposed to make their way to the floor for discussion or be attached to “train” bills (many ideas tagged on to one piece of legislation) unless they have made it through at least one committee. However, rules do not seem to apply to the Florida Legislature. They violated many of their own rules this past session to provide for-profit charter companies a way to grab precious resources from our public school students. Never mind public schools educate 2.8 million students and we take ALL students no matter their ZIP code, background or ability/disability while we follow very stringent rules and regulations.

Charter schools educate about 256,000 students and voucher programs educate about 80,000 students. Neither charter nor voucher schools have to follow the stringent regulations that our public schools do. They do not have to be as transparent or accountable and they have wide latitude about which students they choose to educate.

So what does HB 7069 do? Well here is the good, the bad and the ugly.

HB 7069: What works

  • Makes VAM scores optional in a teacher evaluation.
  • Provides up to $800* for “effective” teachers.
  • Provides up to $1,200* for “highly effective” teachers.

* Keep in mind these bonus numbers nearly always come in lower than the projected maximum amounts.

HB 7069: What doesn’t work

  • Maintains the Best and Brightest program based on your college entrance exam not your effectiveness in the classroom based on your evaluation.
  • Includes principals in the Best and Brightest program.
  • Allows charter schools to become a Local Education Authority, which can then receive Title I funds from the federal government.
  • Charter schools now will get a higher percentage of building fund dollars from our districts.

HB 7069: What’s terrible

  • Creates a $140 million fund for out-of-state charters to take over our public schools that the state rates as “D” and “F” schools.
  • Shortens the turnaround time so schools aren’t given the resources nor time they need.
  • The State Board of Education is overstepping its authority to give our public schools to for-profit charter schools.

It is clear the attacks on public education and our members are getting louder and louder. What is equally clear is that we stand in their way and if they can weaken us they can then have carte blanche to totally privatize the education system in Florida, make corporations wealthy at the expense of our students and segregate our schools again creating a system of haves and have-nots.

Not on our watch. We have strength in our numbers – we counted 3,500 more members at the close of school in 2017 than the year before. The public is getting more and more angry with the Legislature about its overreach and attacks on our neighborhood schools. The public does not want their neighborhood schools turned over to for-profit companies and superintendents across this state are standing up and speaking with one voice that this legislation is wrong and they are not going to sit back and let them dismantle our schools.

For the first time in my career the superintendents and some school boards have decided to grow a spine and fight back. All I can say it is about dang time … and no matter what pushed them over the edge we have more allies and we have much momentum.

As with everything, it will take time. However, stay engaged, stay angry about the injustices and carry that to the ballot box in 2018. I believe those in power are convinced they must get everything now because the power base will shift with the 2018 election. I believe that too! So let’s shift the balance of power and then we can show them what real reform looks like!

Our students, our members, our public schools are depending on us … for every student, every school, every day. Welcome back!!