Gov. Rick Scott Should Veto HB 7069: Terrible Education Policy that Can’t Stand the Light of Day

In this day and age, we have seen many political truisms upended but the past legislative session offers a clear example that one still holds.  When legislative leaders work behind closed doors in the final hours of session, outside the purview of the public and other legislators, bad things happen for the people of Florida.  Such is the case with HB 7069.

This legislation, cobbled together in secret in the final hours of the 2017 Legislative Session is a 278-page monstrosity that became a toxic soup of bad ideas, many of which could not have survived the full legislative process on their own.  Instead, they were thrown together, sweetened with a sprinkling of things the people want, and force fed to legislators in the form of a must pass budget bill with little discussion and no opportunity for meaningful amendments.

The architects of this massive mess of bad policy are using carefully prepared talking points to focus attention on some of the sweet sprinkles to encourage Floridians to swallow the bitter soup but parents, teachers and school leaders aren’t buying it and neither should Governor Scott. House leaders are calling the bill transformational and in that regard, we agree.

If signed into law, HB 7069 will transform our public education system into a disjointed collection of privatized programs taking over a woefully underfunded public good, perhaps the most important public good that government has the responsibility to provide. Here are some of the biggest misstatements being made and why they should be rejected.

“It is transformational and provides options for failing schools” – WRONG

  • The bill recognizes what we’ve been saying for years, that persistently low-performing schools need additional resources and special considerations for evaluating how students learn. But the provisions in HB 7069, give that assistance mostly to charter schools and the companies that run them.
  • HB 7069 also includes the entire so-called “Schools of Hope” bill – which gives away nearly $140 million in taxpayer funds to charter companies with little oversight or accountability that would set up parallel school systems and cherry-pick the students they want to attend.

“It is pro-student, pro-parent, pro-teacher” – WRONG AGAIN

  • HB 7069 fails to increase per pupil spending enough to keep up with inflation. Currently, Florida ranks 37th in the nation in per pupil spending and this budget will cause us to fall even farther behind. As a matter of fact, the overall budget goes one step further by DECREASING the overall student base allocation.
  • HB 7069 fails to give teachers the true salary increase that they deserve. Florida ranks 41st in the nation in teacher salaries. The “bonuses” offered in HB 7069 are a pitiful excuse for salary increases. They are not guaranteed, they fail to move Florida any closer to the national salary average and they do not count toward a teacher’s retirement.
  • HB 7069 amends the current best and brightest teacher bonus program and creates a new bonus for principals based on teacher evaluations.
  • HB 7069 includes annual contract language which denies local school districts the ability to negotiate policies that will retain highly effective and effective teachers for another school year.
  • Recess moms and the PTA worked tirelessly this session to reduce testing and ensure that children get 20 minutes of uninterrupted play. The bill only eliminated one end of course exam. It does mandate that traditional public schools provide 20 minutes a day for recess but exempts charter schools.

“It provides millions of dollars to the neediest students and schools” – AND AGAIN, WRONG!

  • Sadly, Title 1 schools, which use federal dollars for programs that serve high poverty students are the very schools and students that will be the hardest hit by the policies in HB 7069.
  • Although Title 1 is a federal program, the money flows through the state to districts. Districts use a portion of the money to fund district-wide program and then distribute the remaining money by school based on the number of students on free and reduced lunch.
  • HB 7069 limits the amount of federal money districts can use for district-wide programs to about eight percent. This will force schools districts to decide which schools to close and which programs to eliminate.  Some are considering eliminating full day pre-K and kindergarten, extended day and summer services, STEM programs, school-based family engagement, mentoring and tutoring.  Many are looking at the elimination of instructional positions and para professionals, including math coaches, behavior specialists, social workers and parent liaisons.
  • The bill further dilutes Title I money by allowing a charter school’s governing board, or a “School of Hope” to be designated as a Local Educational Agency giving them direct access to federal dollars regardless of district needs.
  • Overall, the bill benefits charter schools while harming many poor students and the public schools which serve them. Many of these schools could be forced to close or be turned over to charter management.
  • The bill gives $140 million to charter school operators to open “Schools of Hope” to compete with struggling schools. Districts would be forced to funnel more students and money to these charter schools which don’t have to hire certified teachers and will be even less regulated and monitored than they are currently.
  • The legislature is also forcing school districts to give away scarce funding for badly needed capital improvement projects by mandating that funds be split with charter companies. This means that 10% of Florida’s students will benefit from 50% of the money for school improvements.
  • Locally-elected school boards have almost no control over those charter schools so that money could end up spent on leases and improvements for privately-owned buildings. If a charter school closes, the building owner keeps the improvements and taxpayers get little or nothing back.    These schools do not have to comply with school building codes and many local zoning restrictions.

The Governor has stated many times that he supports “school choice,” but the shady policies in HB 7069 are not about “school choice,” they are about underfunding our public schools and creating the conditions necessary for school privateers to step in and make huge profits.

Furthermore, the way this bill was created and passed, does not pass the smell test for the transparency, fairness and due diligence that Florida’s families expect and deserve. He has an opportunity here to put aside bumper sticker politics and sloganeering, show real leadership and stand up for Florida’s families by issuing a veto of HB 7069, forcing the legislature to revisit these issues the right way.