Charter Schools, Teacher Bonuses and Recess, What you need to know about HB 7069

Summary of HB 7069

by Kristin Whitaker

Charter Schools

HB 7069 is a nearly 300 page education bill with numerous provisions that will impact public and charter schools.  From Schools of Hope to recess and teacher bonuses, this bill covers a broad array of current education issues.

Charter Schools

One of the most controversial changes includes directing more state dollars to charter schools.  Currently, state law allows school districts to levy up to $1.50 for every $1,000 in taxable property value to raise money for capital outlay.  School districts will be required to give a proportionate share of that money to eligible charter schools operating in their county.  Their share will be determined by the number of students each school enrolls.

The law lets school districts deduct the portion of revenue from the tax that goes to debt payments before determining the quantity of money that must be shared with charter schools. The amount given to charters is expected to rise as school district’s debt level declines and the number of charter school student increases. Therefore, many Floridians disagree with the change because it would mean more public money going to charters, which are privately owned and operated.

“Schools of Hope”

The bill also sets aside $140 million that can be used to subsidize “Schools of Hope.”  The “Schools of Hope” program, which sets up new rules and a new pot of money to encourage charter schools to move into areas where the nearest traditional public schools have persistent low ratings. These schools will be allowed to open up either in the attendance zone or within five miles of a local traditional public school that has earned either an F or D grade from the state for three consecutive years. The “hope” schools would be operated by charter school operators certified by the state as having a record of serving students from low-income families and raising student performances above the county and state averages. The schools would also be eligible for state grants and loans to help them train teachers, transport students and acquire equipment and supplies.

 

Low Performing Public Schools

The bill also sets aside an extra $2,000 per student for up to 25 low-performing public schools across the state. The money is intended to help pay for extra services for students in schools with high concentrations of poverty and persistently low test scores.

Recess

Another provision pushed by a group of parents known as “recess moms,” says that guaranteeing elementary students unstructured play is better for their health and their ability to focus. Currently, teachers don’t have to give students any recess time, but HB 7069 would guarantee students 20 minutes of free play at most public schools. There’s a big loophole in the provision though: The requirement does not apply to charter schools, meaning they can continue to omit recess time.

Standardized Tests

The bill makes several tweaks to Florida’s standardized tests. The biggest one is to the state’s Algebra 2 end-of-course exam which is eliminated completely. Passing the Algebra 2 exam was not a requirement for graduation, but students were required to take it. Under the bill, students will still have to pass the Algebra 1 exam or an equivalent test to receive a diploma.

Another major change is that all testing would be pushed back to the last four weeks of school. Also, the FL Department of Education is required to hire an independent expert to study whether the state should let students use SAT or ACT scores instead of passing scores on the state’s standardized 10th grade Language Arts exam and Algebra 1 exam, which are currently required for high school graduation. The report is due by Jan. 1, 2018. That study could set the stage for state lawmakers to allow high school students to avoid taking and passing the two ‘must-pass’ exams if they can show mastery through their scores on the SAT or ACT college-entrance exams.

Increased Funding for Teacher Bonuses

Two years ago lawmakers created the “Best and Brightest” bonus program for public school teachers.  This program has been extremely controversial because teachers had to be rated “highly effective” by their school district and had to have scored in the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT college-entrance exams. Last year, 7,118 teachers qualified statewide, earning an extra bonus of $6,816 each.

This year, the requirements have been relaxed, and the bonus program has been vastly expanded, from $49 million to $233 million.The bill still determines teachers’ eligibility based on old college-exam scores, but it lowers the cutoff from 80th percentile to 77th percentile (with a lower cutoff for teacher who graduated from college with high grades) and expands the types of exam scores qualify, including tests taken to apply for law school, medical school or graduate school. Teachers who qualify would receive a $6,000 bonus.

The bill also creates a secondary bonus program for all teachers rated “highly effective” in the state and does take test scores into consideration.  “Highly effective” teachers will receive a $1,200 bonus. All teachers rated “effective” will receive a bonus of up to $800. Since that’s in addition to the “Best and Brightest” bonus, a teacher who gets both could receive an extra $7,200 next year.

 Principal Bonuses

Principals whose teacher workforce includes a high percentage of teachers eligible for the ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus would now be eligible for bonuses of up to $5,000. To receive the bonus, a principal must have spent at least two years leading the school, and the number of teachers at that school qualifying for the bonus must rank in the 80th percentile of schools statewide in that school category (elementary, middle or high). Principals who oversee schools with high levels of poverty would receive $5,000 bonuses. Principals at schools with lower levels of students in poverty would receive $4,000. Qualifying principals would also have more autonomy regarding spending and personnel decisions.

 

2017 Florida Legislative Session and Education

By: Kristin Whitaker

May 9, 2017

The 2017 Florida Legislative Session ended Monday evening and approved an overall budget of 83 Billion. SB 2500, which is the 2017-18 General Appropriations Bill, provides $23.7 billion in funding for PreK-12 education agencies with $14.7 billion of that coming from the state.  The Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reports that per-student spending would rise slightly to $7,221 which is an increase of only 0.34 percent, or about $24.49 per student.

The Senate originally wanted to increase K-12 spending by about $540 million more than the House proposed under the FEFP (Florida Education Finance Program). Gov. Rick Scott also called for similar large increases in spending. Scott’s and the senators’ plans depended on using additional property tax revenue, which came from rising property values in the state, but House leaders rejected that option saying it would be a tax increase.

During the last few days of session, HB 7069 which was originally the House version of the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus plan became a large and very controversial education policy with a price tag of $419 million. The 278-page bill with numerous policies affecting public education was released Friday, which gave lawmakers little time to review it before making a vote on Monday. The most notable parts of HB 7069 are the “Schools of Hope” charter school incentives, 20 minutes of mandatory daily recess, limiting testing in public schools, giving school districts more flexibility regarding VAM scores for teacher evaluations and the expansion of the “Best and Brightest” teacher and principal scholarship.

The “Schools of Hope”, which was a top priority of Speaker Corcoran, creates an incentive plan to encourage charter schools to open in low economic areas where traditional public schools are failing. There is $140 million allotted for this program, but traditional public schools would also be able to request up to $2,000 a student from the fund to help with programs like “wraparound services.”

The popular mandatory recess proposal by parents across the state, including the “recess moms” that unanimously passed the Senate over a month ago was never brought to the House floor. It was, however, added last minute to HB 7069. The recess proponents spoke out against combining it with other education policy in which they did not agree. They were also opposed to not including charter schools in the 20-minute requirement.

If the bill is signed into law, the Algebra II end of course exam would be eliminated, and a study will be conducted to see if college entrance exams could replace some state-mandated high school tests. Also, districts have the option to ignore the controversial state formula based on those tests when doing teacher evaluations.

The “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program will vastly expand under HB 7069. Every teacher rated “effective” on his or her evaluation will get $800. Those rated “highly effective” will earn $1,200. Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, teachers would once again be required to perform well on certain standardized tests.  But, more tests would be eligible and the score can now be slightly lower.  If a student graduates from college with honors, it will be even easier to earn a bonus of $6,000 a year.

Update on HB 5105

by: Kristin Whitaker

The Legislature is proposing a bill to address the failing K-12 public schools in Florida. HB 5105 has a 200 million spending plan to promote specialized charter schools, “schools of hope” in communities with public schools that are graded “D” or “F”, in hopes of giving parents an alternative to a failing public school.

This bill had more than three hours of heated floor debate on Thursday, with Democrats unanimously opposing it because they believe it would set up a segregated, unfair system that would disadvantage the failing public schools. A Democratic representative asked, “if we are returning to the days of over-funding charter schools and under funding public schools?” He called this legislation “another nail in the coffin of public education”.

While Republican supporters believe this is the way to help break the cycle of generational poverty in low-income communities with innovative techniques that have had success in areas such as Washington D.C. and New York. Other Republican Representatives accused these democratic critics of allowing failing schools to remain that way and this legislation would give the children in the failing schools a better opportunity at life.

The bill passed the House and is now headed to the Senate. Since the Senate does not have a companion bill, the Senate has the opportunity to consider the legislation. One Senator explained that the Senate likes the premise of helping students in perpetually failing schools, but senators will have their own ideas and unlike the House plan the Senate plan could involve more aid to traditional public schools.