Florida Education budget falls short

June 18, 2015 by


The Florida House and Senate finally agreed on an Education budget early Tuesday, June 16th at 12:30 am. The budget is expected to pass this Friday, June 19th following the required 72 hour cooling off period.

Despite promises of an historic funding increase, lawmakers fell short of making public education their “paramount duty” as required in Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution.  Funding per student will increase by a mere 3% or $200 less than the record 2007 high point. Instead of investing in public schools, the legislature spent an additional $300 million on personal projects and another $400 million on tax exemptions.

It should also be noted that PECO funds were split evenly between for profit charters and public schools, with each receiving $50 million for capital outlay. For years charters have received most of the PECO dollars and districts got nothing, making it difficult to plan for growth. Sharing this year’s PECO is a ploy to justify reviving legislation in 2016 forcing districts to share voter-approved millage dollars with for-profit charter chains that can use the funds to purchase, develop and maintain properties the public may never own.

There are many details buried in the Final Conference Report. Among them is $44 million to provide $10,000 “Best and Brightest” scholarships to up to 4,400 “highly effective” teachers who scored at or above the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT.  It’s expected that many of the teachers who receive these scholarships will be from Teach for America. The House wanted $45 million for the program, while the Senate wanted only $5 million. This controversial, expensive program is based on the weak assumption that teachers who did well on either the SAT or ACT will automatically be better teachers.   It’s disappointing that once again, legislators have based another funding scheme on a single test when there’s no evidence that high SAT or ACT scores are related to great teaching. It’s equally concerning that Florida teachers applying for the scholarship will be sharing their SAT and ACT test scores, providing a trove of new personal data that the state can use to further disaggregate and sort the profession.

At least $750 million dollars were set aside for just these projects and exemptions. That figure divided by 2.74 million public school students would have meant an additional $274 per student, proving that Florida has the money, but political leaders refuse to invest in public education.  What is behind their effort to keep Florida from climbing out of the nation’s lowest quintile in per pupil funding?


Breakdown: 2015 Florida Budget Information

Source: Key education related bills and documents to be decided Friday, 6.19.15:
SB 2500A – General Appropriations Act

SB 2502A – Implementing General Appropriations Act

SB 2512A – FRS Rate Bill Summary

Florida Education Finance Program – Final Conference Report


Budget Summary – Statewide

Public Schools / FEFP

  • 30,057 (1.10%) increase in Unweighted FTE (Students)
  • $95.6 million (6.3%) increase in the School Taxable Value (Tax Roll)
    • $781.3 million (4.13%) increase to the FEFP Statewide
    • $287.8 million(2.7%) in new state funds
  • $493.5 million (5.98%) in local funds
    • $425.7 million (5.93%) in Required Local Effort
    • $67.7 million (6.29%) in .748 Discretionary Local Effort
  • $512.1 million (4.27%) in base FEFP


Per Student Funding

  • $207.05 (3%) average increase in funds per student
  • Average funds per student is $7,097.49
    • $80 per student below the Governor’s proposed budget
    • $194.18 per student below 2007 FEFP Final Conference Report of $7,291.67 (highest per student funding in state history)

Capital Outlay

  • $50 million in PECO maintenance funding for Public Schools
  • $50 million in PECO maintenance funding for Charter Schools


  • $27.8 million(.92%) increase in Class Size Reduction
  • $20 million (50%) increase in Digital Classrooms Allocation
  • $6.8 million (1.06%) increase Supplemental Academic Instruction (SAI)
  • $8.4 million (.88%) increase in ESE Guarantee
  • $4.6 million (1.10%) increase in Transportation
  • $4.4 million (9.27%) increase in Sparsity Supplement
  • $2.4 million (1.10%) increase in Instructional Materials
  • $0 additional in Safe Schools
  • $0 additional Reading Instruction Allocation

Public Schools / Non-FEFP

  • Educator Professional Liability Insurance – $1.2 million
  • Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts – $55 million
  • Standard Student Attire Incentive Fund – $10 million
  • Digital Classrooms Assessments – $500,000
  • Teach for America – $1.5 million
  • Administrator Professional Development – $7 million
  • Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative – $400,000

Budget Summary District example: Orange County Public Schools

  • 5,324 (2.80%) increase in Unweighted FTE (Students)
  • $76 million (5.84%) increase in K12 Total Funds
  • $202.50 (2.96%) increase in funds per student
  • $7,050.82 average funds per student
  • $46.14 below the statewide average
  • $240.40  below 2007 FEFP Final Conference Report (highest per student funding in state history)
  • Categoricals with no increase in funding
    • Safe Schools  – $0
    • Reading Instruction Allocation  – $0



Please help support our work

Florida: Orange announces plan to hold students harmless from EOC stakes

May 19, 2015 by


Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins reacted to yesterday’s decision by the Florida Department of Education to suspend the consequences of Algebra I, II and Geometry, by holding all students harmless from the numerous “common finals” (district developed end of course exams) mandated by the state to determine teacher effectiveness.  Orange County is the 10th largest school district in the nation.  Jenkins’ announcement is a dramatic example of how a school district can use common sense to protect students.

Florida’s 2014-15 testing season has been fraught with problems. The new Florida Standards Assessment has not been proven to be valid or reliable; students have lost weeks of valuable instruction time due to multiple new standardized tests, new online testing has failed repeatedly with students unable to log on or losing their work mid-test. Through it all, the Florida legislature has been sluggish about holding teachers and students harmless during what amounts to a testing experiment.

Prior to today’s announcement, district “common finals” represented 20% of a student’s annual grade. The percentage, determined by districts, could range from zero to 30%.  Orange County students still must take the exams but now they will be held harmless from any high stakes consequences.  The exception to this plan are the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards Assessments (Algebra I retake, Geometry retake, Biology, US History, and Civics), will still be used as 30% of the course grade as required by State law.

The one significant education bill to pass the Florida legislature before its health care meltdown and early departure was SB 7069, which contains some important flexibility for teachers and schools, but does not go far enough.  Districts across Florida are calling for Governor Scott to issue an executive order to suspend the consequences of Florida’s troubled testing season.  This announcement from Orange County Public Schools provides welcome relief to those who stand to be harmed the most from high stakes tests – public school children.

From Superintendent Jenkins:

Common Final Assessments

All students taking common final exams in applicable courses will receive the exam as 20% of the course grade for initial calculation. We will then ONLY consider the calculation if it IMPROVES the student’s grade. In any case where the exam lowers the student’s grade, the final common exam calculation will be removed.  In essence, during this baseline year, OCPS will do no harm to any student’s grades based on Common Final Assessments (locally created EOCs).

Elementary School EOCs

As previously announced, elementary schools are NOT considering EOCs in calculation of student grades.  More importantly, third grade promotion considerations will NOT include FSA outcomes which have not been validated.  Instead, principals, parents and teachers will look at various data regarding student performance to consider any need for retention

Students Taking Florida Standards Assessments in Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II

For the 2014-2015 school year only, because of the unavailability of independently validated statewide assessment results in Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry, the statutory requirements to include these results in the final course grade are inoperative. As a result, schools should calculate final course grades and make promotion decisions without regard to the 30 percent requirement that typically applies. The absence of EOC results alone in these courses will not result in a grade of incomplete. A student’s final grade in these courses will be calculated from 50% of the Semester 1 grade and 50% of the Semester 2 grade. OCPS will NOT recalculate grades this year should the state eventually validate these EOCs.

Students Taking Next Generation Sunshine State Standards Assessments (Algebra I retake, Geometry retake, Biology, US History, Civics)

The results of assessments aligned to the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards Assessments are still required by statute to be used as 30% of the course grade in applicable courses.


Florida Organization of Instructional Leaders (FOIL) presentation with updated information at http://www.fldoe.org/schools/k-12-public-schools/foil.stml.

Memo from Florida Department of Education:




Join us. Stay informed.





2015 FL Session: Marked by gridlock, greed & fierce squabbles

April 26, 2015 by


With just days left in the 2015 Florida legislative session, legislators are locked in a messy health care battle that has led to epic gridlock.  Progress has ground to a halt and bills are dying on the vine. Politicians, who were assigned education reform bills, are in a panic.  They know full well that these ideas are hostile to public education and there’s no time to artfully conceal them in other bills, so at least 30 concepts have been heavily amended onto education train bills SB 948 and HB 1145 and charter expansion bill SB 1550.  Stay tuned for further updates.


The House sent an offer to the Senate at the end of the week.  The Senate countered to extend through June 30th with the caveat that they will not return to work unless all parties – Governor Scott, the House and Senate and the Federal government – reach an agreement over healthcare.  Given the $4.2 billion difference between the two budget proposals and the Senate’s demand for agreement before they return to work, the budget remains in dire flux. The Florida Legislature is required by the state constitution to pass a budget each year.  Since the house and senate will likely not agree by May 1st, the official last day of the 2015 session, an extension or a special session is likely. The Governor can call a special session where lawmakers will be restricted to resolving the budget, in which case all unresolved bills will be considered dead.  If the legislature extends the session itself, then bills will remain in play in addition to passing a budget.

Choice, charters, mandatory uniforms, student athletes as free agents:

HB 1145- Rep Sprowls 3rd Reading, Passed the House

SB 948 – Sen Gaetz on 2nd Reading calendar

SB 1552 – Sen Benaqusito on 2nd Reading calendar:

These bills contain nearly 30 related concepts that were once individual bills. They don’t match one another as of now but must before they can be passed out of both houses and sent to Gov. Scott for his signature. As we’ve witnessed multiple times, concepts that appear dead have a remarkable way of reappearing in the 11th hour, so it is of little comfort that certain items are missing or included in any of these bills. Here are some of the most concerning issues:

High School Sports: Destroys Florida High School Athletes Association by turning student athletes into free agents, prevents school districts from having their own policies, allows transfers without regulations, creates unfair advantages for a few schools, encourages athlete recruitment by neglecting to provide for transportation. This concept has been cross-pollinated into SB 1480/HB 7137 as well as HB 948.

Open Enrollment: Allowing students to “open enroll” across district lines to any school who is currently under capacity.  Students who transfer are allowed to stay for the next six years, potentially displacing students who actually live in the district. Disrupts district need to plan and build schools based on anticipated growth. HB 945 does include a minor improvement that delays the implementation of this effort. However, this is not the case in the other bills.

Capital outlay to Charters: Requires districts to share voter-approved millage increases with charter chains in order to pay for and improve buildings the public may never own.  NOTE: This is a controversial idea that comes up almost every session.  Given that Florida is at budget impasse and this idea comes with a large fiscal impact, there may be little desire to pass this. Note: At this time HB 1145 does not include any reference to requiring school districts to provide discretionary capital outlay millage revenue to charter schools, however this idea could resurface will little notice as part of a conforming bill.

Principal Autonomy Pilot (originally HB 357/Diaz): Expects districts to voluntarily relinquish control of a public school to a principal who can hire teachers, determine budgets and operate under the oversight of a state-run pilot program for three years. This is an effort to peel schools away from districts, allow charter-like flexibility and encourage competition. As of yet, the program is not fully determined and future rules governing it will be set by the Florida Board of Education at a later date, representing multiple unknowns.

Join us. Sign up here to stay informed

2015 Florida Legislative mid-session recap

April 17, 2015 by



2015 Florida Legislative mid-session recap


Fund Education Now: 2015 Florida Legislative mid-session recap

Activity in Tallahassee has slowed considerably.  Many education bills are stalled as the fight over the budget and the impasse over Medicaid expansion grows ever more divisive. Unfortunately, this disagreement may end up having a negative effect on public school funding. The education bills aren’t going away, but they’re taking a back seat since the one thing the legislature must do is pass the budget.  There is talk of a special budget session, so it’s likely that these bills will move at a moment’s notice.

Following is a list of the most concerning issues:

Both the House and Senate have released initial proposals which differ by more than $4.2 billion dollars centered largely on differences regarding healthcare. Both increase K-12 funding by about 4% or $750 million. The Senate provides an increase of $152 in the Base Student Allocation, which is more than the proposed House budget. While the House provides for digital funding, the Senate does not.

In addition, to the dispute over accepting Federal funding for the Low Income Pool (LIP), other factors that could threaten education funding are $ 690 million in proposed tax cuts and an underestimated enrollment of an additional 10,000 students in Florida public schools. Although Florida has a reserve surplus of $5 billion dollars, the legislature has a history of cutting education funds and passing costs onto districts instead of dipping into reserves to fund schools.

Charter Expansion/Open Enrollment/Transfers millage dollars to charters 
HB 7037/SB 1552/SB 1448/HB 1145  School Choice/Charter Expansion
The massive HB 7037 passed out of the House. It’s been sitting in Senate messages and there’s talk of pulling it back to the house to add amendments.  It builds on the efforts of previous sessions to accelerate the expansion of charters, regardless of need through funding a pseudo-marketing/oversight arm, at Florida State University called the Florida Charter School Innovation Institute.  Erodes the power of local school boards by allowing “open enrollment” across district lines, allows students to transfer to another classroom based on concerns about the teacher, creates a “charter school district” giving principals increased autonomy from local district rule, allows unrestricted replication of high performing charters in high-need areas.  Removes eligibility requirements for enrollment in public K-12 virtual education and allows more charter school systems to act as a Local Education Agency for purposes of administering Federal funding.

In addition, this bill requires districts to give charter school developers a portion of the money raised through millage levies to fund district capital school improvements and new construction.  Charters received $100 M and $50M over the past two years via PECO. The issue is two-fold: PECO dollars must be allocated each year to charters by the legislature and so far this has not happened in 2015. Second, Voter-approved millage increases are the sole source of capital funding for district schools. HB 7037 states that charter chains must be given a percentage of local tax dollars to pay for & improve buildings the public may never own.

This vastly increases the money sent to Charter chains to purchase real estate and develop schools. It represents approximately $137 million dollars. If the legislature does not designate PECO to charters this year or in future years, districts will have to pay millions of dollars that they cannot possibly afford in locally raised tax dollars to support unfettered charter school growth.

Digital Learning
SB 1264 – Digital Classrooms by Legg is scheduled for its last committee stop on 4.21.15.  This bill is significant because the technology was not addressed in the testing bill/HB 7069.   This bill establishes requirements for digital classroom technology infrastructure planning by the Agency for State Technology or a contracted organization; requires the Office of Technology and Information Services of the Department of Education to consult with the Agency for State Technology in developing the 5-year strategic plan for Florida digital classrooms; specifies conditions for a school district to maintain eligibility for Florida digital classrooms allocation funds.

Allocates $10 million to be spent by the Agency for State Technology (AST) on a vendor of their choice. Look for amendments to this bill to address the technology funding deleted from the testing bill.

HB 7069 was signed into law by Gov. Scott this week.  The bill address some issues raised by districts, teachers and parents, which is good. The fact remains that the law does not go far enough. Most of Florida’s standardized tests and the rules used to punish students, teachers and schools remain intact. That said, public education advocates have made an impact regarding Florida standardized testing and HB 7060 reflects that. Read a full description of what this bill does and does not do here.


Join us. Sign up here to stay informed

April 17, 2015 by


HB 7069:  Important Points about Florida’s newest testing law

Florida’s testing bill, HB 7069, was signed into law by Gov. Scott during week 7 of the 2015 session.


The law address some issues raised by districts, teachers and parents, which is good. The fact remains that the law does not go far enough. Most of Florida’s standardized tests and the rules used to punish students, teachers and schools remain intact. That said, public education advocates have made an impact regarding Florida standardized testing and HB 7069 reflects that.


What HB 7069 did not change: 

  • Florida statewide high stakes tests will still be administered in grades three through 10.
  • Test scores still will be used for calculating school grades.
  • Teacher evaluations will be based in part on test scores
  • Third graders are still subject to mandatory retention based on test scores
  • High school students will be denied diplomas based on scores from 10th grade state reading tests and the end-of-course Algebra 1 exam
  • Timing of the test still disrupts learning and the results are not available early enough to inform teachers and parents


What HB 7069 alters:

  • Results of diagnostic tests, not standardized tests will be returned to schools and parents within 30 days.
  • Results of standardized tests due by the end of the school year
  • Caps total testing time for state and locally required tests to 45 hours or 5% of the school year
  • Reduces testing by eliminating requirement for district-wide exams for non-state assessed courses/subjects
  • Frees districts from the requirement to perform progress monitoring/additional testing
  • Affirms Gov. Scott’s executive order to eliminate the 11th grade FSA for English/Language Arts
  • Eliminates requirement for certain 11th grade students to take the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT)
  • Allows districts the flexibility to decide how best to remediate middle and high school students. In addition to remedial classes, districts can now choose options such as tutoring and summer classes.
  • Requires independent verification of the psychometric validity of results before they are used to evaluate teachers or publish school grades.
  • Teacher evaluations: Reduces impact of standardized test scores from 50% to 33%
  • The 2014 FCAT test results will be linked to the 2015 FSA until its validity is established. This will ensure that the same number of 1s will occur regardless of student performance on the new test. The same process is in place for 10th grade ELA FSA and the Algebra 1 EOC. Six good cause exemptions remain for third grade and ACT, SAT and PERT concordant scores remain for high school.


HB 7069 leaves technology concerns out:

The final version of the bill curiously passed without addressing technology or the critical infrastructure Florida needs to successfully administer computer –based assessments. Concerns such as minimizing loss of instruction time or displacing students from computer classes during the testing window were left unaddressed.



Sign up to stay informed at: http://fundeducationnow.org/contact/

Fund Education Now Report Card: Accountability for Legislators

August 11, 2014 by

2014 Report Card

Veto SB 850

June 4, 2014 by


Tweet @ Your Legislators!

April 11, 2014 by

Have a message for Tallahassee politicians? If you can squeeze it into 140 characters or less- you can tag them in a tweet. Here is the list of all twitter handles for the Florida House and the Florida Senate. Not everyone has a Twitter account so feel free to send them an email instead.

2014 Florida Senate Twitter Handles

2014 House Twitter Handles

Tweeting is easy so if you don’t have an account, set up one here.


April 9, 2014 by

Growth of CTC -Chart NR 3

End school grades, a rigged plan backed by a failed leader

August 6, 2013 by

Shared from the Orlando Sentinel 

By Kathleen Oropeza, Guest columnist

August 2, 2013

Florida’s school grades are not statistically valid. They’re not true. They are not measuring what is “real.”

This disturbing admission from the Florida Board of Education last week is made more scandalous by the resignation of Florida Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett. Now, districts must deal with his “safety net,” which spares 155 schools from being deemed an F and leaves 107 on the chopping block, facing sanctions and potential closure.

Bennett, handpicked by Gov. Rick Scott, came to Florida fresh from being fired by Indiana voters. He was caught red-handed manipulating the Indiana A-F school grades in official emails to favor a major political donor and for-profit charter-school developer.

Scott, aided by former Gov. Jeb Bush, made disgraceful choices in appointing Bennett and his predecessor Gerard Robinson. Both men manipulated data for political convenience and resigned, unable to defend the indefensible.

For 15 years, Florida politicians have held up our A-F school-grading system as the education-reform gold standard for the nation. A whole expensive, unpiloted system was built on viewing our neighborhood schools, filled with our sweet children, as A’s or F’s.

School grades are the single high-stakes arbiter of property values, teacher pay, school funding and quality. Dozens of states have been lobbied heavily to adopt Florida’s A-F school-grading system as the foundation of their reform agenda. Now this same system has been exposed as invalid. Worse, it’s deliberately rigged by the reformers themselves to permanently keep certain teachers, children and schools from ever rising above an F.

As parents, we teach our children empathy for others and the importance of fair play. How do we tell our children that although their grades are improving, their school is an F? How do we explain that a school grade is not true, but arbitrary?

It was deeply disappointing to hear Board of Education members insist that it would be better to let 25 F schools balloon to 262 F schools because those students need the “truth.” Where’s the truth in a statistically invalid system? Will there ever be any truth when we need task forces and emergency meetings to flip the facts? Our children deserve so much better than this.

Our governor-appointed Board of Education routinely uses its considerable power to shape outcomes. Who can forget the FCAT Writes disaster a year ago, where student scores went from 1’s to 5’s in one phone call?

Then there was the No Child Left Behind waiver crisis last summer that threatened to throw hundreds of schools into F status because of Florida’s choice to record English language learners and exceptional-student education test scores in a punitive way. The solution to that self-induced drama was another “safety net.”

Sadly, teachers and school leaders have warned politicians, the Board of Education and profit-driven policy influencers for years that Florida’s A-F accountability system is a house of cards. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, politicians stick to the script, rigidly intent on hawking Florida’s “good news.” Such blind faith exposes the lie. Florida’s A-F school-grading system cannot be a model of success on one hand while seeking to rapidly grow the number of F schools on the other.

Education reform is a political tool. Using data manipulation, Florida politicians and their appointed boards can create one crisis after another, doom children, deceive parents, destroy teachers and pass radical laws that give for-profit charter developers and others unfettered access to our public tax dollars.

Manufactured crisis is exhausting. Bennett’s solution to reduce the number of schools hurt by failed metrics is a short-term fix for a deep problem. Florida’s A-F school-grading system has lost credibility and needs to go.

Florida must return to an elected commissioner of education who answers directly to us. The people of Indiana used their votes and got it right. The last thing Florida public education needs is an appointed reform puppet.

Our children deserve a leader who believes in them and will fight for them, and who views the job through the powerful lens of love. It’s time for the state to stop wasting our money tweaking a fiasco and start showing some empathy for the real human beings who are the heart and soul of our schools.

Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of FundEducationNow.org, a nonpartisan Florida-based education advocacy group.


Copyright © 2013, Orlando Sentinel


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.