FL Senate “Train bills” confuse & distract until it’s too late

DISTRACTION TRAIN 1

Once again, the Florida Senate is resorting to the deliberate distraction of shoving 30+ different ideas into “train bills” which lack transparency making the whole enterprise grossly unfair to the public.  Appropriations chair Sen. Tom Lee conceded to the Palm Beach Post, “It confuses the members. People don’t know what’s in the legislation. … I really don’t think that’s the healthiest way to pass public policy.”

That knowledge sure didn’t stop Mr. Lee or his colleagues from voting to pass SB 524, advancing it to the Senate floor.  Voters should really take note. Train bills offer an enormous smoke screen that often leave everyone without a clue until it’s too late. This sort of lazy, deceptive legislating has become a hallmark of Florida politics.  The confusion is exacerbated when bills are repeatedly altered by amendments hastily handwritten on scraps of paper.  Why aren’t they applying their uber-harsh public education micro-management skills to themselves?

Here’s how the two “trains” SB 524 and SB 1166 look now:

Train A: SB 524  Originally 15 pages about higher education funding, it’s now 59 thanks to a “strike-all” proposed committee substitute (PCS) filed by Sen. Gaetz which passed on a 15 to 3 vote. The bill now contains about 8 separate concepts altered by approximately 35 strike-alls or additions. Here are the major education “reform” bills that are now part of SB 524:

SB 978 Best and Brightest Teacher Bonus by Sen. Legg: $10K bonus favors newly hired teachers over veterans, based on high school SAT and ACT scores. The senate language requires teachers to score above the 60th percentile and after their first year of teaching be evaluated as “highly effective.” The Senate budget does not allocate funding for the program. Many teachers did not take either of these tests creating a clear bias. Note: HB 7043 by Rep. Fresen requires teachers to score above the 80th percentile to be eligible for the bonus. The House budget does allocate funding for the program.

SB 1064 Charter Capital Outlay Funding by Sen. Gaetz: this language does not include any requirement for school districts to share local capital outlay millage revenue (1.5 mills) with charter schools, but it does call for a study of the calculation of the statutory cost per student station, limit district spending on capital projects, and apply sanctions on school districts that exceed the cost per student station. This bill is very different from HB 873 Education Funding by Rep. Fresen which forces districts to share publicly raised capital outlay with for-profit charters. 

SB 434 Principal Autonomy Pilot Program by Sen. Gaetz: Participating districts voluntarily relinquish control of three “D” or “F” public schools to the state and the principal is given additional authority to hire teachers, determine budgets and operate under the oversight of the state-run pilot program for three years. District school boards, who have lost control of their three schools may be required to allocate additional funding. Specified personnel from each participating school and district to enroll in and complete a nationally recognized school turnaround program upon acceptance into the pilot program. Funding for the pilot program is contingent upon an appropriation in the General Appropriations Act. The Legislature may provide an appropriation to the DOE for the costs of the pilot program, including administrative costs, enrollment costs for the school turnaround program, and an additional scholarship for each participating principal for use at his or her school. At the end of the initial three year term the Board of Education may vote to extend the program indefinitely. Note: HB 287 Principal Autonomy Program by Rep. Diaz is not identical to SB 434 in areas such as funding ad program participation.

 SB 1714 Competency Based Education (CBE) Pilot Program by Sen. Brandes:  Imposes computerized Competency Based Education  or “personalized learning” without parental consent on entire school districts over a 5 year period at which time it becomes permanent, giving districts no path to disengage from CBE.  The program is housed in the Florida Department of Education and gives broad authority to the Commissioner of Education to waive rules. Authorizes Pinellas, Lake, Palm Beach and Seminole Counties to “apply” but fails to divulge that both Pinellas and Lake Counties are already funded by the Gates Foundation with at least $2.5M and $7.3M and have been participants since 2014. Some of this information is referenced senate staff analysis footnotes. This bill was lobbied by Jeb’s Foundations whose biggest donor is the Gates Foundation. There are serious concerns across the nation about the concept of Competency Based Education used in conjunction with computers. As children move at their own pace, learning from the computer and taking adaptive tests, two things happen. The vendor who owns the program is collecting continuous detailed personal student data without consent and the human teacher steps to the background to provide technical assistance. Teachers no longer devise tests, computers do. This makes the entire process high stakes, able to move students forward skipping an entire grade or bump them backward for poor performance. The Gates Foundation uses a synthesis study by VanLehn to sell the notion that that there is no difference between one-on-one tutoring from a human teacher and an intelligent computer. This is digital education with the goal of achieving an “economy of scale” by eventually removing the very expensive element of human teachers. Sadly, districts seem unaware of the well-documented intent of CBE and are embracing this pilot as a way to fund technology, which the state has failed to do.

 Train B – SB 1166 Education Funding by Sen.Gaetz passed unanimously (18-0) out of Senate Appropriations, headed for the Senate floor. As with SB 524, a strike-all amendment ballooned this three page bill to 85 pages filled with dozens of concepts and at least 80 strike-alls or additions.  Here are the major education “reform” bills that are now part of SB 1166:

SB 886 Universal Open Enrollment by Sen. Benacquisto. Erodes the constitutional authority of elected school boards over the state’s 67 contiguous school districts.  This bill allows students to enroll in any public school in the state that has capacity for up to six years, potentially displacing zoned students and exposing the bill’s true intent to disrupt district authority over enrollment, planning and budgeting. Transfer students and their parents will benefit from locally raised tax dollars meant to benefit local residents, upending how public education is ultimately overseen and funded. Since transportation is not provided, the advantage of open enrollment benefits students with financial means the most.

 SB 830 High Impact Charter Networks by Sen.Stargel – Revises provisions relating to charter schools, virtual education, Credit Acceleration Program (CAP), FEFP, educator professional development, & charter school capital outlay funding; creates High Impact Charter Network, repeals language specifying that a high-performing charter school may not increase enrollment or expand grade levels following any year in which the school receives a “C” or lower, expedites renewal of high performing charter schools. Amends capital outlay provisions and weakens the language to provide that a charter school just has to have an annual audit that does not reveal financial emergency conditions in the most recent audit rather than show financial stability. Adds CAP language for AP courses to reflect that students do not need to take a course, just simply pass the test. Net effect: Further expands charter growth by eroding caps and accelerating charter replication, including chains, regardless of need.

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