Give $5 – help Southern Legal Counsel defray education lawsuit expenses


Fed up with Florida’s test-obsessed public education “reform” agenda?

Here’s something you can do – support the Citizens for Strong Schools vs. The State of Florida lawsuit. Every $5 makes a difference. The importance of this suit which was filed in 2009 and resulted in a trial that concluded April 8, 2016, cannot be overstated. Judge George Reynolds will deliver his verdict by the end of June.

Citizens for Strong Schools charges the state with failing to fulfill its Constitutional “paramount duty” to provide a free, high quality public education to all children living in Florida (Article IX, section 1).

Legal services provided by Southern Legal Counsel (SLP) are 100% pro bono and come with heavy expenses. SLP lawyers who have spent seven passionate years fighting for Florida’s children simply don’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars Florida is paying an exclusive Georgia firm for their defense.

It’s up to us to do our part. Alachua teacher Kim Cook, a fierce trial witness, recently donated a portion of her school recognition money to the Southern Legal Counsel. Orange County teacher Josh Katz is giving his entire “Best and Brightest” bonus to candidates and efforts that will “fix education and stop stupid policies,” with a portion going to Southern Legal Counsel.

Please consider contributing what you can to offset legal expenses for a case that some call The Battle for the Soul of Public Education.

As parents, teachers, students, stakeholders and taxpayers, we have repeatedly expressed outrage over the agenda to defund and privatize our public schools.

All the while, the talented team at Southern Legal Counsel has labored for years to win real change for Florida’s public schools.

They need our help now. Please donate what you can for incurred expenses and the appeals that lie ahead. It’s that important.






Extensive New Guide thrusts Jeb & reform cronies deep into twisted web of power, profit, media & neo-advocacy



Every public education advocate understands that school “reform” is code for corporate privatization. Cursory research reveals the same constellation of names: Jeb Bush, Gates, Walton, DeVos, Bradley, Koch, Friedman, the list goes on. These names intersect with think tanks, corporations, media outlets, advocacy front groups and politicians. Central to this web is biased, punitive social engineering and the criminal expectation that the $800 billion tax dollars spent annually by states across the nation is an entitlement meant to be hollowed out and consumed by a greedy “reform” industry.

Taking our public schools back and reversing privatization is an overwhelming task, considering that most of the folks in this fight are unfunded parents, students and teachers driven by the moral code of love. Thankfully, Media Matters has published A Guide To The Funders Behind A Tangled Network Of Advocacy, Research, Media, And Profiteering That’s Taking Over Public Education 

This tremendous body of work clarifies why states rush to pass the same test and punish “reforms” that hurt children and harm public schools. It reveals how “reforms”gain legitimacy when cable pundits are paid to endlessly slam”failure factories” while ignoring poverty and and relentless opportunity hording by the elites. It connects the dots between an “education reform” club and its obsession with power and greed. For Florida advocates, it’s no shock that Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education plays a starring role.

Celebrate this resource and study its content as we Davids continue to push back against the overwhelming, unfair Goliath called “education reform.”

From Media Matters:

Education policy has long been recognized as a contentious, complicated political third rail that transcends a typically partisan divide, but this complexity hasn’t kept staunchly conservative funders from bankrolling education reform efforts that line up with business interests. With the rise of privately operated public charter schools, digital learning models, and voucher and scholarship tax credit programs in recent decades, the education debate has grown even more complex, and schools and students are increasingly regarded as an untapped market.

Media should know that the education reform movement advocating for these policies often relies on the backing of corporate and right-wing funding. These conservative-backed policies aim to weaken labor unions by attacking teachers’ job protections and to push state-level education legislation that makes way for greater private profiteering — while leaving traditional public schools further behind.

Below, we outline the many overlapping connections in this echo chamber of advocacy groups, think tanks, and media outlets that are increasingly funded by a handful of conservative billionaires and for-profit education companies — often without proper disclosure. These groups are driving the education privatization movement forward by co-opting the education reform mantle.

Table Of Contents






Click to see the entire report. 



School choice bill not about choice at all


by: Beth Kassab|Orlando Sentinel|April 20, 2016

School choice is already well established in Florida.

Students who attend failing or very low performing schools can switch to a better school and even receive a stipend to help out with transportation expenses. Those “Opportunity Scholarships” have been around since 1999.

Students with disabilities can transfer to public schools outside their zones or select a private school. Last year 30,000 students with special needs used a McKay Scholarship to leave their public school.

Many school districts offer magnet programs in health care or performing arts and other special curriculum that allow students to attend outside their zone when a parent decides it’s the best choice.

So what gives with the sweeping education bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott last week that promises school choice?

It’s not about choice at all.

It’s about undermining the authority of local school districts.

And this is part of a disturbing trend.

School boards have watched lawmakers send down orders from Tallahassee in recent years on everything from how school dollars can be spent to new testing mandates.

Now the Legislature and Scott want school districts to drop their borders and accept students from other counties, too.

Never mind that school districts function best when they are elected by and accountable to the people they serve.

Never mind that voters in some counties, including Orange and Seminole, have decided to tax themselves to improve their schools — money that would get stretched farther with an influx of out-of-county students who wouldn’t bring any new local money with them.

And never mind that this new law has the potential to upend high school athletics by destroying the system of neighborhood schools and making every child a free agent available to play anywhere.

All courtesy of your state legislature.

These are the same people who decided to give teachers bonuses based on, in some cases, decades-old test scores from when the teacher was in high school.

Logic, or the lack of it, is no obstacle in the 850.

So now school districts, which already have the complicated task of educating students, are saddled with figuring out how to execute this latest bright idea.

“Our biggest concern is we don’t want to overcrowd a school for students who are actually zoned for that school,” said Scott Howat, senior executive director for legislative and governmental relations at Orange schools. “Those people who live in the community, they deserve a seat.”

The law allows districts to turn down out-of-area students when a school is at capacity. But there are different ways to figure out capacity and also to project how many students are expected in a school zone based on how many homes and apartments are in the pipeline to be built.

School districts can’t do their jobs if they can’t plan for the future.

Representatives from local districts are planning to get together in May and begin to try to answer some of those questions.

Here’s a question for lawmakers: Whatever happened to supporting our neighborhood schools?

No doubt, school choice is an important tool for parents and local school boards.

Magnet programs or transfers in the case of a poorly-performing school help districts cater to students in a more personal way.

But requiring districts to accept outside students has the potential to create a free-for-all.

And it’s just the latest example of state legislatures trying to override the power of local governments.

Here in Florida we saw it with gun laws in 2011. Lawmakers said any cities or counties that enforce their own form of gun control (think local ordinances about backyard gun ranges or “no weapon” signs at parks) would be subject to fines.

Recently in North Carolina, the Legislature there called a special session to undo protections for gay or transgender people passed by the city of Charlotte.

The subject of out-of-county school transfers may not generate the same excitement from cable TV pundits as a law against people who would like to use a public restroom based on their gender identity. Or usurping the rights of cities to say who can pack heat and where.

But it’s every bit an assault by the state on local governments to decide what’s best for their own communities.

Read full article here.

‘School choice’ becomes Florida law; Scott also signs 19 other bills

The People vs. The State of Florida


by Scott Maxwell|Orlando Sentinel|4.10.16

For the past few weeks, in a small courtroom up in Tallahassee, Florida has been on trial.

Yeah, the entire state.

It stands accused of denying children of a proper education.

The plaintiffs are parents — some from here in Orlando — who say they’re sick of underpaid teachers, punitive testing and politicians who divert public school money to for-profit companies.

The parents tried writing letters to legislators. And making phone calls. But none of it made a difference.

So they sued, arguing that Florida isn’t living up to a line in the Constitution that promises a “high quality” education for all.

Suing the state for such a broad principle may sound strange. But it’s increasingly common.

Just last week, Florida finally settled another case where the state was accused of denying children proper health care.

It took parents and pediatricians in that case 11 years. But they won.

Before that, the state lost another big legal fight over your right to fair elections. That one took five years. But legislators were ultimately ordered to redraw districts they had secretly schemed to gerrymander.

Welcome to the Sunshine State — where citizens who want good government have to sue for it.

It’s encouraging that the citizens succeed. But let’s be honest: This is a whacked-out way to run a Republic.

If the only way you can get your legislators’ attention is to hand them a subpoena, you’ve got a problem.

And keep in mind: These aren’t frivolous lawsuits. We know, because the citizens keep winning.

In the health care case, pediatricians, dentists and parents argued that the state’s Medicaid funding was so low that qualified, impoverished children couldn’t find doctors to treat them. So they sued for access.

The lawsuit took more than a decade — with the state fighting every step of the way. But a judge ruled that kids were indeed being shortchanged and ordered the state to make things right.

Dr. Edward Zissman, a pediatrician from Altamonte Springs who was involved in the litigation, said his group never wanted to sue. But attempts to meet and talk with legislators were fruitless.

“Finally, it was a legislator who actually told us: The only way you’re going to get anything is to sue us,” Zissman said. “So we did. But we’d been working for 20 years before we filed suit.”

It was similar with Fair Districts. For decades, citizens begged legislators from both parties to quit playing political games when drawing district lines. But the politicians couldn’t help themselves. They were gerrymandering junkies.

So citizens passed the Fair Districts amendment and then sued the legislators to force them to follow the rules. The whole process took about a decade. Yet the citizens, led by the League of Women Voters, finally won. The districts were redrawn to look more sensible — like squares and rectangles instead of frayed mops and multi-headed hydras.

Of course, taxpayers lost as well — more than $8 million in public money that legislators spent trying to defend their unconstitional actions.

Taxpayers were again paying lawyers to fill a courtroom last week in Tallahassee, where frustrated parents were demanding better schools.

Kathleen Oropeza is one of the parents. Eight years ago, she and fellow Orlando moms learned about cuts to Orange County schools — “to libraries, electives, school-resource officers, you name it” — and started asking questions.

They learned that Florida has one of the worst-funded school systems in America. And they became convinced that legislators, at the behest of for-profit test-makers and private-school operators, were trying to drive students away.

In hindsight, Oropeza called herself “naive for thinking they had the kids’ best interests at heart.”

So she teamed up with other education advocates to sue the state, arguing that Florida is violating its Constitutional obligation to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”

I’m not sure whether these parents and advocates will prevail. While many of us agree Florida should do better by students, the definition of “high quality” is nebulous. (The judge, though, does seem to think the parents have raised some legitimate questions.)

Regardless, I salute these folks for trying.

They refused to take no for an answer. Rather than simply griping on Facebook or mumbling to themselves, they conducted research, got organized and demanded action.

Increasingly, that looks like the only way to get results in this state.

Read full article here.

Florida’s miserly 1% increase to Public ED explains F grade in new report


Governor Scott recently signed Florida’s 2016 Budget granting public schools a miserly 1% increase. What Scott and legislators called an “historic” level fell chronically short, echoing the  “F” in funding Florida earned in a newly released national study.

Let’s recap: The current per pupil funding amount of $7,178 is $74 more than the final 2007/08 calculation of $7,142.79.  That’s less than $8 per year for the past nine years. None of this accounts for hundreds of thousands of additional students since 2007. A review of spending on a range of education related items since 2007 reveals a miserly, even stingy funding for ESE, which has gone from over $1 billion in 2007 to $900 million today.  Transportation was $480 million in 2007 and is $430 million today. The list of such examples is proof of Florida’s disrespect toward public education.

When Gov. Scott asks for $1 billion in corporate welfare through tax breaks, he is really asking Florida taxpayers to come up with that money. In the meantime, the fundamental values of the citizens of this state such as high-quality public education, health and safety are put on the back burner. Is it any wonder that Florida often earns Fs and ranks last when it comes to investing in its own people?

This latest study, Is School Funding Fair? America’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts from the Education Law Center/Rutgers, which examines 2008-2013, gave Florida an F and placed it near the bottom public education spending.

Education reporter Denise Amos Smith recently examined the study for The Times Union:

Florida ranked 42nd for education funding per student and 49th for the number of teachers per 100 students in public schools. The state also shows the second steepest decline in education funding, behind Hawaii, between 2008 to 2013, the years the study measured.

The national funding level per student averaged $9,766.80 while Florida’s was $7,033, after adjusting for regional differences and district sizes, said Danielle Farrie, Education Law Center’s research director.

“We don’t know what level of funding is required in Florida, but when you look at what Florida is spending relative to other states, there is a pretty big disparity,” she said.

Of course Cheryl Etters, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman hypocritically calls data from previous years “dated.” Ironic, since any other time FL DOE proudly trumpets longitudinal data as evidence. The study compares states in a variety of areas including funding fairness, class size, access to early childhood education, teacher/student ratios, teacher pay and poverty.

With all the emphasis placed by Florida politicians on diverting tax dollar to various separate and unequal school “choice” options, the Times Union notes this about private schools in Florida:

The study also examined household incomes for private school families and public school families and found that Florida has one of the biggest income gaps in the nation, despite several state programs such as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships and the McKay Scholarships that direct tax dollars, directly or indirectly, to private schools.

“If the point of those voucher programs is to expand options for low-income students, there’s still a pretty big gap, one of the biggest in the country,” Farrie said.

Read entire Times Union article here.

If you like what we  do, please help us 

continue to fund this work.

Florida Standards Assessments ‘never’ sole factor in promotion, state says


by: Jeffrey Solocheck, Tampa Bay Times|April 4, 2016

Parents of third graders across Florida have raised loud complaints lately that their school administrators and teachers have threatened their children with retention if they don’t pass the Florida Standards Assessment or an alternate test.

District officials say they’re sticking to state law, which says:

“To be promoted to grade 4, a student must score a Level 2 or higher on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment required under s. 1008.22 for grade 3. If a student’s reading deficiency is not remedied by the end of grade 3, as demonstrated by scoring Level 2 or higher on the statewide, standardized assessment required under s. 1008.22 for grade 3, the student must be retained.”

A Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, however, stressed that the test score alone “never” is used to determine a student’s promotion. Press secretary Alix Miller pointed to the same law, which sets forth several good cause exemptions for retention. She also noted that education commissioner Pam Stewart has made the point for nearly a year, as parents questioned the validity of the FSA in its first administration.

In a memo sent out in September, the department stated:

“In Florida, statewide standardized tests are never used as the sole determinant of promotion or graduation decisions. This is evidenced by the fact that when the department released the grade 3 bottom quintile list and grade 10 English Language Arts assessment and the Algebra I end-of-course assessment passing lists to superintendents in June, Commissioner Stewart emphasized that there are other performance measures that districts should consider when making these decisions and other avenues for student advancement.”

One of those measures is a portfolio, which, according to law, parents can ask teachers to begin preparing immediately after their third grader is identified as being at risk of retention. State rule says a portfolio must, among other things, “Be an organized collection of evidence of the student’s mastery of the Language Arts Florida Standards that are assessed by the Grade 3 statewide English Language Arts assessment. For each standard, there must be at least three (3) examples of mastery as demonstrated by a grade of seventy (70) percent or above on each example.”

The hang up, it appears, is that the law and rule seem to suggest a student must have a test score to qualify for the portfolio option. Asked whether that is the case, Miller reiterated, “Promotion decisions have always been made at the district level, and student performance on the statewide assessment is one factor that districts consider when determining whether a student is prepared for fourth grade.”

Read full article here.


If you like what we  do,  please help us continue to fund this work.