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How the Education Bill Scott Signed Thursday Will Hurt Flagler Schools, Favoring Charters

| June 15, 2017

Flagler schools Finance Director Tom Tant has been crunching numbers for the district for 24 years. He's seeing a constant erosion of traditional public education dollars that now disproportionately hurts the district and favors charter schools. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler schools Finance Director Tom Tant has been crunching numbers for the district for 24 years. He’s seeing a constant erosion of traditional public education dollars that now disproportionately hurts the district and favors charter schools.
(© FlaglerLive)

The education bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law this afternoon will hurt Flagler County schools’ finances, diminish elementary schools’ flexibility, reduce accountability for charter schools and pit traditional schools against charter schools, even though both are publicly funded, Flagler education officials said today.

“There’s things in this bill that I believe will be very, very detrimental,” Flagler School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker said. “Tuesday we’re going to go through it and begin to figure out where we can make things work and where things will hurt us.” The school board meets for an afternoon-long workshop on June 20.

“We’re just getting choked,” Tom Tant, the district’s long-time finance director, said, referring to the bill and broader funding implications this year.

Most significantly, the Flagler school district will now have to hand over $570,000 out of its capital funds to the district’s two charter schools, for them to spend on capital improvements or, if they wish, on teacher benefits or other matters unrelated to capital improvements.

The school district will get a total of $12.87 million in capital dollars this year, of which $4.4 million is committed to debt servicing, leaving the rest for capital improvements. The more than half million dollars it must now transfer to the charter schools represents almost 7 percent of the fund at a time when the district is strapped for capital dollars.

“We have a lot of projects that we have to use that for,” Tant said, “and right now, over the next five years, we’ve got about a $15 million problem with our capital outlay. We have more projects than we have money, and that’s before we started sharing with the charter schools.”

Capital dollars are used to improve and maintain buildings, repair or replace roofs, air conditioning systems and school buses. The school bus budget is about $700,000, if the district were to replace six school buses a year. It has been replacing closer to two or four. Tant said it should be replacing 10 a year, at a cost of $1.2 million. Indian Trails Middle School’s air conditioning system hasn’t been replaced since the school was built in 1994. Half a million dollars (just about the amount going to the charters) is devoted to replacing that system. (This year’s capital improvement dollar fund was to grow by about $600,000—essentially, the amount to be shifted to charters.)

There’s another problem with sending public money to charter schools: The charter schools are housed in privately owned, or leased, facilities: Imagine School at Town Center’s 10 acres and buildings, for example, are leased by a company called AEP Charter based on Portland, Oregon. If Imagine were to close, the money the school district is investing there will be lost. The district has no say how that money may be spent, nor any oversight.

“It’s just upsetting to me that we have to try and compete with an unfair playing field.”

Education leaders, including superintendents from across the state and Flagler County’s school board members, had urged Scott to veto House Bill 7069, an enormous, $419 million measure that would reshape public education financing, shifting millions of dollars to charter schools, reducing their accountability, and enabling them to directly compete with traditional public schools, but on more favorable terms.

Scott this afternoon signed it, and did so in an ironic, if not defiant, setting: at a private, Catholic school “with Christ as the ever present teacher,” as the school’s mission statement describes it.

Capital dollars’ transfers aside, the measure creates a funding program for so-called “schools of hope”—charter schools operating in the neighborhood of struggling traditional public schools. It expands a bonus-pay program for certain teachers, dubbed the “Best and Brightest.” It requires school districts to include 20 minutes a day of unrestricted play in elementary schools, but not in charter schools. It eliminates auditing oversight of Florida Virtual School, the online program. And it includes other provisions that address such things as school uniforms.

The measure was never debated in committee. It includes no fewer than 55 bills, many of which  had partially or fully failed in the committee process, and emerged in final form for the first time on May 5, three days before the end of the session. (See a line by line analysis of the measure below.)

Flagler County School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker is opposed to a massive education bill awaiting the governor's signature. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker and his board colleagues opposed this year’s education bill.
(© FlaglerLive)

“I do not believe it will be very favorable to our school district,” Tucker said in a brief interview between sessions at a Florida School Board Association conference, which he was attending with fellow school board members Andy Dance and Maria Barbosa. “Everyone seems not to be very happy with the bill but there’s been no session” devoted to the topic, Tucker said of the conference.

“Any time you have a train bill that gets through the legislative process there is good and bad,” board member Colleen Conklin said in an interview from California, where her son was competing in a national surfing competition. People familiar with the legislative process call “a train bill” what would more colloquially be called an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bill. “More than anything it was disappointing for school districts and public education as a whole because of the lack of transparency and debate,” Conklin continued. “It’s prob going to go down in history as one of the most expansive, charter-friendly pieces of legislation that’s been signed by a governor in the nation.”

Conklin noted that the bill does contain some “excellent pieces,” as with measures regarding testing and assessments. But the charter provisions rankle. “The biggest frustration is that taxpayer dollars will be benefiting private businesses,” she said.

The bill leaves districts with a lot of uncertainty, Tucker said. For example, the new mandate to provide 20 minutes of unrestricted play in elementary schools hasn’t been defined as having to be provided as a 20-minute block or as shorter increments through the day. A 20-minute block would not fit in the current elementary school schedule, Tucker said. In another example of the measure’s bias for charter schools, the requirement does not have to be implemented in charter schools (which also get dispensation from certain forms of testing and auditing).  

“The state is making it us versus charters,” Tucker said. But if both are public schools, he said, the state should set aside money for the charter schools as it does for traditional public schools, rather than require local districts to gut their budgets on behalf of charters. Alternately, the state could give back taxing authority to the districts, Tucker said. Neither of those approaches are a possibility for now.

Tant, the Flagler finance director, said legislation’s effect is even more far-reaching this year. On a per-student basis, Flagler County’s funding now ranks 65th out of 67 counties, even though proportionately, Flagler has the sixth highest property tax burden in the state, when it comes to the so-called “required local effort” that funds education. So the county is sending more money than it’s receiving, when compared to other counties.

School board member Colleen Conklin calls the bill the most far-reaching, charter friendly bill signed by any governor in the nation so far. (© FlaglerLive)

School board member Colleen Conklin calls the bill the most far-reaching, charter friendly bill signed by any governor in the nation so far. (© FlaglerLive)

True, the new education bill sets aside an additional $100 per student statewide. But the district expects to start the new year on Aug. 10 with about 120 additional students. That takes up about 60 percent of the increase (every 19 students require an additional teacher). Midyear financial adjustments have not favored Flagler, which has lost an average of $1.1 million a year in state funding in December.

And 10 years after the Great Recession, despite those increases, the district’s k-12 funding is still lower than it was in 2007: It was $91.2 million that year. It will be $90.2 million come August. The district in the past made up some of the difference by shortening the school day and finding other ways to cut the budget. This year’s state funding increase won’t be enough to cover the scheduled 2 percent pay increase set for the district’s 1,800 employees (a step increase required for those who add a year’s experience to their history). So to ensure that the increase is paid, the board will have to find 1.5 percent in cuts.

That’s the context of the competition with charter schools that school officials say is hurting traditional schools, especially in a district where there are no disparities between schools: all are ranked as A or B schools, the district itself is rated B, and all schools are schools of choice, giving parents the freedom to decide where to have their children attend.

“I’ve been here 24 years,” Tant said. “It’s just upsetting to me that we have to try and compete with an unfair playing field.”

House Bill 7069: A Line By Line Analysis By the Flagler School Administration

32 Responses for “How the Education Bill Scott Signed Thursday Will Hurt Flagler Schools, Favoring Charters”

  1. Cait Hutsell says:

    I almost threw up when I heard he signed it.

  2. Kim says:

    Elect Republicans you get a Republican agenda. Stop electing Republicans and get people who value education in office.

  3. Joseph Pulitzer says:

    Ditto Kim, Flagler county voted for him, you get what you pay for. Too bad for the kids.

  4. No surprise there. He’s trumps man.

  5. Ws says:

    In case you haven’t noticed, the traditional schools have not been working! Good for Trump. Good for Charter schools. Thank you Republicans and keep up the good work.

  6. Toni Soprano says:

    FL intentionally sets up its public schools for failure. More money in the politicians’ pockets.

  7. Nick says:

    Educated citizens are terrible for the Republican agenda. Sad that it is the children that will be hurt. Welcome to the idiocracy….

  8. Not sure I agree with this. Granted, I have to get through college, settle down and then I can worry about kids LOL

  9. M.B. says:

    I’m confused about why it is bad to send more money to charter schools? Shouldn’t the competition give all the schools reason to improve?

  10. Knightwatch says:

    And the relentless conservative assault on public education continues.

  11. Sherry says:

    Right On, Nick! There is certainly a long term agenda here to “dumb down” citizens so they can be more easily brain washed, manipulated and controlled. Unfortunately , it seems to be working quite well. . . just look who now lives in OUR White House!!!

  12. JustBNice says:

    Just lost my vote if Scott runs for Senate. I wonder how Adam Putnam would have voted. To give money to charter schools where teachers don’t have to be certified to teach doesn’t seem too smart!

  13. Ws says:

    The only dumb ones are the ones coming out of traditional public schools. The Charter Schools are the only success. Finally someone with a brain in the White House. Please keep giving more money to Charter Schools. You havw my vote and most anyone with a brain!

  14. Sherry says:

    Want to know the truth about how some charter schools in Florida seem to be “gaming the system”. . . take a good read of this scathing report. . . then say Scott should continue in ANY public office:

  15. Florida Voter says:

    Whether we like it or not, charter schools will only get more preferential treatment over the next four years (at least). It’s up to us to make sure the charter schools are as equitable and well managed as possible. Here are some things to consider:

    1) 60.9% of students in Palm Coast are part of the free and reduced lunch program (NSLP). This is compared to 7.6% at Imagine. There is absolutely an economic disparity between the students at Imagine over the rest of Palm Coast students.

    2) Even though there is a significant correlation between wealth and test scores, Imagine is below the district average on state test scores. Given the select group of students at Imagine, their scores should be significantly higher.

    3) If we want charter school to be compared to public schools, then they must be held to the same standard. Creating laws that restrict public schools but give charter/private schools exemptions creates more inequity since the charter/private schools are not being held accountable.

    Can charter schools work? It seems to be a difference of the district giving money to a private company to educate the student, vs. the district using that money to cover private contractors to do a myriad of jobs (who do you think will get paid to update the AC at Indian Trails?) In theory, it should work, but it needs to be done in an equitable manner. Is 7.6% vs 60.9% equitable?

    (Note to FL, please delete my references if you feel the need, since some are external links) Ref:

  16. gmath55 says:

    Sad that public schools are not as good as private schools.

  17. meljordyn says:

    Charter school teachers must be certified. I am one- I went through the same process for certification that every other teacher in this state does.

  18. R. Hicks says:

    here’s something interesting, the three states with the highest number of students enrolled in charter schools: California, Arizona, and Michigan

  19. Pogo says:

    @ FL Readers

    Some offer a pin hole picture. Fine.

    Charter school statistics for all 50 states:

    Blind Men and the Elephant

  20. Charter Employee says:

    In response to Florida Voter: You mention the HUGE disparity in students who are a part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) at Imagine. I feel compelled to clarify one of the main points of your argument. You state that only 7.6% of their students qualify for free or reduced lunch (and go on to argue that Imagine students should therefore perform better on state assessments), however the current population at Imagine is 67%, well above the district average. You are certainly entitled to your opinion of charter schools–but I would say that Imagine has proven over the past 9 years that is a success, based not only on test scores but on the almost 900 students whose parents have made the CHOICE to send their students to Imagine.

  21. BeTheChange says:

    Ws, perhaps you can be more specific. In the relative context of public vs private, exactly how is public education not working?

  22. BeTheChange says:

    Exactly Toni, and not just Florida. Politically, it seems public education is a losing proposition. Educating the masses is not cheap, requiring long term, unified vision and commitment. Data must be analyzed objectively and acted on scientifically by educational professionals. For-profit agendas must be soundly rejected. The focus should be on only that which effectively and efficiently produces critical thinkers. But are we convinced that access to free, public education for all Americans is what many of our elected officials really want? Sheep are so much more manageable and predictable! Bear in mind that the highest educational office in our land is currently occupied by a non-educator, who can’t even articulate a thought on the inherently challenging construct of achievement vs gains. Spare us the armchair, haven’t you noticed but traditional schools aren’t working analysis of the issue at hand, Ws.

  23. Common Sense says:

    Charter schools are not held to the same standards as public schools and Betsy DeVoss want to keep them that way. If you want your kids to go to private school pay for it out of your own money. I don’t want my taxes going to these private businesses.

    And tell me exactly why public schools are so bad? Is it perhaps because right wing politicians keep cutting their funding?

  24. Also a Florida Voter says:

    to Florida Voter:

    1. Imagine School at Town Center will be a Title 1 school next year as the population is over 60% for Free Reduced Lunch.

    2. Check the website. Imagine met or exceeded the district levels in many of the test scores for 2017.

    3. The data on the “great schools” website is not correct. Note 560+ students. Imagine has had 850+ for the past 4-5 years.

  25. Anonoymous says:

    There are 11 Public Schools in Flagler County.

    Each stands to lose $51,218.81 with the new formula.

    The two Charter Schools Will each receive approximately $285,000 IN YAXPAYER MONEY. These are private institutions.

    How is this equitable?

    The Imagine School at City Center has 568 Students.
    Palm Harbor Academy has 66 Students.
    Total student population Charter Schools in Flagler County is 624 students as per the schools websites

    $570.000 divided by 624 Students is $913.46 per student.

    Flagler Public School population is 12,793 students. $570000 divided by 12793 student is $44.55

    So 624 Chrarter students will receive $868.91 more is taxpayer funded State Aid for “Capital Improvements.”

    But the total travesty here is the $570,000 to Charter Schools will go to improve “Private Property” not “Publicly Owned Taxpayer Funded School Property. Since when can Capital Improvement money be used to pay salaries, benefits and pensions? These are not Capital Improvements. I/M/O THIS IS NOTHING SHORT OF THE CREATION OF A GIANT TAXPAYER CORRUPT SLUSH FUND AND THE COURTS SHOULD DECLARE THIS ILLEGAL.

  26. Anonoymous says:

    WS Flagler Public School are a succes story

    Flagler County Public Schools Rankings
    Niche ranks over 8,000 public school districts based on statistics and millions of opinions from students and parents.

    2017 Best School Districts in Florida
    #22 of 67

    2017 Districts with the Best Teachers in Florida
    #23 of 65

    2017 Safest School Districts in Florida
    #25 of 64

  27. JustBNice says:

    My daughter is a charter school teacher and she has had zero teaching experience and no teaching courses. She is not certified. Her school is run by a private nationwide conglomerate and their schools are NOT held to the same standards as public. She is working on her certification because she wants to work in a public school.

  28. Pogo says:

    @FL Readers

    The heart and mind of the Republican party that is shoving Trump’s I DONT CARE health policy, and Atheists-Putting-God-Back-In-School-in-the-form-of-charter-schools down our throats:

    No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
    – Matthew 6:24 KJV

    The truth about the two faced Republican party that wants to tear down the funding wall between church schools and public schools:

  29. anonymous 2 says:

    Charter schools only get 2/3 of the money for schools. They do not receive money from the local taxes, which really isn’t fair. I work for a charter school that has exceeded district and state records and has been an A school for 6 years. Our schools deserve the same monies that public schools receive. ALL schools that perform below level should be questioned, not just charter schools. Students deserve the best education and that does not always come in the form of traditional public education.

    And if your daughter is not certified, her school should never have hired her. All the teachers I work with have at least a 4 year degree (yes, some were not teachers previously, but have taken the required courses/testing).

  30. Ws says:

    I,stamd by my educated comment regarding charter schools. Good for them and if I had a child now I put that child in a charter school not public. Go Trump and please keep up the good work. He will most definitely be reelected which will undoubedly be another surprise for the democrats because they still don’t understand what most people want. I am happy giving my taxpayer money to the Charter schools 100%!

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