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Get Involved by Staying Informed

Each legislative session FEA's Frontline Report helps local leaders, members and education activists stay up-to-date on what's happening at the Capitol concerning public education — and how these policy changes could affect our students and our neighborhood public schools. NEW this session, the Frontline Report is available as a regularly-updated blog. Follow along or sign-up for our weekly email recap.

Frontline Blog

TAKE ACTION: Tell the Senate Committee on Infrastructure and Security not to arm teachers

Senate Bill 7030 which has already been passed by the Senate Education Committee will be heard at 4pm in the Committee on Infrastructure and Security on Wednesday, March 20.

This bill would expand the current “Guardian Program” and potentially arm teachers.

Legislators must stop looking for quick, inexpensive fixes. To truly make our students and staff safer, lawmakers should invest money in ensuring every school has a resource officer and a sufficient number of trained mental health professionals such as guidance counselors, school psychologists and social workers.

Professional educators know, and the voting public agrees, that teachers should not be armed with guns; instead they should be armed with better salaries and working conditions.

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TAKE ACTION: Tell Senate Education Appropriations to fund salaries not more vouchers and bonuses

Senate Bill 7070, which has already passed the Senate Education Committee, is headed to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Tuesday, March 19.

Rather than addressing the massive underfunding of our public schools, the bill would establish a new voucher scheme — named the “Family Empowerment” program — and would double down on the failed “Best and Brightest” bonus program.

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Here comes the train: A closer look at SPB 7070

Over the past two years, public education advocates in Florida have become accustomed to the House ramming through a massive train bill in the final weeks of session.

For those who aren’t familiar with the terminology, a train bill is a bill that combines multiple, unrelated ideas and combines them into one bill, so legislators have to vote the entire bill up or down instead having the ability to judge each component and its merit with an up or down vote.

This year, the Senate is letting the train out of the station early in the form of Senate Proposed Bill 7070 (SPB 7070). This bill contains some ideas FEA has long fought for, including expansion of community schools. But also contain a new voucher program that would further erode funding for public schools; furthermore, the bill does nothing to solve the teacher shortage crisis.
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HB 13: An attack on educators’ voice in the workplace

Remember last year’s House Bill 25 sponsored by Representative Scott Plankon which singled out FEA for decertification? Since HB 25 had the opposite of its intended effect—FEA membership soared instead of decreasing—legislators are now trying another attack on public sector labor unions.

One of the dirty secrets of some legislators is they don’t write the bills the sponsor. Instead they outsource bill-writing to secretive groups like the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

This was the case with last year’s HB 25 as well as this year’s HB 13 which was heard on Wednesday, March 6 in the House Oversight, Transparency, & Pubic Management Subcommittee. You can watch the committee meeting rebroadcast on the Florida Channel.

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Take Action: Tell your legislator to Fund Our Future!

“We are united in delivering one message. State leaders must fund our future. They must invest in neighborhood public schools, invest in the success of our students, and invest in the teachers and staff who work in our schools.” — Fedrick C. Ingram, President of the Florida Education Association

The 2019 legislative session has begun. It’s time we all take action! We all have a role to play to ensure our elected officials listen to us and invest in our community’s schools.

Our students need you. You can be part of the growing movement to support our neighborhood public schools.  We can’t just hope the people we elect will do enough.  We must use our voices to advocate for change, participate in policy making and holding elected officials accountable.

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Final week before session: legislation to watch

Here are a few bills we wanted to flag a few bills that are on all of our radar:

SB 520:  This bill would ensure that the seven counties hardest hit by Hurricane Michael would not lose their school funding due to students moving to neighboring counties because of storm damage. Currently the bill does not have a House companion. FEA SUPPORTS the bill.

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Senate releases education package proposal

Members of the Senate President’s education team — Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. (R-Hialeah Gardens), Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and Senate President Pro Tempore David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) — rolled out the Senate’s education plan for consideration during the coming legislative session.

Their proposal was short on specifics but here is what we know:

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Governor’s policy proposals

Perhaps you’ve seen in the news or read in the past few Frontlines that the governor has proposed changes to public education that have us paying close attention, including tweaks to the “Best and Brightest” bonuses and his proposal for more kids to receive vouchers (maybe you also saw this awesome editorial from the Tampa Bay Times regarding the wrong position the governor is taking on public education). While his past announcements have been in the form of press conferences, last Friday the governor released his policy language proposal for these and other policy ideas. Here’s a breakdown for you.

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More Choice?

The House Education committee heard a presentation from Adam Miller, Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice within the Department of Education. Miller began his presentation focused on the voucher programs in Florida, their history, rapid increase in participation and the number of students currently using a private school voucher.

Here’s some data to think about: More than 370,000 students are receiving vouchers to attend religious and private schools, with the majority getting Florida Tax Credit vouchers — 108,098. Under the McKay program, 31,044 students are receiving a voucher, while the Gardiner voucher goes to 10,258.

Two new vouchers were approved in the 2018 session: the reading voucher and the Hope voucher for students who say they have been bullied. The Hope voucher program has siphoned off more than $8.9 million in auto sales tax revenue since July 1, gotten only 127 applicants and issued 66 vouchers as of January 9. The $500 reading voucher intended for students with low reading scores, has awarded 4,500 of the 19,000 vouchers available based on funding appropriated from the Legislature.

Miller also reported that the number of students attending a charter school has risen now to 11 percent of the total school population. He also reported that there are 621 charter schools to 3,001 traditional public schools. Interesting factoid to store for later as charter schools gets a lopsided three times the amount of capital outlay funding, which was not mentioned.

Lastly, Miller shared that more than 262,000 students have taken advantage of open enrollment, which means they are currently attending a public school that they are not zoned to attend.

Shut down UCF?

The idea to shut down the University of Central Florida – the state’s largest public university with more than 68,000 students — was floated during the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting by committee chair Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay).  Fine’s comments were in response to the UCF’s use of nearly $38 million in operating funds for a building construction project, he was “working on a five or 10-year shutdown of the university.”

UCF’s former administration erred in spending operating funds on construction, which is restricted by state law — but there is more to this story and part of it lies with the continued underfunding of public education and construction funding not keeping up with need.

Public Education Capital Outlay funds (aka PECO) are dedicated to construction and maintenance projects for public schools. PECO is funded by taxes we pay on utilities including electricity, telecommunications and cable. Over the years as telecommunication tax collections has fallen along with the decrease in the number of land line phones, and other factors.

The bottom line is university and college administrators are faced with the dilemma of aging facilities and the lack of available construction funds while legislators continue to ignore the funding needs of our schools, colleges and universities.

Certainly, UCF officials did not adhere to the law and they will feel the repercussions of that decision. But they are not the only ones between a rock and a hard place in this funding quandary. The University of South Florida has admitted to misappropriating some operating funds for building and construction projects as well.

But none of this excuses Chair Fine’s reckless proposal to close the school which would disenfranchise the students and employees one of the largest universities in the country.

Get Involved by Staying Informed