Saturday, February 12, 2011

Florida Education Reform Initiatives: Show Me The Money

I'm publishng this for Sandra in BrevardIn spite of a $3 billion dollar deficit, Florida legislators and the Governor are intent on passing educational reform measures. Florida won federal Race to the Top grant dollars of up to $700 million. Florida’s Education Commission, Eric Smith, hopes legislation conforms to what is in the grant. However, in December, a few potential concepts and proposals circulated.

Senator Stephen P. Wise of Jacksonville and chair of the Senate’s PreK-12 Education Committee announced that he plans to sponsor an educational reform bill. He indicated that the process will take time and include input from education groups and stakeholders. We will likely have to wait until March when bills are made available through the Senate Committee website to see what proposals emerge and how they will be paid for.

Senator Simmons of Altamonte Springs is chair of the PreK-12 Education Appropriations Committee and has announced he plans to introduce a bill that would extend the school day for low-performing schools. Simmons and the committee would have to figure out a funding mechanism. Senator Wise is interested in having the bill discussed in his committee. He says: “I will take it up and then let him and the appropriations committee worry where the funding’s coming from, because I think it’s essential that we start out with that and do something along those lines.” The concept is simple and should be fairly easy to conduct a cost analysis. For now, however, I prefer local decision-making and voluntary implementation for extending the school day versus a Tallahassee directed mandate. I do not believe that extending the school day an hour is the only factor that will improve performance. The results of extending the day have been mixed nationwide. In some low performing school, the results have been positive while in others nothing changed significantly. I will be watching for the Simmon’s bill.

State School Board member Dr. A.K. Desai supports the use of video for teacher evaluation, a concept being piloted across the nation and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. According the TEACHSCAPE, a company that leases video equipment for this purpose, says the initial start up costs $1 million per school district and $800,000 per year per district after that. I do not think these costs include the group of external evaluators who would watch and rate the performance. With a $3 billion deficit and school budgets slashed right and left, this idea does not seem sensible. First, it fails the priority test, fails to define the problem that justifies such an expensive process as the best solution, and ignores the fiscal realities at all levels. Show me the money!

Patty Levesque is executive director for the Foundation for Florida’s Future, which is former Governor Jeb Bush’s organization. She also is a member of Governor Scott’s education reform committee. The organization began to circulate a draft, which I haven’t read it and also presented their recommendations to Governor Scott, including universal vouchers, eliminating tenure for new teacher hires, and paying teachers more for higher performance. From what I read, legislators are not scrambling to support universal vouchers because they don’t know exactly how much it will cost.

I am gratified to read that legislators are thinking about the bottom line. Let’s see what they come up with. I hope it is not “fiscal impact indeterminate” or passing the costs in a property tax increase.

Brevard constituents should be aware of the following:

· Representative John Tobia is Vice Chair of the K-20 Innovation Committee and a member of the Education Committee and Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

· Senator Thad Altman is a member of the Budget Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations.

Stay tuned

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