This week, the Florida Senate passed SB736 fully informed that no one knows how much the bill will cost the State and localities or where funding would come from. In spite of the deep budget cutting, Senator Evelyn Lynn believes the money is available.
“I want money to be put into this bill,” said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, an Ormond Beach Republican who ultimately voted for the proposal. But she remained optimistic on future funding: “It will come, but we’ve got to get the structure in place to do exactly what needs to be done.”
On the other hand, North Carolina Republicans led the effort to end its expansive testing regime as a cost saving measure and to respond to over testing concerns. The Texas legislature is also considering a measure to reduce the quantity of tests its school children take, citing the frequency of testing provides little useful information.
Why is Florida in such a hurry?
One reason is found in the requirements to secure Race to the Top funding. Legislation must link student performance to evaluations or lose the funding. The details were left to the State legislatures. Failure to pass legislation could end up in loss of funds. Florida won $700 million and is late on that requirement. Oddly, this is one fact that is not mentioned in the legislative discussions or media reporting. School districts were invited to participate in Race to the Top, some did not and will be required to implement under this unfunded mandate. Others districts that did sign were aware implementation of Race to the Top would impact their budgets, they did not anticipate deeper budget cutting.
The Costs of Federal Funding
The connection between Race to the Top and SB736/HB7019 is clear. Without the federal funding and under current budget constraints, end-of-course exams would likely not be a subject of discussion. The implications of Race to the Top and previous federal mandates on local budgets and decision-making are clear.
Pete Hoekstra, former Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee's oversight an investigations subcommittee, described the committee's 1998 study of effective and ineffective use of federal education dollars. The report concluded that "locally directed efforts - by the folks who know the names of the children they're responsible for educating works best." The subcommittee also found that successful schools were "characterized by parental involvement, local control, and emphasis on basic academics and dollars actually spent in the classroom."
"More than 760 education programs, overseen by at least 39 federal agencies, cost taxpayers $100 billion a year even as schools continued to decline. Teachers and parents in neighborhood schools saw federal mandates, paperwork and red tape — not the necessary tools to help educate their children. As little as 65 to 70 cents of every dollar made it into the classroom."
“It is time for the burden of proof to shift to the federal government,” the subcommittee report concluded. “If it cannot be demonstrated that a particular federal program is more effectively spending funds than state and local communities would otherwise spend them, Congress should return the money to the states and the people, without any burdensome strings attached.”
That was in 1998. Yet today, when children who were kindergarteners then should be ready to graduate from high school, the story remains the same. In 2001, Congress passed No Child Left Behind, a law filled with more mandates and red tape that significantly expanded the federal government’s role in K-12 education. The federal “educrats” tell local schools who the good teachers are and what schools are making adequate yearly progress."
Florida House to vote
Reports suggest the Florida House will vote on HB7019 as early as Tuesday of next week. The bill is quite similar to SB736. Are members of the Florida House equally uninformed regarding the costs of the bill and where the money will come from to support it? To persist in full ignorance and lack of accountability is a sign of both legislative irresponsibility and incompetence. Could it be that they do know the costs and prefer to go silent? That would be deceit.