Where We’ve Been

Legislative policies of the past have led to the under-funding of public education and children’s services and have virtually guaranteed an unstable and unreliable funding stream. Despite current economic factors, there are actions our legislature can take to mitigate losses. These strategies require leadership. They include closing existing tax loopholes and comprehensive tax restructuring.

The Florida Legislature is the fiscal school board for the state. The Revenue Estimating Conference determines the state’s anticipated income. Lawmakers use the estimated figure to balance the state budget as required by law.

2002

Voters overwhelmingly approve the Class Size Amendment to the state constitution limiting the number of children per classroom

2005

The state funded education with 61% of the state’s general revenue. Local property owners paid 39% through taxes

2006

This was our high water mark pertaining to education funding in Florida. Per pupil funding was $7,400. (The national average was $9,138.)

2007

Per pupil funding from the state was $7,300. This amount was reduced to $7,000 during a special session and was reduced to $6,844 later that year.

2008

Voters passed Amendment I, which decreased property tax revenues. Projected cuts equal $9.3 billion over five years, representing a $1.5 billion reduction of funds for education. (Source: St. Pete Times)

January 2009

Figures released by the Revenue Estimating Conference reflect a sharp decline in property taxes and an unexpected reduction in sales tax reducing per pupil spending to a shocking $6,400. The national average is over $10,000 per pupil.

February 2009

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is passed by the U.S. Congress. States are given non-recurring money to help balance their budgets.

April 2009

Florida does not qualify for the $2.5 billion in education budget relief because per pupil funding in the state has dipped well-below 2006 levels. Reluctantly, Governor Crist applies for the required waiver and Florida gets in line to receive its portion of the bail-out money.

May 2009

Following a contentious regular session, the Florida Legislature (represented by a majority party in both houses and in the Governor’s office) extended the regular session, costing taxpayers and additional $250,000. Legislators use Stimulus money, revenue from increased fees and money from the Seminole Indian Gaming Compact to balance and pass the state budget.

2009-2010 School Year

Per pupil spending stands at $6,873, but costs previously not included, like transportation, have to be paid from that amount resulting in a net loss to students and education.

July 2009

The Florida Legislature, taking advantage of the economic downturn, continues to shift the burden of taxation to local counties, forcing them to make the one-time choice to levy an extra .25 in taxes without permission or vote from property owners. Many school boards reject the additional .25 tax option- refusing to give the legislature a pass on its constitutional obligation to fund education and citing this latest move as just another ploy to shift the burden of taxation to the local level.

2009-2010 Fiscal Year

State funds 51% of education- a 10% drop since 2005. Property owners fund 49%. 2010 projections continue to shift the burden of education funding to property tax payers.

2009: Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

In 2009 Florida lawmakers enacted legislation (H.B. 991) at the urging of Education Commissioner Dr. Eric Smith, aligning our state’s school grading system with the No Child Left Behind Act (Federal law) four years ahead of schedule. Using complex formulas, schools are now evaluated on both their FCAT scores and the strict pass/fail structure of AYP. How it works:

To achieve AYP, schools must meet proficiency benchmarks in 39 separate criteria. If a school fails to meet just one of these criteria, it does not make AYP.

39 AYP Criteria:

Include categories such as learning disabilities, low-readers, Exceptional Education students, free/reduced lunch recipients and African-American and Hispanic males and females. Students who fail to make AYP and fall into a number of number of categories will count numerous times against the overall school evaluation.

Failing to make AYP:

During a 4-year span, all schools who fail to meet AYP, including those with an A+ on the FCAT, will face sanctions ranging from economic to a complete “reconstitution” or breakdown the school that involves firing principals, and staff and relocating students around the county.

Important:

The requirement of all schools to immediately bring failing sub-groups up to AYP 100% proficiency is completely unfunded. There is no money to support the requirement that our schools develop special approaches, add staff, curricula or other means to increase these students’ performance.

Where We Are

2010: Class Size Amendment

In 2002, Florida voters overwhelmingly chose to amend the state constitution to limit the number of children taught in a single classroom. Although there has been a phased transition, 100% compliance takes place during the 2010-2011 school year. This is an enormous un-funded mandate, expected to cost millions in new teacher hires.

2011: The Funding Cliff

Federal Stimulus money ran out in 2011. The Florida Legislature did not close corporate loopholes or address comprehensive tax reform to pay for our state’s bills. Public education experienced massive cuts.

2011 Obama Administration offers NCLB “Flexibility”

The Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had been due for reauthorization since 2007 at which time Congress failed to act. Serious cracks had formed in the credibility of NCLB’s harsh accountability measures causing parents, teachers and districts to voice concern. So President Obama gave states flexibility on differentiated accountability and the pending 2014 proficiency deadline to meet 100% AYP. In exchange, states were forced to agree to a US DOE school improvement agenda that focused on overhauling low performing schools, adopting more rigorous teacher evaluations and new college and career ready academic standards known as Common Core.

2013: No Child Left Behind Act

Requires public schools to ensure that every child meet 100% Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) proficiencies in reading and math by 2014. NCLB forces schools to strictly ration education money in order to guarantee mandated skill levels in reading, writing, and arithmetic to all students. This directive sacrifices and potentially guts all programs that are deemed non-essential, like art, music, and gifted programs. The Obama administration and Congress faltered over the looming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act given the nearly universal public backlash against the 10 year old NCLB, perhaps the most loathed and destructive public education policy to date.

2014: NCLB Obama Administration Waivers:

NCLB brought an unforgiving and continuing era of high stakes testing infused with constantly moving, often unattainable “goals.” Instead of succeeding, the unreasonable, unpredictable demands of NCLB placed extreme stress on struggling public schools, affecting the complete opposite of support. Clearly the notion of every child in the nation attaining 100% AYP by 2014 was a delusionary.  As a result, the United States Department of Education offered to waive key NCLB requirements, including the 2014 AYP deadline and allow states to set achievement goals and design their own interventions for “failing” schools. In exchange for this waiver, states, including Florida, were required to adopt the controversial Common Core State Standards. Due ardent citizen-driven opposition, states began to reconsider what appeared to be Federally  imposed standards, despite assurances to the contrary. During this time, a majority of the states began to abandon their commitment to use either the PARCC or Smarter Balance tests developed at great cost to align with Common Core.

2015: Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSA mitigates much of NCLB, by handing oversight responsibility over to the states. Unfortunately, ESSA only means a softening of test and punish education reform if a state chooses to do so. Since many states expanded many of the negative aspects of NCLB and codified them into statute, it will be hard to undo the years of damage. The good news is that because of ESSA, state legislatures can no longer blame the federal government for or claim they can’t dial back privatizing our public schools because their hands are tied. The spotlight will be on governors, state senators and representatives who have the new found authority, thanks to ESSA, to reduce or eliminate much of the test and punish culture they’ve spent decades building.

2016: Where We’re Headed

Now that ESSA has passed, public education advocates should pay close attention to the rules and implementing process, where the original intent of legislation can be significantly altered. . Because of this law, significant power and responsibility has been placed in the hands of state legislatures, many of whom have over-embraced the culture of test and punish. Public education advocates must put pressure on legislators to take advantage their new freedom conferred by ESSA.

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