It’s hard to describe the outcome of the 2019 Florida Legislative session without recognizing that the impact two decades of GOP dominance has left voters with zero hope of political balance regarding policy, judicial appointments and the power of a gubernatorial veto. Witness the swift passage and signing into law of SB 7030/Arming teachers, following overwhelming objections from citizens across Florida, including gun violence victims themselves.
Florida power by the numbers:
Florida is a trifecta state. This means that the House, Senate & Governor all belong to the same political party.
Florida House: The GOP dominates by 26 votes need to flip 13 seats to Democrats just to make House 60 Dem and 60 GOP (Democrat Reps Jacquet, Valdes, Newton, Williams, Daniels & Bush all voted for SB7070- the Parent Empowerment Voucher and received campaign donations from John Kirtley, billionaire hedgefunder and the dominant force behind Florida’s Step Up for Students, the state’s chief “Scholarship Funding Organization” that siphon’s away a billion dollars a year in diverted taxes to fund vouchers)
The GOP dominates by 6 votes, need to flip 3 seats to Democrats just to make Senate 20 Dem and 20 GOP
Florida Governor: – no chance for veto
National picture: There are 22 Republican, 14 Democratic, and 14 divided states.
SB 2500 2019-20 Budget
- 2019-20 state education budget: $19.9 billion
- 2019-20 FTE: $7,656 ($248 up from last year’s $7,426.79)
- That’s $1,000 BEHIND the 2007 high point of $7,126 when adjusted for inflation
- Base Student Allocation: $75 (up from .47)
- Best & Brightest Bonus: $285 million
- Mental Health: $5.8 million — far below the $31M proposed by the Senate
- Charters $158M receive 100% PECO funds for building maintenance/Districts receive ZERO
- Charters also receive share of Districts referendum money – billions annually
- Parent Empowerment Voucher – $130 million from the FEFP for 18,000 kids
- $250,000 for FLDOE “litigation expenses” regarding “Parent Empowerment” voucher
- Schools of Hope: $40M 2019-2020; $140M 2018-2020
- FL ranks 45th in the nation in public education investment.
- National Average for per pupil spending: $11,392
- Detailed recap of budget and laws
2019 Education Policy Bills that became Florida law
SB 7070 K-12 Education Policy This “train” bill reflects the culmination of years of political policy layering to substantively grow publicly funded private school vouchers to the brink of the “school reform” endgame: Universal Vouchers/Education Savings Accounts. It contains the “Parent Empowerment Voucher,” Schools of Hope expansion/Federal Opportunity Zones, Corporate Tax Credit voucher expansion – able to accept unallocated funds granted to other vouchers, sets Scholarship Funding Organization administrative fees at 3% of all funds collected, Reading vouchers, Community school grants, teacher test prep/Mastery of knowledge plus Principal/Teacher Best & Brightest bonus.
Highlights from SB 7070:
- Schools of Hope: $40M ($140M last year) Traditional District public schools are not eligible for these funds
- Best & Brightest Teacher Bonus: $284.5M – Provides eligible teachers a recruitment bonus of up to $4,000, retention bonus of $2,500 for highly effective teachers, $1,000 for effective teachers, teacher recognition bonus from remaining unexpended funds, and principal bonus of up to $5,000.
- Turnaround Supplemental Services Allocation: $45.5M https://info.fldoe.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-8562/DPS%202019-62.pdf
- Community School Grant Program: $7.4M – Funds for programs that utilize partnerships among a school district, a community organization, a college or university, and a health care provider to address student, family, and community needs.
Parent Empowerment Voucher (Family Empowerment Scholarship Program (FESP)– Expands vouchers, that were once for low-income recipients ($46K/family of four or 185% above Federal Poverty Line) to an entitlement program for the middle-class ($80K/family of four or 300% above Federal Poverty Line) increasing voucher recipients for the 2019-2020 school year by roughly 18K students representing a $138 million dollar cost to taxpayers. Unlike the Corporate Tax Credit voucher which derives money from diverted corporate taxes, the controversial Parent Empowerment Voucher is worth 95% of the Unweighted Full Time Equivalent (UWFTE) per student and is funded through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), representing property taxes from all 67 counties serving as the primary source of funding for district schools. In addition, FESP voucher recipients are entitled to a proportionate share of all categoricals including transportation, instructional materials and supplemental academic instruction. Students found eligible to receive vouchers and their siblings stay in the program, despite family income increases, until graduation or the age of 21. Taxpayers cannot recoup public dollars from a private school once funds are ill-spent or when students return to public school. Requires districts to inform parents of the new FESP voucher and advertise its availability on district websites. Absolves state of any liability from the award of the FESP voucher to a student. Lines 942-945 of SB 7070 read, “Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, the number of students participating in the scholarship program under this section may annually increase by 0.25 percent of the state’s total public-school student enrollment.” This translates to 7,000 new FESP vouchers annually or an additional $54 million public dollars spent each year on private religious schools. Parents who choose vouchers for private schools are left with no recourse when their children receive a sub-par education.
Schools of Hope (Florida Opportunity Zones & Persistently Low-Performing Schools)
Defines “Florida Opportunity Zone” as a population census tract that has been designated by the US Department of Treasury as a Qualified Opportunity Zone pursuant to IRS s. 1400z-1(b)(1)(B). Re-defines “Persistently low-performing school” as a school that has earned three grades lower than a “C” in at least 3 of the previous 5 years and has not earned a grade of “B” or higher in the most recent 2 school years. Previously this definition was “D” or “F” for three consecutive years. Eliminates the requirement that a School of Hope located in a Florida Opportunity Zone must be close to a persistently low performing school. Broadens the requirement that districts enter into agreements with Hope Operators to open schools in Florida Opportunity Zones. Grants Schools of Hope to receive funds from the Schools of Hope Program for leasing facilities. Eliminates the $2,000 per student available to districts for low performing schools and dissolves the awards for 25 district schools to participate in Schools of Hope. The re-definition of “Persistently low-performing school” as it pertains to Schools of Hope significantly increases the number of district schools for eligible for charter takeover statewide from 47 to 247. In addition, there are 427 communities defined as Florida Opportunity Zones, which allows exponentially more Schools of Hope charters to open anywhere in these zones, including near “A” rated district schools. The four Florida designated Hope operators are: Democracy Prep Public Schools, Inc., IDEA Public Schools, KIPP New Jersey, and Somerset Academy, Inc.
SB 7030 Implementation of Recommendations of the MSDHS Public Safety Commission Expands on SB 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act passed in 2018, SB 7030 codifies recommendations of the small politically appointed MSDHS Public Safety Group into law. Despite overwhelming objection from parents and advocates, the bill includes arming classroom teachers as part of the school Guardian Program and strengthens oversight and accountability related to implementation. Each school board and superintendent must partner with law enforcement agencies or security agencies to establish or assign one or more safe-school officer at each school facility within the district, including charter schools. School boards must collaborate with charter school governing boards to facilitate charter school access to all safe-school officer options available. Districts may implement any combination of the following four options to meet their needs:
- School Resource Officer (SRO) – Certified officers, employed by a law enforcement agency working at district schools. SROs undergo criminal background checks, drug testing, a psychological evaluation and retain the powers and duties of a law enforcement officer.
- School Safety Officer (SSO) – School district-commissioned school safety officers. SSOs must undergo criminal background checks, drug tests, a psychological evaluation and be certified law enforcement officers employed by an agency or by the district school board. SSOs shall exercise the power to make arrests both on district school board property and off such property, of those who violate any law that deputy sheriffs are authorized to make arrests.
- School Guardian – District School Boards or charter school governing can participate in the guardian program. School Guardians must complete and pass required training, be certified by a sheriff and can be an employee who volunteers to serve as a school guardian or an individual who is hired for the specific purpose of serving as a school guardian.
- School Security Guard – A school district or charter school governing board can contract with a security agency to employ a school security guard who holds a Class “D” and Class “G” license provided the following training and contractual conditions are met:
- Complete 144 hours of required guardian training.
- Pass a psychological evaluation administered by a licensed psychologist designated by the FDLE.
- Pass an initial drug test and subsequent random drug tests.
- Complete ongoing training, weapon inspection, and firearm qualification on at least an annual basis with documentation to the sheriff’s office, school district, or charter school governing board.
SB 7030 Highlights
Safe Schools Allocation $180 million
Mental Health Allocation: $75M – District must submit plan focused on a multi-tiered system of supports to deliver evidence-based mental health services that must include training in detecting and responding to mental health issues; charter schools entitled to a proportionate share of funding and may submit a separate plan
$5 million to continue evidence-based youth mental health awareness and assistance training to help school personnel identify and understand the signs of mental health and substance abuse problems.
- Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program: $500K plus $57M un-expended from 2018-19 school year – Funds to be allocated to sheriffs’ offices for the Guardian Program for screening and training costs and onetime $500 stipend for those certified.
- School Hardening Grants: $50M
- Teacher Mental Health Training: $5.5M, in addition to the $2.2M awarded in SB 7026
- under agreement with the Florida Department of Education, that allows University of South Florida to continue administering and funding training to schools around the state to help all school employees identify and understand the signs of emotional distress, mental health difficulties and substance abuse disorders.
- Safe Schools Assessment $640K
- Office of Safe Schools Data Repository $3M
When a local school board votes to implement a guardian program, the sheriff in that county must establish a guardian program to provide training as required to school district or charter school employees, either directly or through a contract with another sheriff’s office that has established a guardian program. Charter boards in a district that has declined the guardian program may request that the sheriff establish a program to train their employees.
Commissioner of Education powers:
Requires the commissioner to oversee compliance with the safety and security requirements of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (SB 7026) by school districts, district school superintendents, and public schools, including charter schools. Requires the commissioner to facilitate compliance to the maximum extent provided under law, identify incidents of noncompliance, and impose or recommend to the State Board of Education, the Governor, or the Legislature enforcement and sanctioning actions pursuant to s. 1008.32, F.S., (relating to State Board of Education oversight enforcement authority) and other authority granted under law.
Requires the FDOE Office of Safe Schools (OSS), to coordinate with FDLE to provide a centralized integrated data repository and data analytics by August 1, 2019:
- Social media Internet posts
- Department of Children and Families
- Department of Law Enforcement
- Department of Juvenile Justice
- Mobile suspicious activity reporting tool known as FortifyFL
- School environmental safety incident reports
- Local law enforcement
Office of Safe Schools Oversight
OSS shall collect data through school environmental safety incident reports on incidents involving any person which occur on school premises, on school transportation, and at off-campus, school sponsored events.
OSS shall review and evaluate school district reports to ensure compliance with reporting requirements.
Upon notification that a superintendent has failed to comply with the requirements, the district school board shall withhold further payment of his or her salary and impose other appropriate sanctions that the State Commissioner of Education may impose.
HB 1418 – Mental Health
In response to an increase in violence, suicide, and Baker Act referrals involving minors, the bill requires hospitals, psychiatrists, psychologists (including school psychologists), and other specified mental health professionals to release information from a patient’s clinical record and/or disclose patient communications to the extent necessary to warn law enforcement of a threat of serious bodily injury or death made by a patient or client.
- Law enforcement is required to notify potential victims of the threat.
- Disclosure of confidential communications may not be the basis of legal action or any civil or criminal liability against these psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health care professionals
- Requires DCF to identify patterns, trends, and cases where involuntary examinations are repeatedly initiated against the same child, study root causes for such patterns, trends, or repeated examinations, and report findings and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature.
- Requires the FDOE, in consultation with the Statewide Office for Suicide Prevention and suicide prevention experts, to add a suicide screening instrument among the materials used for training in youth suicide awareness, suicide prevention, and suicide screening for instructional personnel in elementary, middle, and high schools.
HB 7071 Career-Technical Education: Expands apprenticeship programs, adds career planning support for students, offers to replace a science graduation credit with a computer science course.
- Financial Literacy: Requires all school districts to offer a financial literacy course consisting of at least one-half credit as an elective.
- Workforce Education: Requires middle school students to take a course in career education planning, allows certain course substitutions for high school graduation requirements, requires high schools to offer a financial literacy elective course, create a career and technical education high school graduation pathway, establishes degree articulation agreements between colleges and universities.
HB 7123 Tax Package: $400M in comprehensive tax breaks. Includes $121M million in tax breaks, including a major reduction to business’ lease tax, sales-tax-free days for hurricane preparedness and back-to-school shopping and refunds for hauling debris from Hurricane Michael.
- Referendum sharing – Forces Districts to share future local referendum dollars with charter schools who must use the additional funds for the same purpose as district schools. Politicians claim that charters are public schools but in truth, they are corporate “contract” schools profiting from tax dollars meant for students in classrooms. In turn, Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) answer to owners who expect healthy revenues from their business venture.
SB 190 Bright Futures – Significantly impacts the number of students who can earn the 100% full tuition and fees at state universities. At a time when SAT is under assault and not accepted by a number of prominent schools for admission, Florida has raised the required score from 1290 to 1330 to qualify for the full scholarship and 1170 to 1200 for 75% coverage.