On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, three public education advocates from different sides of the political spectrum stood together to testify against SB 7070, a poorly conceived train/omnibus bill stuffed with many concepts ranging from a massive voucher expansion to giving teachers bonuses instead of raises. As usual, Committee Chair Manny Diaz limited public comment to 1 minute.
Not having it, these three ladies delivered their entire written testimony anyway (below) and managed to hand out copies to the press! Florida needs more of us to step into this process and use our voices. Just as elections have consequences, we become invisible when we stay silent. Join us. This is important work.
1. Testimony of Catherine Baer, The Tea Party Network, on behalf of Common Ground – Watch her on the Florida Channel here at 7:15
Common Ground and its affiliated members stand here today to vehemently oppose the introduction of SB 7070, a massive “Train Bill” that caters solely to school “choice” lobbyists and special interests. We reject the combining of a massive voucher expansion that will use public dollars within the FEFP to pay for private religious education. The very thing that was defeated in Bush v. Holmes and at the ballot box in 2012.
We believe the unfair “bonus” money would be better placed in the base student allocation. We are annoyed that on day two of session we are facing a bill so packed with initiatives that meaningful public comment is impossible. SB 7070 should be broken up into individual bills that can be properly vetted and understood. Anything short of this betrays the trust of voters across Florida.
I urge you to reconsider and vote down this bad bill. As President Galvano said, if you do not feel a bill is right, or ready, you must be willing to step back, rethink, and regroup and, if necessary, walk away. History will judge you based on the quality of your actions.” Please walk away from 7070. Watch entire testimony here at 1:00:40.
2. Testimony of Marie-Claire Leman, Common Ground
I am a public-school parent from Tallahassee, and I am firmly opposed to SB 7070 and its multiple, complex schemes that have been lumped into one bill to force its passage. My children attend Rickards High, Fairview Middle and Hartsfield Elementary. These are our zoned schools. They are also Title I schools that have been negatively impacted by the State accountability system over the years.
We love our schools. Over the last 10 years since my eldest started Kindergarten, we have watched them struggle to provide necessary services to the neediest students, attract and retain teachers, provide basic school supplies and the kind of enrichment that all parents seek for their children, no matter the school. Our schools need funding, not threats of closure, and as parents we need support for the schools we have chosen, not offers of escape to the appearance of greener pastures.
It is frustrating that our decision to stay in our public schools, a decision made by the vast majority of Florida’s families, is continually disregarded and disrespected. Meanwhile, you shore up private schools, many of them religious schools, schools with no academic oversight or accountability, by diverting tax dollars from local taxpayers who are led to believe their local property taxes are being used to increase public school funding.
Watch entire testimony here at 1:05:10.
And again, you ignore the “choice” of the majority – almost three million public school children whose families CHOOSE to remain in public schools. By staying put, we are also voting with our feet.
3. Testimony of Beth Overholt, Accountabaloney on behalf of Common Ground
I want to tell you about a very special school in the Florida Keys. Sugarloaf is a public K-8 “A” rated school in the lower keys serving 600 students. Sugarloaf was ground zero for Hurricane Irma. The school suffered minimal structural damage, but surrounding neighborhoods were not so lucky. Twelve of the school’s staff members lost their homes. Families were displaced, businesses destroyed.
Sugarloaf got to work addressing the needs of its community. The Red Cross and military set up operations on the school grounds. The cafeteria served as a Red Cross-managed shelter. The school’s multipurpose room was converted to a distribution center, staffed by parents, providing community members with food, clothing and personal supplies as they rebuilt their lives. Sugarloaf became central to the community’s rebuilding efforts. It was a place where students, families and the entire community could heal. Slowly the homes are being rebuilt and the community is recovering.
When the 2018 School Grades were released, Sugarloaf School had maintained its A rating. Despite Irma, the school and the students prevailed.
PLEASE LISTEN. Sugarloaf maintained its “A” grade but did not increase its school grade points enough to qualify for SB 7070’s new Best and Brightest teacher bonuses.
Under the new system, NOT ONE Sugarloaf teacher would have qualified for a bonus. NOT ONE.
Sugarloaf’s principal would not have qualified for the new Principal Bonus program. There is something very wrong with that. Determining how teachers and principals should be compensated and rewarded should be a district decision. Take this Best and Brightest funding and put it in the Base Student Allocation. At the very least, this new program should be vetted on its own and not be lumped into this multi-subject train. For our friends in the Sugarloaf community, remember: “Fins up.”
Watch entire testimony here at 1:13:30