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Our Thoughts on HB 7069

May 26, 2017

Our Thoughts on HB 7069

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund has existed since 2009 to advocate for high quality public schools in Duval County. Since our founding, we have intentionally built a Board of Directors with diverse perspectives on public education, and have sought to be an independent, thoughtful voice on education policy in Northeast Florida.

Over the past few weeks, we have closely followed the development of the state budget and the various budget conforming bills, particularly House Bill 7069. While the process that yielded the final bill lacked significant public input, our board has focused many hours of its time in discussion and debate over the content of the bill as it combines so many distinct pieces of legislation. Topics addressed in this bill range from testing to recess to charter schools to sunscreen use -- some provisions worthy of support and others that are troubling in their current form.

Among those that we support are:

  • New financial incentives for teachers: We all know the importance of financially rewarding quality teachers. The dollars allocated for teachers receiving highly-effective and effective summative ratings are a step in the right direction, and hopefully create opportunities to grow such incentives in future years.

  • Support for special needs students: The continued support for scholarships for more than 8,000 students with disabilities is a strong message that all students deserve a high-quality education that meets their individualized needs.

  • Reduction and changes in state testing: The bill’s elimination of the Algebra II end of course exam, provisions requiring clearer reporting to parents, paper-based assessments in elementary and middle school, and the publication of actual released exams are important and well-intentioned changes.

Despite these positive provisions contained in the bill, we remain concerned about the immediate and long-term impact of other portions. The three biggest concerns we have include:

Reduced capital funding: HB 7069 requires the sharing of local capital millage with charter schools. This will significantly impair the ability of local traditional school districts, such as Duval County, to keep its buildings -- many of which are more than 50 years old -- well-maintained and in working order. The Legislature must allocate additional state capital outlay dollars to maintain current levels of capital funding going to traditional public schools, and/or increase the cap on local discretionary capital millage by up to a half mill to avoid negatively impacting the current learning environments of traditional public school students.

Furthermore, our board has significant concerns with the provision of public capital funding to charter schools that engage with for-profit education management organizations, particularly those schools in which staff or board members have a financial interest in the school’s management company. Such relationships may pose conflicts of interest that, at the very least, create a perception of self-dealing that undermines the concept of charters as a viable school-choice option worthy of public support.

Accelerated turnaround timeline and reduced turnaround options: This legislation reduces the time that districts have to turn around academically struggling schools, calling for the immediate implementation of significant changes, such as closing a school or converting it into a charter school. Duval County Public Schools has shown solid -- though admittedly not universal -- success in significantly improving low-performing schools and should be allowed the opportunity to pursue and continue district-led turnarounds for at least three years before more significant action is required by the state. Outside pressure is a vital component to kickstart the changes required to achieve school turnarounds, but additional supports and a reasonable timeline for those improvements are equally important to achieving the ultimate goal of successful schools.

Limiting traditional school participation in “Schools of Hope” efforts: This bill’s provisions around providing additional funds of $2,000 per student to support wraparound supports for struggling schools is one that could have a significant positive impact on traditional public school turnaround efforts. Arbitrarily limiting access to these funds to 25 public schools, given the more than 115 struggling schools in our state, is shortsighted. This artificial cap should be either significantly increased or eliminated and proposals should be evaluated and funded on the merit of their ideas.

Unfortunately, opportunities to make adjustments to the bill are limited given its status as a conforming bill. Therefore, we believe it is vital for the Florida Legislature to reconvene in a special session to fix the bill by making the changes recommended above. Failing to fix the concerning parts of this legislation leaves a bill that, while containing some provisions worthy of support, has enough flaws that it should be vetoed by the Governor.

Finding common ground about what is in the best interests of all of Florida’s students is difficult. We believe strong and public debate is important and necessary in the creation of policy, recognizing everyone will not always agree, but believing that we can, together, develop policies that help all students in Duval County and make our city and state a place we can be proud to call home.

Our Board of Directors has struggled to find a way forward that doesn’t jeopardize the progress we have made here in Duval. We have been particularly challenged by the smorgasbord of policy contained in this single piece of legislation and the negative impacts that would come for kids with the bill’s outright approval or rejection. We urge Legislative leaders to fix it and recommit to working on behalf of all kids in Duval and throughout all of Florida.

Poppy Clements, Chair

Hon. Brian J. Davis, Vice Chair

Dr. Jordan Baker

Ricardo A. Bedoya

Cindy Edelman

Hugh Greene

Coley Jones

Ronnie King

Marsha G. Oliver

Donna Orender

Lisa Page

Dr. Shannon H. Perry

Anita Vining

Michael Ward

Buck Williams

Trey Csar, President

Are you ready to act? Use the contact information below to contact Legislative leaders and the Governor to share your thoughts:

Have questions? Want to talk in more depth with JPEF staff and other advocates in our city about this bill? Plan to join us for an open-house gathering to discuss HB 7069 on Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. in room 219 of the Jessie Ball duPont Center. The event is free and all are welcome; RSVP here if you plan to attend.