The 2021 Legislative Session runs from March 2-April 30. It’s likely to be a big year for public education, with budget cuts looming as tax revenue has dropped during the pandemic. There are also significant policy measures under consideration for public schools, including some related to pandemic recovery.
On the local level, the Duval County School Board is currently considering name changes to nine schools, including six that honor Confederates, and the sales surtax oversight committee has begun to meet to review spending toward the $1.9B plan to upgrade school buildings in Duval County.
JPEF will keep you updated on these issues through our Advocacy Center. Check back to track the progress of these measures, and use our resources to reach out to policymakers and make your voice heard on the issues. We also recommend following JPEF on Facebook and Twitter and subscribing to our e-newsletter to keep up to date with education policy developments.
On June 16, 2020, the Duval County School Board voted unanimously, 7-0, to begin the renaming process for six public schools whose names honor Confederate leaders: Joseph Finegan Elementary, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, Jefferson Davis Middle, Kirby-Smith Middle, J.E.B. Stuart Middle and Robert E. Lee High. And, on August 4, the School Board voted to add to the list three schools named for people tied to the marginalization of Native Americans: Jean Ribault Middle, Jean Ribault High and Andrew Jackson High. Now, Duval County Public Schools is leading a process to consider new names, which includes community input, a recommendation by the superintendent and a final vote by the School Board. The Florida PTA has called for the renaming of schools tied to Confederates and colonizers.
- DCPS has created a School Name Change Tracker to help keep you informed about this process and how you can make your voice heard. Community members who live in the school's zone, alumni, current students and staff can all vote on the name.
- JPEF has opened a School Renaming Fund to help offset the costs of any schools that are renamed as a result of this process. You can donate to the School Renaming Fund or start your own personalized fundraiser.
Sales Tax Oversight
On Nov. 3, 2020, Duval County voters approved a half-penny sales surtax with 67 percent of the vote. The half-penny will last 15 years and help fund a $1.9B plan to upgrade public school buildings across the district, including both traditional public schools and charter schools. As part of this, the Duval County School Board voted to create a Citizens Advisory Committee to oversee the spending. JPEF is proud to serve on the committee alongside a diverse representation of citizens and civic groups in Duval County. We’ll keep you informed about major developments in the plan via the Advocacy Center, our blog, and social media.
- From the JPEF blog: What’s next for the half-penny for schools
Public Education Funding
With a significant drop in tax revenue, educators are bracing for budget cuts this year. Gov. Ron DeSantis’s budget proposed increases to several education funding buckets, but the Senate has signaled the financial picture won’t be so rosy and has committed to keeping spending down to align with the loss of revenue. To understand public education funding from the state, it’s important to note that funding is allocated on a per-student basis. The more students a district (and a school) enrolls, the more funding they’ll receive. This is especially important this year because school enrollment has dropped dramatically due to COVID, as families have opted to keep their children out of school until conditions are safer, especially in Pre-Kindergarten and kindergarten. This means that even the same amount of per-student funding from the state could be devastating to schools, which fully expect the “missing students” will return and they will need funding to support them.
- JPEF Policy Brief: Pandemic Recovery, Missing Students and Funding for Public Schools
- From K-12 Education Dive: Enrollment decline threatens lasting funding damage to districts
Testing and Accountability
With so many students suffering learning loss due to COVID-19 this year, testing has been a big topic of conversation. Many districts have asked the state to continue state testing for the purposes of data collection for instruction – e.g., test results can help inform schools about how their students are doing and how best to support them. But many education advocates have said test results shouldn’t be used this year for accountability. Normally, failing test scores can mean punitive action for schools, where they enter turnaround status with a strict set of criteria for how they need to improve or face closure or turnover to a charter school. This year, districts and others have said that’s unfair because so many schools are struggling just to keep students and staff present, healthy and engaged. On the federal level, U.S. the Department of Education told states that tests will be required but it will consider waivers for accountability.
- From the Tampa Bay Times (February 24, 2021): Key lawmaker says remove consequences from state tests
- From the JPEF Blog: DCPS legislative platform explained
Scholarships for Private Schools
One of the biggest policy measures this year is to streamline and expand tax-credit scholarships for students to attend private schools, via Senate Bill 48. There are currently five scholarship programs: two are specifically targeted toward students with disabilities, and three focused on low-income students and students who were bullied. All of these programs would be consolidated into one, and would apply the Gardiner eligibility requirements focused on students with disabilities (a significant change for some scholarships). The scholarships would also be moved into the Florida Education Finance Program for funding, rather than a separate legislative allocation within each scholarship budget, which is the current practice. If approved, scholarship funds would be transferred to parents via an Education Savings Account to pay for private school tuition and other educational expenses. Several education advocacy groups are opposing the measure, including the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Florida Parent-Teacher Association, Florida School Board Association, the Florida Education Association (state teachers union) and others.
- From the Tampa Bay Times: Senate bill would expand Florida vouchers
- From the Florida Education Association: Senate Bill 48