Despite impressive efforts by teachers, unions, superintendents, and other supporters of public education, Governor Rick Scott finally signed the dreaded HB 7069 into law. The bill is mostly condemned for its provisions that benefit charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools, but what do you expect when our state legislature behaves like the Wild West? When you have politicians with close ties to the charter industry presiding over the education committee, and nothing to restrict them from passing laws that they personally benefit from, you can expect more charter school loving bills to be passed every year.  The only way to avoid politicians like the Miami charter mafia trinity of Erik Fresen, Anitere Flores and Manny Diaz from raiding public funds for privately managed charters is to drain the swamp.  Now that HB 7069 has finally been signed into law, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of what educators can expect. Let’s start with the good.

The Good

  1. Mandatory recess. As a parent, I’m thrilled that my three young children will now have the right to 20 minutes of recess a day (unless they go to a charter school). I can’t tell you how many times my daughter came home from school depressed that she did not have recess. Young children need unrestricted time to play and release pent up energy. Is it any surprise that the increase in young children with ADHD has coincided with our test obsessed accountability system? Maybe kids wouldn’t need fidget spinners and prescription drugs if they weren’t expected to sit silently in desks all day long doing math worksheets and answering multiple choice questions about the world’s most boring text based passages. Even the classical Greeks and Indians understood the importance of the mind/body balance.

     2. Bye-bye Algebra II EOC! I think most educators agree that expecting the majority  of public school children to be able pass an EOC in Algebra II was an exercise in futility. Who the hell needs Algebra II besides a select group of engineers? Good riddance.

3. Testing has been pushed back to the last four weeks of school. I’m not sure that my school’s testing coordinator is going to be loving this one, but as an AP teacher who lost the entire month of April to my kids taking every EOC and FSA under the sun, I’m happy to have more time to finish my curriculum. I’m also happy that we won’t be faced with multiple weeks of time to kill at the end of the year because all of the testing had to be completed three weeks prior to the end of the school year.

4. No more cap on AP or IB bonus money. This is big news for certain AP and IB teachers. There used to be a $2,000 cap on the amount of bonus money an AP or IB teacher could receive. Most teachers rarely exceed the cap, but for certain subjects or teachers at certain schools, this could mean big bucks. There has never been a better time to be an AP Spanish Language teacher in Miami Dade County or work at one of the district’s prestigious magnet schools! If you teach at a challenging school or teach a challenging subject like AP Chemistry, there will be no uncorking of champagne bottles for you. (see p.33 of HB 7069)

5. Almost every teacher will receive a bonus. Just in time for midterm elections, the Florida legislature wants to shower teachers with “scholarships” worth up to $800 for effective teachers and $1200 for highly effective teachers. Keep in mind these are not raises. They will have no permanent effect on your salary or count towards retirement. If more teachers qualify than expected, your $800 may be whittled down to $80 so don’t go out and buy that new 52 inch HD flat screen TV just yet. (p.222 of HB 7069)

6. The Best and Brightest Scholarship program continues. This probably belongs in the bad category, but some teachers have been benefitting nicely from this program for the last two years. If you happen to fall on the opposite side of the SAT bell curve, then this definitely belongs in the bad. The good news is that starting in 2020, the criteria drops to the 77th percentile and you can use other standardized tests taken for graduate school to qualify. The bonus has also been capped at $6,000 instead of the previously advertised $10,000. (p.221 of HB 7069)

7. The Florida VAM is now optional. When your district tries to blame Tallahassee next year when your highly effective evaluation falls to effective because you got slammed by VAM, don’t let them get away with it. The Florida VAM may be used but is not required by state law. Districts are allowed to determine how learner growth is measured. I’m sure the state decided to make the Florida VAM optional in order to avoid being slapped with potential lawsuits. VAM has lost in court twice in the past year so the Florida Department of Education can see the writing on the wall and doesn’t want to be sued. So now they’re passing the VAM legal hot potato back onto districts. If a teacher wants to sue because they lost out on a $6,000 Best and Brightest scholarship due to an arbitrary VAM score, they will have to sue their district. Miami Dade has created their own version of VAM called the District Covariate Model and it is much worse than the Florida VAM. There is no science or validity behind their formula at all. They use PSAT scores as the predictor for AP test scores yet a true VAM is designed to measure growth, not whether a student passes or fails a test. The Florida VAM is based on three years worth of data from the same test. Dade County doesn’t even require 9th graders to take the PSAT but AP World History is taught primarily to 9th graders. A teacher could teach five sections of regular World History and one section of AP World History in which only 5 students took the PSAT and 35% of their evaluation will be based on the scores of those 5 students. It’s insane but the county doesn’t care. They know their formula is flawed, they know most freshmen don’t have PSAT scores, but they don’t care. So beware when districts are left to their own devices to determine the learner progress portion of your evaluation! This also means that districts are now entirely in control of how many of their teachers are rated highly effective. (p.183 & p.186 of HB 7069)

The Bad

1.Florida principals now qualify for Best and Brightest scholarships. Other than the fact that most principals are very nicely compensated with six figure salaries already, financially rewarding principals for the ratio of Best and Brightest teachers at their school can lead to discriminatory hiring practices and further warp the already warped observational portion of a teacher’s evaluation. (p.223 of HB 7069)

2.Failing schools will have to compete with charter schools. Charter schools designated as “Schools of Hope” will now be able to open their doors in close proximity to traditional public schools designated as “Schools of Despair” because they have received the dreaded D and F label due to low test scores. Most of the world recognizes that failing schools are located in zip codes with residents who have been failed by our socio-economic system but the state of Florida still maintains that it is the school and the teachers at those schools that are failing the kids. As charters move into these neighborhoods, the local school may lose students which in turn causes them to lose funding which in turn causes teachers to lose their jobs.

3.Annual contract teachers have no job guarantees. Even highly effective teachers can no longer be guaranteed a job the following year through collective bargaining. This was a separate bill that was much contested and then was snuck into HB 7069 at the last minute. (p.192 of HB 7069)

The Ugly

If you teach at a traditional public school or your children attend one, it’s about to get a whole lot uglier. We have some nice looking facilities (some more than others) in Miami Dade County, but with HB 7069, school districts will now be forced to share construction dollars with charter schools. The Miami Dade Superintendent claims this will cost our school district $250 million over the next five years (so an average of $50 million a year).

If you teach in Miami Dade, you have a good idea of which part of the budget is going to take a hit to make up for the loss of those funds! Though the sky may not be falling with the signing of HB 7069 as some public school advocates have claimed over the last six weeks, there is a greater chance that the roof over your head at your school may be falling thanks to diminishing capital improvement funds. The public should really be outraged that tax dollars are going to fund improvements on private buildings that will never be held by the public, but this Florida, and we are all either too drunk, too strung out on prescription opioids, or too busy living the vida loca to care that our state legislature has committed a heist of public school funds of unprecedented proportions.

You can read the entire 274 pages of HB 7069 for yourself here

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