Education

Chair: Robin Jones and Iris Yetter

The League of Women Voters of Florida supports a free public school system. LWVF strives for a system with high standards for student achievement and with equality of educational opportunity, and will strive for a system that is financed adequately by the state through an equitable funding formula.

Our local Education Working Group grew out of a study of St. Petersburg’s five struggling elementary schools, highlighted in a Tampa Bay Times 2015 series, Failure Factories.

In 2017, we broadened our scope of interest to include statewide issues which impact our local schools:

  • Capital and operational funding
  • Testing and assessment
  • Charter schools and tax-credit scholarships
  • Achievement gap in Pinellas County schools

During 2017, join us in our study of and research on these issues.  Later in the year, we’ll use our findings to mount an educational campaign to increase awareness among citizens and engage in advocacy work aligned with LWVF legislative priorities during the 2018 legislative session.  

Go to the League’s Action Guide on this issue.

Contact group leads, Robin Jones or Iris Yetter, to get involved. 

To learn more about statewide education issues and recent actions, visit the LWVF Education blog at http://lwveducation.com

—————–

In 2018, we are focusing on the Constitutional Amendment Proposal on the November 6, 2018 ballot.

BACKGROUND ABOUT THE CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION COMMISSION WORKS AND THE 13 AMENDMENTS YOU WILL SEE ON THE NOVEMBER 6, 2018 BALLOT

            There will be 13 constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot.  Of those, 13 were recommended by the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) which meets every 20 years.  CRC members include the Attorney General and others appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Unlike the 5 non-CRC proposals, which were recommended either through citizen petition or the legislature, CRC proposals do not have to adhere to the “single topic” rule.  Taking advantage of this “loop-hole,” the CRC packed 20 separate proposals into 8 “bundles.”

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS WHEN SEVERAL DIFFERENT ISSUES ARE BUNDLED INTO A ONE-VOTE DECISION

            1) You get to vote only once for each whole bundle even if it contains 2 or 3 different issues.  For example, if you want to vote NO on 2 of the bundle’s 3 issues and YES on one, or vice versa, you cannot. You must accept or reject the whole bundle with your one vote.

            Often, one or two of the issues in the bundle sound good but are there as distractions from the issue with the most far-reaching impact. And these “sugar-coating” issues likely appear as “bait” early in the amendment description, with the issue resulting in the least desirable outcomes appearing last.

            2) By law, there is a 75-word limit for each amendment whether it is for one issue or for a bundle of separate issues. If the bundle contains multiple issues, then the explanation for each single issue is condensed even further, resulting in wording that does not adequately explain each issue’s content.  Let’s face it: amendments are not fun to read and sometimes difficult to understand.  Therefore, it is critical that you understand each separate issue in each amendment because once an amendment goes into the state constitution, it is difficult to remove it – just as it is in the U.S. Constitution.

 

AMENDMENT PROPOSAL 8–THE EDUCATION BUNDLE

3 QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU DECIDE WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT EACH ISSUE WITHIN A BUNDLE

* What is the stated issue?

* Is the issue really an existing problem?

* Can the issue be addressed without amending the state constitution?

            Below, in italics, is Amendment Proposal 8 as it will appear on the ballot.  We added the A), B) and C) to show the three distinct issues included in it and underlined the essential features of each issue in what we are calling BUNDLE 8.

 “CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ARTICLE IX, SECTION 4, NEW SECTION ARTICLE XII, NEW SECTION SCHOOL BOARD TERM LIMITS AND DUTIES; PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  A) Creates a term limit of eight consecutive years for school board members and B) requires the legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools. C) Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.”

The following discussion of the 3 issues begins with issue C) because it is the most complicated and has the most far-reaching implications if approved.

  1. C)Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.”

            District school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools … it establishes.  Currently public schools include the existing traditional schools established by the locally elected school board, as well as the charter schools that operate within the district. The majority of charter schools have applied to and had their proposals carefully reviewed by and approved — or not – by a locally elected school board.  

            Though charter schools are considered to be public schools and receive public tax funds to operate, charters do not function under the same rules of transparency or accountability as traditional public schools.  Charter schools must be governed by a non-profit board, but they are often managed by a private, for-profit corporation that charges management fees for a wide-array of administrative services and lease fees for use of the charter’s building that the management company owns.  So, charter schools are publicly financed but privately operated. To date, the required oversight of charters has been provided by locally elected school boards.

            Here is the wording in the proposal that needs close scrutiny: “… but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board. In 2008, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the legislature’s attempt to establish a state-wide charter authorizer was unconstitutional. This proposed language would remove that barrier by removing the reference to charter schools.  We know that this is the intent behind this issue because the CRC previously included the words “charter schools” in language in its early consideration of this issue.  Now, the mention of “charter schools” has disappeared.  If this new language is approved, the Florida legislature or the executive branch would be able to create an appointed commission to review, approve or reject charter school applications, and to operate, control, and supervise such public schools because they would not have been established by the school board, thereby removing any local control or oversight of new “charter schools.”

            This CRC amendment language would enable the legislature or executive branch to appoint a state-wide group that would by-pass locally elected district school boards for the creation, management and oversight of local schools across the state. Funds raised through your local taxes could be used by this new group to fund state-approved, lobbyist-influenced new charter schools whose operations might be managed by an out-of-state, for-profit corporation. This would create a dual system of publicly financed schools without local control. THIS AMENDMENT DOES NOT ADDRESS A PROBLEM; IT CREATES ONE.

SAY NO TO ISSUE C) BECAUSE IT IS DECEPTIVE AND UNDERMINES LOCAL CONTROL OF PUBLIC EDUCATION.

  1. A) “Creates a term limit of eight consecutive years for school board members…”

            School board members are elected in each of Florida’s 67 counties by the county’s registered voters. Currently, terms are for 4 years, with voter option to return or not return a board member to service in the next scheduled election. If voters are not satisfied with a member’s performance, voters can remove the member from office – or retain and re-elect if they are pleased.  A review of school board elections since 2010 shows that 66% of the races were competitive, with a turnover rate of 41%.  We currently have voter-determined term limits: it’s called exercising your right to vote. YOU JUST HAVE TO SHOW UP TO VOTE. The current system works; this non-problem doesn’t need to be added to our Constitution.

SAY NO TO ISSUE A) BECAUSE IT ISN’T A PROBLEM; IT IS TRYING TO BAIT YOU TO ACCEPT THE WHOLE BUNDLE.

  1. B) … requires the legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools.”

            Civic literacy is essential for all voters to understand how our government works so that they make informed decisions on the roles of federal, state and local governments, know how to protect their rights and learn the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.  “Civics” has been a required, one-year course taught to all middle school students in every traditional public school in Florida since 2012; the course is accompanied by a required state-administered end-of-course assessment. 

            In 2017 the legislature passed a bill requiring that students show civics proficiency before they graduate. If the legislature wants to further promote civic literacy in K-12, they can develop and implement a bill that includes funding for new civics coursework.  The existing state-mandated civics course and the civics-related courses in high school already address the issue. THIS NON-PROBLEM DOESN’T NEED TO BE ADDED TO OUR CONSTITUTION.

SAY NO TO ISSUE B) BECAUSE IT ISN’T A PROBLEM; IT IS TRYING TO BAIT YOU TO ACCEPT THE WHOLE BUNDLE.

VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 8.  DON’T TAKE THE CRC’S BAIT.

Two of 8’s issues (A & B) already are addressed through state law and the third issue (C) is destructive to local control of public education.