The Lee County school board member who cast the decisive vote to opt the district out of state-required tests wants to reconsider the vote next week. The district will meet at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
University of Florida President Bernie Machen says the school must raise tuition — a challenge to Gov. Rick Scott who has opposed and vetoed tuition hikes. Florida public universities have among the lowest tuition in nation.
When Florida first approved its private school tax credit scholarship program in 2001, Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer said education groups questioned the legality, but no one really objected to helping low-income students get out of low-performing schools.
But then the scholarship program started to grow. Lawmakers approved a law that automatically expanded the program each year. Then earlier this year, lawmakers raised the income cap. Now, a family of four earning $62,000 can receive a partial scholarship.
The program enrolls about 69,000 kids with a top scholarship value of just under $5,300.
“There comes a time when there’s a tipping point that’s reached,” Meyer said. “I think a lot of people turned a blind eye to the constitutional questions which were presented, even as this program was rolled out.”
Last night, the Lee County school board became the first district to refuse state testing entirely. Other Florida school districts are also considering saying no to state exams.
The Florida School Boards Association is meeting next week and has posted an outline of the consequences for not complying state law.
The first step is an investigation by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, according to the document posted by FSBA. If Stewart determines the district isn’t complying with state law, the State Board of Education can order the district to comply.
If the district refuses, the State Board of Education can ask the Legislature to take action. The state board can also withhold the transfer of state funds (and a big chunk of operations money goes through the state budget), lottery money or grants.
Lee County’s school board became the first in the state Wednesday night to decide district students would no longer take statewide exams, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.
What happens next in uncertain.
State law requires school districts to participate in the statewide testing program. Those scores are used to determine grades for public schools, student promotions, high school graduation and teacher evaluation scores. Federal rules also require annual testing.
Lee County superintendent Nancy Morgan said she was concerned about the decision. The district’s attorney said school board members could be removed from office. From the News-Press story:
While the news was met with jubilation, Superintendent Nancy Graham said she was deeply concerned about the board’s decision.
“This will hurt children. There is no way around it,” Graham said while the audience booed. “I am gravely concerned about the decision that was made tonight, and I’ll try to make sense of this. It’s an interesting time to serve as the leader of this district.”
The meeting adjourned without discussion regarding what test – if any – will now be used in place of the state tests. The board members did not address if the decision will include charter schools.
Keith Martin, the board’s attorney, was not sure that there were any “immediate, clear” consequences to the action. He said it was possible the Governor could remove the school board members from their positions of power.
Gov. Rick Scott is ready to take the federal government to court over testing rules for students learning English.
The U.S. Department of Education says Florida must count those students’ results after one year in school. Scott and Florida educators want to give students two years to learn English.
Scott said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart will send a letter asking the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider testing rules for students learning English. If they don’t change their mind in 30 days, Scott said the state could go to court.
“We believe federal officials haven’t properly scrutinized their decision,” Scott said. “If they refuse, we will begin reviewing every legal option that is available to us.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has filed a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s administration over its support of Common Core math and language arts standards. States were given an advantage in a federal education grant program if they adopted the standards, which Jindal says “effectively forces states down a path toward a national curriculum.”
Voters turned out two leaders of the Florida School Boards Association in campaigns contested on school choice and Florida’s new math and language arts standards. But incumbents mostly won reelection across Florida Tuesday night, or advanced to a November runoff.
Two-term Indian River school board member Karen Disney-Brombach was defeated by Shawn Frost and Volusia County school board member Diane Smith was ousted by Melody Johnson. Disney-Brombach is the president of the Florida School Boards Association and Smith was slated to follow her.
The incumbents viewed the races as proxy battles over the school boards association’s plans to challenge a private school tax scholarship program in court. School choice advocacy group the Federation For Children — which shares leadership with the non-profit which oversees the tax credit scholarship program — bought advertising targeting the incumbents in both races.
But on the west coast of Florida, incumbent school board candidates largely won reelection. Sarasota voters rejected two candidates in a race largely shaped by the debate over Florida’s Common Core-based math and language arts standards. From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:
A handful of Florida districts are talking about skipping state-required tests this year, including the new Florida Standards Assessment replacing most of the FCAT.
Last week, Palm Beach County school board members said they wanted to send a message to state leaders by skipping the new exam. Earlier this month, Lee County school board members said they wanted to study the idea.
But the district better be prepared to pay the price of skipping the new exam — quite literally. Skip the exam and the state is likely to withhold money.
“The ramifications could be pretty dramatic for a district that wanted to do this,” says Florida Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick. “This is uncharted waters. No districts have done this.”
Follick added the state could withhold state funds, grants and lottery money. Lawmakers could decide on additional sanctions, he said. Most K-12 public school operations are funded through the state.
School board members say opting out an entire school district is unlikely.
“I believe in assessment,” Palm Beach school board member Karen Brill said last week. “I believe in testing that’s used for measurement, not punishment. I believe that we as a district need to research opting out from the new Florida Standard Assessments.
“Sometimes it takes an act of civil disobedience to move forward.”
Brill and other school leaders, teachers, parents and students have complained Florida has attached too many consequences to the results of state tests.
Results from Florida’s statewide test form the basis for the A-through-F grades issued to most public schools each year. Teachers are rated — and paid — based on the test results of their students. And some students are not allowed to advance a grade or graduate from high school unless they pass state tests.
Florida parents have organized and taught other parents how to opt their children out of testing, denying the use of those test results.
But Follick says many educators find the statewide test results valuable. He noted school districts trumpet positive results on the test.
“Students who are not having the opportunity to show what they have gained in a year of school are going to be at a disadvantage,” Follick says. “It’s going to be difficult for parents to know how well their student has done that year.
“I think when they weigh the pros and the cons I think they will understand this is definitely to the benefit of the students.”
Gov. Rick Scott says he wants to review testing in Florida schools and the state’s new Common Core-based standards. It’s part of Scott’s latest campaign trail education proposal, released Monday.
Scott’s proposal would also increase the bonuses paid to teachers who win state and district teacher of the year awards. He also wants to double state funding for school technology to $80 million.