Putting Education Reform To The Test

Session 2013 Town Hall: Teacher Raises, School Funding, Parent Trigger Bill

Terence Shepherd/WLRN

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts filled up early for the Session 2013 Town Hall hosted by WLRN and The Miami Herald.

The Florida Legislature convenes next week for its annual 60-day session.

Education will be among the key issues getting lawmakers’ attention.

The Miami Herald and WLRN radio hosted a town hall meeting this week in Fort Lauderdale featuring three panelists – Senate majority leader Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater; Senate minority leader Chris Smith, D-Oakland Park; and Mary Ellen Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief for The Miami Herald.

We told you yesterday about the discussion involving college affordability and in-state tuition for the children of undocumented residents.

Much of the talk also touched on K-12 funding, teacher pay, and the parent trigger bill.

Here is a sampling of the questions and answers moderated by WLRN host Phil Latzman:

Q: The governor has added an additional $1.2 billion in his version of the state budget (that lawmakers) will be going over in the next two months; $480 million of that for teacher raises…Is it going to go to the right place – do you agree with that proposal?

A: Sen. Smith: “When you look at what has happened since the governor’s come into office, if the average teacher makes about $47,500 a year, with the 3% that we’ve taken from them towards retirement over two years equals over $2800. So even (with) the $2500 bonus, they’re still under water under this governor and the legislature for the last two years.

You’re talking about a profession that’s already underpaid and dealing with our kids.

It seems in Tallahassee every two years we come up with these different education gimmicks…and teachers are having trouble keeping up with the gimmicks that we tell them to do. Every time they figure out this initiative, we come up with another one…

I think that the best thing that the governor and the legislature could do is try letting something work for a while. Let the teachers get used to one thing. See if it works.

Q: The idea of putting more money towards education – this is quite a change for a governor who took some money out of it, a substantial amount two years ago when he was first elected… Where does one of the leaders in the Senate stand on that billion dollar-plus increase for education?

A: Sen. Latvala: “I believe the Senate’s heading in the direction of a substantial increase in education funding. I think the governor realizes that we can’t send out a check directly to every teacher in the state for $2500 because teachers are under union contracts, and there’s collective bargaining with schools boards.

And I think what you will see will be an amount appropriated out through the education funding system to the counties that will allow the counties to do that…I think that a $2500 raise is better than no raise.

We’re fortunate to have some increasing revenue, and I think the first place that we need to put that revenue is in our schools.

Q: Should the Legislature approve parent trigger laws to turn public schools into charter schools?

A: Sen. Latvala: The bill last year that was under consideration would have applied to charter schools as well as public schools. Any failing school for a period of two years would have been eligible for the parents to take control of that school.

As I understand it, the bill this year allows the parents in the school to petition the local school board to make the decision and make the change.

I think a lot of parents are upset with the quality of the education that their children get and this is one mechanism to allow them to have a voice in that.

I think there’s probably some parts of that law that I don’t like, and last year we amended the bill to clean up some of those parts – the parts that would allow commercial schools or commercial organizations to basically go out and solicit parents to make it a for-profit kind of endeavor. I don’t think we want to go in that direction. But I understand the frustration that a lot of parents have.

Q: Are we better off now than we were two or three years ago? The state budget seems to be a little more flush than it was before, so are we in a better position now than we were a couple of years ago so that people are not furloughed or there are no teachers losing their jobs?

A: Mary Ellen Klas: The state budget does look rosier at this point in time, and that’s because as the economy has improved, the Budget Estimating Conference has decided that there’s about half a billion dollars in new money. But that is before what’s happening in Washington (now).

There’s some speculation that if the sequester happens, that could have a huge effect on Florida’s budget.


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