Gov. Scott just signed HB 7069. Here’s what it does.

Palm Beach County’s school board took the rare step of asking parents to pressure Gov. Rick Scott to veto House Bill 7069. (Image courtesy of PBC school district).

If you follow state politics or education news, you probably know that most of Florida’s traditional public school leaders and teachers were dead set against House Bill 7069, which state lawmakers passed last month and Gov. Rick Scott signed Thursday.

For weeks, campaigns for and against the bill raged across the state, with educators, parents and residents inundating the governor’s office with messages. All told, the governor’s office has recorded more than 45,000 messages either supporting or opposing the bill.

>> Related: HB 7069: Gov. Scott signs charter-friendly education bill into law

One of the most vocal opponents of the bill was Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa, who had taken to social media in recent weeks to decry the bill. He and the county school board even took the unusual step of asking the county’s more than 200,000 public school parents to pressure Scott to veto it.

The 274-page bill makes many changes to state law, ranging from requiring elementary schools to offer daily recess and making it easier for teachers to win bonuses to letting charter schools to get a share of school district construction money and make it easier for charters to move into areas with low-performing traditional public schools.

>> Read the state legislature’s staff analysis of the bill

Here are some of the bill’s key provisions:

School boards must share construction money with charters

A decaying picnic table at Grove Park Elementary School Monday, October 3, 2016. It’s an old school in line for an overhaul. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The provision that most angers Avossa and other school district leaders is one that allows charter schools to take a slice of the money that school districts raise for construction and maintenance through a local property tax.

Under state law, school districts are permitted to levy up to $1.50 for every $1,000 in taxable property value to raise money for construction, maintenance and buying equipment. In Palm Beach County, that tax raises about $275 million a year, and the school district using the money for projects at its more than 180 schools.

HB 7069 would require school districts to give a proportionate share of that money to eligible charter schools operating in their county, with their share determined by the number of students each school enrolls.

 

Not all charters would be eligible. For example conversion charters that operate in school district facilities, such as South Tech Academy and Inlet Grove High School, aren’t eligible.

But the county’s 50-odd charter schools educate slightly more than 10 percent of the county’s public school students. So with some exceptions, they’d be in line for roughly 10 percent of that $275 million.

The law lets school districts deduct the portion of revenue from the tax that goes to debt payments before determining the pot of money that has to be shared with charters.

>> Related: PBC school board asks parents to join in push for Gov. Scott to veto state budget

Administrators estimate that the bill could cost the school district about $10 million next year. That’s about 2 percent of the district’s roughly $400 million capital budget.

But the amount handed over to charters is expected to rise as the school district’s debt level declines and the number of charter school students increases.

Avossa objects that the change would mean more public money going to charters, which are privately operated and whose facilities are privately owned.

If those schools close, Avossa pointed out, the facilities that the charters built, renovated or leased with the money typically remain in private hands and cease to be public assets.

Schools of Hope

Tamara Durant’s 11th grade English class at KIPP Renaissance Charter High School in New Orleans. State lawmakers want to attract charter companies like KIPP with experience teaching with students from underprivileged backgrounds. (Edmund D. Fountain/The New York Times)

One of the bill’s most controversial proposals in the “Schools of Hope” program, which sets up new rules and a new pot of money to encourage charter schools to move into areas where the nearest traditional public schools have persistent low ratings.

The bill would allow the “schools of hope” to open up either in the attendance zone of, or within five miles of, a local traditional public school that has earned either an F or D grade from the state for three straight years.

The “hope” schools would be operated by charter school operators certified by the state as having with a record of serving students from low-income families and raising student performances above the county and state averages. The bill sets aside $140 million that could be used to support and subsidize “schools of hope.”

 

The schools would be eligible for a series of state grants and loans to help them train teachers, transport students and acquire equipment and supplies.

(The program also sets aside extra money — an extra $2,000 a student — for up to 25 low-performing schools across the state. The money is intended to help pay for extra services for students in schools with high concentrations of poverty and persistently low test scores.)

Lawmakers have said that they hope the program will help to attract national charter school companies with demonstrated success educating poor minority students in larger metropolitan areas like New York City and Washington, D.C.

Democrats have opposed the measure, saying that the program would weaken the struggling schools even further by pulling students away from them, and that the money and effort would be better spent improving those schools.

None of Palm Beach County’s public schools currently have three years of consecutive grades under C, meaning no “schools of hope” could open in the county currently.

Mandatory recess

Limestone Creek Elementary students hit the playground for recess. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post file photo)

Florida elementary schools currently don’t have to give students any recess time, but HB 7069 would guarantee students 20 minutes of free play at most public schools.

>> Related: Why Florida might legislate play time at elementary schools

This provision is hailed as a big positive by a group of self-dubbed “recess moms,” who say that guaranteeing elementary students unstructured play is better for their health and their ability to focus.

 

There’s a big loophole in the provision though: The requirement does not apply to charter schools, meaning they can continue to choose not to provide recess time.

That loophole has further angered traditional public school leaders, who say it created a double standard for the two types of schools.

One less standardized exam

File photo

The bill makes several tweaks to Florida’s battery of standardized tests. The biggest one: the state’s Algebra 2 end-of-course exam is eliminated completely.

Passing the Algebra 2 exam was not a requirement for graduation, but students were required to take it. Under the bill, students will still have to pass the Algebra 1 exam or an equivalent test to receive a diploma.

The testing schedule would also be pushed back to the last four weeks of school.

The state’s education department is required to hire an independent expert to study whether the state should let students use SAT or ACT scores instead of passing scores on the state’s standardized 10th grade language arts exam and Algebra 1 exam, which are currently required for high school graduation. The report is due by Jan. 1, 2018.

That study could set the stage for state lawmakers to allow high school students to avoid taking and passing the two must-pass exams if they can show mastery through good scores on the SAT or ACT college-entrance exams.

 

More money for teacher bonuses

Florida lawmakers stoked controversy two years ago when they created the “Best and Brightest” bonus program for public school teachers.

The reason: teachers had to be rated “highly effective” by their school district and had to have scored in the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT college-entrance exams, scores that for many teachers are decades-old.

Last year, 7,118 teachers qualified statewide, earning an extra bonus of $6,816 each.

This year, the requirements have been relaxed, and the bonus program has been vastly expanded, from $49 million to $233 million.

The bill still determines teachers’ eligibility based on old college-exam scores, but it lowers the cutoff from 80th percentile to 77th percentile (with a lower cutoff for teacher who graduated from college with high grades) and expands the types of exam scores qualify, including tests taken to apply for law school, medical school or graduate school.

Teachers who qualify would receive a $6,000 bonus.

The bill also creates a secondary bonus program that the vast majority of Florida teachers will qualify for. No matter what their college test scores may have been, all teachers rated “highly effective” will receive a $1,200 bonus. All teachers rated “effective” will receive a bonus of up to $800.

That’s in addition to the “Best and Brightest” bonuses. So a teacher who gets both could receive an extra $7,200 next year.

Heather Knust, the Palm Beach County School District’s budget director, acknowledged that it’s “a significant amount of money” for teachers but said they would have been better off if the Legislature had simply given that money directly to school districts for teacher raises.

A raise, she said, is more beneficial to teachers because it is raises their base pay for the rest of their career and also can raise their pension payouts once they retire. In contrast, a bonus can be revoked from one year to another and could be revoked in future years if the Legislature cancels the program.

New principal bonuses

Principals whose teacher workforce includes a high percentage of teachers eligible for the ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus would now be eligible for bonuses of up to $5,000 themselves.

To win the bonus, a principal must have spent at least two years leading the school, and the number of teachers at that school qualifying for the bonus must rank in the 80th percentile of schools statewide in that school category (elementary, middle or high).

Principals who oversee schools with high concentrations of poverty would receive $5,000 bonuses. Principals at schools with fewer poorer students would receive $4,000.

Qualifying principals would also have more autonomy regarding spending and personnel decisions.

 

 

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