Here's a quick look at what's up this week in education policy and program development:
FLORIDA REQUESTS TO BECOME ELIGIBLE FOR STIMULUS FUNDING
Although Florida is currently ineligible to receive stimulus funding from ARRA because its budget for education has fallen too far in recent years, the State of Florida has applied for a waiver from this requirement. More information about the waiver, and an update on status of that request is expected on Monday from the U.S. Secretary of Education. The state could receive more than $13 billion (counting all components over the next three years) from this federal program.
LOOPHOLE IN STIMULUS LAW?
There has been quite a bit of intriguing legal research into the possibility that if Florida does receive education stimulus finding, then these funds could be less restricted than anticipated. You may see articles and e-mail messages claiming that longstanding language in Title VIII (Impact Aid) of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act might provide a legal means for states and school districts to use stimulus funds with fewer strings attached. Please be cautious about putting much credence into such articles, since this is very much an unresolved issue. If something comes of it, then so much the better, but it is still too early to know.
BEWARE OF THE LATEST TWIST IN FRAUD: STIMULUS SCAMS
A number of scams have surfaced recently using all sorts of appeals related to the federal stimulus funding. Some of these claim that "secret government grants" are available, that "early no-file tax refunds" can be claimed, and that "emergency cash for laid-off workers" can be obtained from the scammer. The scam artists obtain up-front fees for these non-existent benefits, and then vanish. These appeals may be more effective right now because of the enormous complexity and rampant misinformation about the stimulus funding, and because in times of distress, people naturally wish to believe in good news. Please help raise awareness that anything that sounds too good to be true just isn't true.
LEGISLATIVE SESSION UPDATES
A number of bills would make changes to how local property taxes are assessed and collected, and many of these changes could result in lower revenues for school districts, counties, municipalities, and other local taxing agencies. The Governor has asked the Legislature to hold local property tax revenues level with the current year, but has received no commitments from the Senate President or the House Speaker that this will be done.
There has been quite a bit of recent activity by citizens and educators encouraging the Legislature to protect the education budget, including the delivery of 2.6 million pennies (one for each Florida school student) to Tallahassee. Here are some updates on the results:
TEACHER CONTRACT BILL PASSES COMMITTEE VOTE: House Bill 1411 was approved by a House committee today. It originally proposed restricting professional contracts to teachers who had successfully completed ten annual contracts, but the new version calls for five. The current requirement is three, so this could add significantly to the time it takes a teacher to advance from annual contract status.
INCREASED GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS APPROVED BY COMMITTEE: A revised version of House Bill 1293 was approved by a House committee yesterday. The committee version of the bill would reportedly require credits in geometry, algebra II, biology and chemistry for high school graduation. It would also require Level 3 performance or higher on 10th grade mathematics and reading assessments for graduation. (Current law requires a score in the middle of the Level 2 range.) Had this requirement been in effect last year, the failure rate in reading would have been 62% instead of 43%, requiring many thousands of students to enroll in remedial courses and retake the examination. (Note: the current text of this bill is not yet available online.)
EXPECTED REVENUES ADJUSTED DOWNWARD: As expected, the General Revenue Estimating Conference last Friday ended with disastrous news. Essentially, the state's economists predicted that current year revenues would actually be lower than the November estimate by an additional $1.1 billion or 4.9%. For next year, the revenue prediction was lowered by an additional $2.3 billion or 10.6% below the previous estimate. Much more information available at http://edr.state.fl.us/conferences/generalrevenue/grconference.htm
Links to bill text are available upon request.
* * * * *
STATE RECOVERY AND TRANSPARENCY WEB SITES LAUNCHED
The Governor launched a Web site to promote use of stimulus funding at http://flarecovery.com/
The state's Chief Financial Officer added vendor payment lookup ability at https://flair.dbf.state.fl.us/
* * * * *
TATER TOTS AND TUNES: Noting the benefits of music and that policing personal electronic devices need not take up the time of school officials, the Broward School Board moved to permit student use of iPods and similar devices during lunchtime.
ENTIRE SCHOOL DISTRICT LET GO: Facing catastrophic drops in enrollment and funding, the Pontiac, Michigan school district will lay off every single employee and only hire back essential staff.
* * * * *
RUNNING THE NUMBERS
1. Number of births to U.S. mothers aged 15-19 in 2007: 445,045
2. Percentage of all U.S. births this represents: 10.3
3. Percentage of Florida's FY07 four-year cohort who graduated from high school "on time": 72.4
4. Percentage of Florida's population over 25 with a high school diploma, as of 2007: 84.4
5. Percentage of U.S. population over 25 with a high school diploma, as of 2007: 84
6. Number of pennies sent to Tallahassee to promote penny sales tax for education: 2,600,000
7. Estimated weight of these pennies, in tons: 7.5
1, 2 Center for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_12.pdf
3 Florida Department of Education http://www.fldoe.org/eias/eiaspubs/word/5yrgrad.doc
4, 5 U.S. Bureau of the Census 2005-2007 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates
6, 7 St. Petersburg Times http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/article984475.ece