Here's how things stand this week in the world of education policy and program development:
DECISION NEARS REGARDING FLORIDA ELIGIBILITY FOR STIMULUS FINDING
The Secretary said this week that Florida should know within the next couple of weeks if it will be eligible to receive funding under the federal stimulus plan. The state must submit a request for a waiver from a stimulus requirement that would otherwise bar the state from receiving these funds because its funding for education has declined so much in the past few years. Florida officials expect to submit the waiver request as soon as the application becomes available. The U.S. Department of Education now expects that applications will be made available on Monday.
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ADDITIONAL IDEA AND TITLE I-A GRANT FUNDS SOON TO FLOW
Stimulus-funded IDEA applications are available to Florida school districts in draft form now, and districts are working on their proposals. Stimulus-funded Title I, Part A applications will soon be available. For each grant funding stream, there are numerous and complex decisions yet to be made regarding eligibility, maintenance of effort, equitable provision of services, supplanting rules and principles, and transparency and accountability requirements. The principal investigators for these federal-through-state grant programs are under extraordinary pressure to devise very complicated plans in a very brief period of time, so be patient with them as they work through a volatile situation.
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FLORIDA SENATE AND FLORIDA HOUSE CONSIDER USE OF STIMULUS FUNDS IN FY10 BUDGET
The Florida Senate's Education Appropriations committee included anticipated revenues from a deal with Seminole casinos and $865 million in anticipated federal stimulus funds in its most current version of an FY10 budget for education. The proposal prohibits districts from awarding continuing contracts to new employees hired with non-recurring funds, and removes state requirements for districts to honor out-of-state teaching experience for salary purposes. The proposed budget leverages federal funding and increases in discretionary local millage to hold total education funding more or less flat from the third quarter FY09 calculation. The proposal places limits on administrative contracts and prohibits out-of-state travel unless specifically approved by a school board. The Senate committee proposal holds class size reduction calculations at the school level for an additional year, and clarifies that charter schools must comply with the constitutional limits on class size. The Senate committee proposal provides more flexibility in several capital and operating budget areas, a provision long-sought by school districts. The MAP and Excellent Teaching programs were merged with local flexibility. School recognition funds were cut by more than half and Teachers Lead funding was eliminated in the proposal.
See the current Senate committee budget proposal at http://www.flsenate.gov/data/committees/Senate/meeting_packets/EA.pdf
After much discussion, the House finally consented to include anticipated federal stimulus in its budget proposal. A House proposal will likely be released next week, and the level of per-student funding is expected to be considerably lower, perhaps 10%. However, many regard the House accession to the use of stimulus money to be helpful to schools.
See Sun-Sentinel article at http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/schools/sfl-flfbudget0327pnmar27,0,606211.story
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MINOR CHARTER SCHOOL BILL SUDDENLY CHANGES TO MAJOR ACCOUNTABILITY BILL
In an startling bit of legislative legerdemain, the entire text and purpose of HB 991 has been changed. Originally written to give the now-defunct Florida Schools of Excellence Commission a new purpose to exist, the bill now vastly revises the state school accountability plan by essentially writing the current differentiated accountability plan (currently an amalgam of grant agreements and state rules) into law. The current differentiated accountability plan only applies to Title I schools, but all public schools and public charter schools would be held to the same standards under the proposed law. The intervention and restructuring requirements placed on Title I schools under NCLB would now be imposed on all schools under this proposed state law. School grade calculations would also change to include subgroup determinations consistent with NCLB's AYP calculations.
The bill essentially imposes Title I accountability standards on all schools without providing any commensurate funding for those schools to meet the higher standards. It is not clear why or how the committee determined that these proposed first-in-the-nation changes would create no fiscal impact.
The replacement bill text was approved by the House PK-12 Education Policy Committee on March 25th.
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VOTERS MAY DECIDE ON COMBINED CLASS SIZE AND PENNY SALES TAX MEASURE
Added to the current debate on a proposed three-year one-cent sales tax for education and a possible referendum to amend the state's constitutional class size requirements is a new idea that combines both approaches. There is now some discussion to allow voters to see a single amendment that both modifies the class size rules and imposes a permanent one-cent sales tax for education. The idea is being floated as a way for both parties to get at ideas they each champion. The concept is only possible because the legislature is free to propose constitutional amendments that deal with several topics, but citizen-initiated proposals can only address a single issue.
See St. Petersburg Times article at http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/article987185.ece
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RUNNING THE NUMBERS
1. Number of consecutive years in which the rate of students not promoted has decreased in Florida: 5
2. Percentage by which boys are more often not promoted than girls in Florida: 50
3. Average annual salary for a K-12 classroom teacher in Florida as of 2008: 46,930
4. Number of veterans soon to be eligible for GI Bill benefits at Florida colleges and universities: 41,000
5. Number of principals Pasco's Moon Lake Elementary School had this year: 5
1, 2. Florida Department of Education http://www.fldoe.org/eias/eiaspubs/word/nonpromotions.doc
3. Florida Department of Education http://www.fldoe.org/eias/eiaspubs/xls/dstsal0708.xls
5. St. Petersburg Times http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/article987145.ece