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Edison, Board join call against ed bill

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By Sean Arnold

The School Board of Levy County and Superintendent Jeff Edison have joined a chorus of calls opposing the Florida legislature’s K-12 education budget proposal and a related bill widely seen as too favorable to charter schools at the expense of the state’s public school students.

Edison and the Board have sent Gov. Rick Scott a letter, asking him to veto HB 7069 and the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) portion of the budget. They’ve endorsed a letter delivered to Scott from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), outlining school districts’ opposition to the budget and the bill.

The letter, penned by FADSS president Malcolm Thomas, details several concerns, beginning with a cut to the Base Student Allocation (BSA), which, along with a proposed increase to the Florida Retirement System (FRS), would largely offset the budget’s increase in per-student funding, which is quoted at .34 percent before factoring in the BSA cut and FRS increase.

“When compared to the funding provided in the budget 10 years ago,” the letter reads, “the essential core of the operating budget remains below pre-recession levels.”

The item coming in for the most criticism is a portion of HB 7069 that would make charter schools under certain conditions eligible to receive public funding through capital outlay millage.

“This new requirement forcing school districts to automatically share the capital outlay millage with charter schools, regardless of need and void of a locally-driven process, will severely impact a school district’s ability to meet the ongoing transportation and building and maintenance needs of Florida public schools,” Thomas wrote in a press release.

The proposed budget calls for $200 million to be set aside for charter schools deemed “schools of hope,” which are supposed to help serve students from failing public schools. The FADSS letter says those charter schools are not held to the same account as public schools, however, and aren’t required to take in such students even as they receive the additional public funding.

The letter to Scott also targets what it calls an undermining of local control for school boards. Other critics have made connections between lawmakers who favor the bill and their ties to the charter school industry.

Edison says the budget is not all bad for public schools, but he laments the lack of transparency of the process under which it was formulated, arguing that it attempts to smuggle through unpopular items that failed to previously pass.

“The biggest issue with 7069 is how it was created,” the superintendent says. “It did not go through the due process it was supposed to go through. In fact, in that bill are a lot of things that got defeated, did not pass, on the House floor, and bills that have been squashed in the Senate over the last five years, that they’ve now put back in 7069.”

Edison says the bill’s specification for capital sharing creates a double standard that leaves public schools at a disadvantage when it comes to justifying spending on projects. He notes that public schools are held accountable in several ways that charter schools are not. The FADSS letter cites the bill’s requirement for a certain number of recess hours offered at public schools as one such example.

“We have to have a plan – a need – to spend our dollars,” Edison says. “If you have capital dollars, you have to have a capital need. But that’s not how they’re going to allocate funding at the charter schools. They’re going to allocate dollars at the charter schools on a per-pupil basis. They don’t have to have a need to get the dollar.

“What hurts us is there are a whole different set of requirements that they get and we don’t. For example, everything from building codes to classroom sizes to prekindergarten requirements, it doesn’t apply to charter schools.

“We have a different set of rules. We have to take every kid – they don’t.”

Edison’s critique is aimed at what he and other critics of the bill call for-profit charter schools.

“Bear in mind, our charter schools in Levy County, they work hard and they’re not the for-profit charter schools,” he says. “There are two types of charter schools: for-profit charter schools and community-based charter schools. We have a community-based charter school. The law doesn’t differentiate between the two, but it is a different animal than the for-profit charter schools.”