Thursday, May 25, 2017

Florida Citizens Alliance Objections to Textbooks to be Heard at Special School Board Meeting June 1st

Thursday, June 1, 4 PM
CCPS Administrative Center
5775 Osceola Trail, Naples
Seven Collier County parents affiliated with the Florida Citizens Alliance will each have up to ten minutes to object to Collier County Public School textbook selections at a Special School Board meeting next Thursday, thanks to SB 864: Instructional Materials for K–12 Public Education, signed into law by Gov. Scott in 2014.

Florida Citizens Alliance (FCA) is a "self-professed constitutionalism group" whose issues are the Second Amendment and local control of public education. It was founded by Keith Flaugh of Marco Island; Collier School Board member Erika Donalds was also a founding member, and unsuccessful 2016 School Board candidate Louise Penta serves on the group’s Board of Directors.

Backed by FCA, SB 864 requires at least one parent to be included in a school district’s textbook review process. This year’s CS/HB 989, sponsored by Donalds’ husband Rep. Byron Donalds and also backed by FCA, takes SB 864 even further by giving any local taxpayer the right to challenge, in FCA’s words, “factually inaccurate instructional materials (materials that do not present balanced viewpoints on issues), as well as other instructional materials that contain age-inappropriate sexually explicit material that violates existing Florida Laws.”

Read the objections to the textbooks on FCA’s website here or on the CCPS website here.

My goal with this post is to make readers aware of who these objections are coming from (not just any parent) and their ideology. I will share some of the objections to each book, but to get the full flavor, I encourage you to read at least one of the submissions in its entirety. By clicking a book’s title, below, you can access the book from the District’s website, but this access may only be available until the conclusion of the Special School Board Meeting.

Florida Social Studies - used in grades K–5

The objection to this series of social studies books was submitted by Kenneth Lee Dixon, unsuccessful 2014 School Board candidate and parent of a Mason Classical Academy Charter School student, and Mary Ellen Cash, a teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Read it here. They assert that the series is suited for English language learners and therefore “reduce(s) rigor and is not appropriate for mainstream or gifted students.” They also criticize when and the way in which immigration is presented and that immigration law is not addressed.

By the People: A History of the United States - used in high school Advanced Placement U.S. History

David Bolduc, who succeeded Erika Donalds as president of Parents ROCK, and a parent of a Naples High School student, objected (here) to this book. In his view, “this History textbook is more concerned with indoctrinating our children to become future social justice warriors part of a humanistic, collectivized society where rights are given by government, rather than teaching them the United States of America was created based on the universal principles of the unalienable God-given rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence.” He believes the theme or purpose of the book is “To glorify advocates who want to destroy the founding values of the United States of America and substitute them with an authoritarian, communist, collectivise [sic] form of government and economy,” the consequence of which would be “to accept collectivism as beneficial."

Understanding Economics - used in high school Economics

James Kelly submitted an objection (here) to this textbook. The same document on the Florida Citizens Alliance website was submitted by Joseph Doyle, a frequent CCPS critic at School Board meetings. They call the book “a continuation of the left-leaning propaganda that demonizes free enterprise while advocating top-down government, deficit spending and class warfare.” They point to a lesson on fiscal policy that “is riddled with editorializing and sweeping generalizations that disparage supply-side economics,” and say the textbook “glorifies the biographies of ideologues Karl Marx, Cezar Chavez, and Paul Krugman as well as pop culture financial industry celebrities Suze Orman and Janet Yellen, and CEO's [sic] Daniel Akerson and Irene Rosenfeld.”

Street Law: A Course in Practical Law - used in high school Law Studies

Brantley Oakey, parent of a Mason Classical Academy student, objected (here) to this textbook. He sees a “recurring theme that the Constitution is inferior and should model the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and provide economic rights.” As a consequence, “Students will be conditioned to believe everyone should be entitled to free healthcare, housing, and work as a legal right and that the Constitution needs to be changed to accommodate this.”

Steven J. Bracci also objected to the Law Studies textbook (here). Bracci, a Naples attorney who has sued both the Collier County School Board and the Superintendent, is a parent of students attending Gulf Coast High School and North Naples Middle School. He cites a “bias against the status quo of the U.S. legal system, and the U.S. Constitution in particular.” Among his specific criticisms:

  • The book frames the National Rifle Association in the negative (they "oppose restrictions on gun ownership and use”) rather than in the affirmative (“for instance, promoting the Constitutional right to bear arms as set forth in the Second Amendment”).
  • The section on voting “is slanted as a criticism of a republic form of government, advocating instead in favor of direct votes by the people.”
  • The section on campaign finance reform is biased in that it does not “provide any hyperlink to an organization that supports the Citizens United position; by contrast, the link to the League of Women's [sic] Voters specifically opposes it.”

United States Government: Our Democracy - used in high school U.S. Government

J. Eric Konuk, parent of a Naples High School student, submitted a review (here) that according to the FCA website was co-written with FCA founder Keith Flaugh. It begins by criticizing the book’s title, writing: “US is not a democracy; We are a Constitutional Republic,” and quotes the following from lexrex.com which I traced to The American Ideal of 1776: The Twelve Basic American Principles:

“Democracy and Republic, are not only dissimilar but antithetical, reflecting the sharp contrast between (a) The Majority Unlimited, in a Democracy, lacking any legal safeguard of the rights of The Individual and The Minority, and (b) The Majority Limited, in a Republic under a written Constitution safeguarding the rights of The Individual and The Minority …."

The ”About Us” page of the Lexrex website Konuk and Flaugh reference concludes: “Forget about 'Saving the Public Schools!' SAVE YOUR OWN CHILDREN FIRST! Hopefully the kids in the government-controlled schools can be rehabilitated by your homeschooled kids later. We should have free (100% voluntary - funded by true charity) schools for poor kids and government-controlled schools for no one's kids.”

Florida United States History - used in high School U.S. History Honors

Douglas A. Lewis, an attorney and parent of three Mason Classical Academy students, and H. Michael Mogil, owner of a local math tutoring company, submitted a 26-page objection (here) to this textbook. Among their objections:
  • There is “a strong social undercurrent in the book, attacking white men and businesses and favoring immigrants and government activity.” 
  • Judging the missions and goals of “the large number of civic and social groups that are listed as program advisors and program partners”, “it is clear that community action for social change and social justice are strong focus.”
  • “The material is written in too simplistic a format; questions are not rigorous enough; supportive material is often lacking; and the focus remains on a timeline rather than topical. Further, history in this book is dominated by social and people issues, rather than discussions of significant issues."

My take, and looking ahead

While I commend the effort it took to review the materials and prepare the written objections, I do not share FCA’s ideology and find a good deal of the rhetoric on its website and the cited lexrex.com website, and in the submitted objections, disturbing.

That said, if the criticism that the books fail to present both sides of issues is valid, I encourage teachers to supplement those presentations. In these highly polarized and politicized times, young people must learn that there ARE controversial issues and how to identify them. They must learn that there are extreme positions as well as more moderate ones, and that dialog and ultimately compromise on difficult issues are necessary in a civil society.

Curriculum and instructional materials were issues in past School Board elections and will continue to be in the elections ahead. FCA can be expected to continue its efforts.

Five elected School Board members make District policy and hire the Superintendent who oversees the education of Collier’s kids. Three of the five seats will be on the ballot in August 2018. It’s not too soon to be paying attention.

Update 
As initially published, this post had an incorrect date for the Special Board Meeting, and said each speaker would have three minutes to address the Board. The correct meeting date is Thursday, June 1. I have been advised that each speaker will have up to ten minutes to address the Board.

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, "like" me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.





Monday, May 22, 2017

Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session - Part 2

As promised in my last post, here's a look at the major education policies contained in bills awaiting the Governor signature.

Testing - The many people who wanted fewer state-mandated tests, a later “testing window” (calendar) in which to give them, and a return to paper-based assessments got much less than they asked for. Just one end-of-course exam (Algebra II) and phys ed for student-athletes who don’t take a PE course were eliminated. The testing window was pushed back to start May 1 and reduced to two weeks, gaining one to three weeks of instructional time. Paper-based testing will be required for grades three through six in English language arts (ELA) and math starting in the 2017-18 year, and for all ELA and math exams no later than 2018-19. Test results will have to be provided more quickly and with clearer explanations. Exceptions are for third-grade reading and paper-based tests in grades three through six, which take longer to grade. These provisions are included in the massive HB 7069, which has not yet been received by the Governor but could well be vetoed.

Teacher Pay - The Legislature again this year favored bonuses for “effective” teachers over across-the-board pay increases for all teachers. They expanded the 2015 “Best and Brightest Scholarship” program to more teachers in that for the next three years, those who earn a "highly effective" rating would get a $1,200 bonus while those with "effective" ratings would get $800. After that time, new criteria would kick in for a higher payout. They also added an award for principals in schools with the highest percentage of Best and Brightest teachers, and eliminated the bonus cap for teachers whose students successfully complete AP, AICE and similar tests. Responding to teacher complaints, they  removed the requirement for districts to evaluate teachers using the controversial "value-added model," which relies on test scores. But they took away the ability of school boards to offer guaranteed employment extensions to teachers on annual contract, something many districts have done since 2011. All these provisions are included in HB 7069.

Mandatory Recess - Florida's self-designated "recess moms" wanted 20 minutes of daily elementary school recess. They found quick support in the Senate, but the House was slow to respond. The idea resurfaced in the final days of horse-trading and was included in the massive HB 7069, but with an unrequested exemption for charter schools.

Instructional Materials Review - Rep. Byron Donalds and local supporters including the Florida Citizens Alliance and Better Collier County Schools wanted non-parent community members to be able to challenge curriculum and library materials. Opponents, including Florida Citizens for Science, strongly opposed the controversial HB 989, citing supporters’ “vociferous opposition to established, accurate science concepts” including evolution and climate change. Following a massive lobbying effort by both sides, lawmakers adopted most of Donalds’ original bill. And districts will have to bring in an "unbiased and qualified hearing officer" to hear complaints and issue recommendations. Next stop: the Governor’s Office.

Religious Expression in Public Schools - Further testing the line between church and state, the Legislature passed SB 436, the "Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act.” Students may use religious content during lessons, wear clothing and jewelry with religious symbols at school, and participate in religious activities including prayer at school during “appropriate" times. Districts must adopt policies allowing "limited public forums" for students to pray at school events, and school employees may participate in student-led religious activities on school grounds, as long as the activities are voluntary and do not interfere with the employees' responsibilities. Next stop: the Governor’s Office.

Improve middle school study performance - The Legislature was shown data sourced to an email from the Foundation for Florida’s Future showing that Florida students in grade 8 have performed below the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Mathematics test since 1990, and below or most recently at the national average on the NAEP Reading test since 1998. It was told that NAEP is “the largest nationally representative assessment of students’ knowledge and performance in a variety of subject areas, including but not limited to mathematics, reading, and writing.” In response, the Legislature passed HB 293 directing the state Department of Education to solicit competitive bids to “conduct a comprehensive study of states with high-performing students in grades 6 through 8 in reading and mathematics, based on the states’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” and submit recommendations to improve middle school study performance by the end of this year. The bill is pending in the Governor’s Office; he has until June 2 to act.

It’s not too late to weigh in

Do you oppose the lack of transparency with which so many education policy issues were decided and shoe-horned into a 274-page bill? Do you think there’s still too much state-mandated testing? Do you object to the charter-school exemption from the mandated recess time? Do you think the "Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholarship" program is the best way to attract and keep the best teachers in Florida? Are you okay with the “Religious Expression in Public Schools” bill? Are you concerned about the education budget or any of the other policy changes included in HB 7069? If so, it’s not too late to let Governor Scott know!

And given the many press reports that he’s listening, I urge you to do so. (PoliticoFlorida)

It’s easy to call the Governor’s office — (850) 488-7146 or (850) 717-9337 — and leave a message with your name, your city and zip code, the bill number you’re calling about, and whether you want him to sign or veto it. It would be nice, but not necessary, for you to include a one-sentence reason why. Or email Rick.Scott@eog.myflorida.com.

Let your voice be heard now!


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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, "like" me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapboxor follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Monday, May 15, 2017

Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session - Part 1

The Old Capitol Building
Tallahassee, FL
The 2017 Legislative Session ended Monday, 3 days late, because the House and Senate could not get their only constitutionally-mandated job — passing a balanced budget for the 2017–18 fiscal year — done on time.

It took Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran making significant deals behind closed doors to get it done, for which they have been widely criticized. (Sunshine State News)

Gov. Rick Scott got just a fraction of the tax cuts he wanted and his three biggest priorities (VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing, Enterprise Florida incentives to lure businesses to the state, and money to speed up rebuilding the leaking dike around Lake Okeechobee) were virtually ignored. (BizJournals.com)

In this post, I’ll take a high-level look at the budget deal Corcoran and Negron reached with an emphasis on the areas I’m most interested in: education, health care and the environment. In my next post, I’ll look more specifically at how K–12 education was affected.

A high-level look at the budget


The deal struck resulted in a $82.4 billion budget, which is essentially unchanged from the current year. An additional $2.4 billion in additional appropriations is contained in budget conforming bills for items including hospital funding (the low income pool), state employee pay raises, Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida and educational programs. (More below.)


Education


The Legislature approved K–12 funding of $20.4 billion, up just 1.2% ($241 million) over the current year. This equates to per-student funding of $7,220.72, up just 0.3%.

Beyond what was in the main budget bill, a 274-page, $419 million education policy overhaul (HB 7069) was cobbled together and narrowly passed in the session's final days. In a statement on the House budget, Speaker Richard Corcoran touted the package of “innovative programs to end failure factories” and said "I think [it] is going to go down as one of the greatest K-12 bills in the history of the state of Florida." (Miami Herald / FloridaPolitics.com)

While separate from the budget, I'm discussing HB 7069 in this post because it's such a significant amount of money. It includes many priorities of the school choice movement, and -- if signed by the Governor -- it will affect everything from charters and recess to teacher contracts and virtual schooling.

For example, it funds a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program that offers incentives to privately-managed charter schools to entice them to take over low-performing public schools in poor neighborhoods. This program is opposed by many who because it takes money away from already-struggling districts.

The bill also includes $234 million to expand to more teachers and extend to principals the “Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program” which awards bonuses based on GPA or scores on standardized tests. Many, including the Governor, question the program's assumption that those who did well while in high school on standardized tests make the best teachers or principals.

In another controversial funding area resolved by compromise, two school voucher programs were significantly expanded. The Gardiner Scholarship program benefiting children with disabilities was broadened so that more could qualify, and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program got more money so families can stay in the program when their children advance to high school, where private education is more expensive. That program, made possible “almost entirely by a single organization led by an influential and wealthy school choice advocate,” gives businesses dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donating money to the scholarship fund. (Miami Herald / Sunshine State News)

Calls for veto

In the hours and days since Monday’s session-end, supporters of public education have spoken out strongly. The state’s largest teachers union was among the first, urging the Governor to veto the K–12 part of the budget as well as HB 7069.

The Florida League of Women Voters said the Legislature “sent a message that our schools, teachers, and students are not valued,” and also called for the veto of HB 7069.

In a fact-filled and strongly-worded editorial titled “Gov. Rick Scott should veto efforts to starve public schools,” the Tampa Bay Times wrote, “Gov. Rick Scott should veto the anemic public schools budget and a mammoth education bill that was negotiated in secret and micromanages school districts to death.”

And in an editorial titled “Long state legislative session came up short,” the Naples Daily News wrote, “Teacher retention in public schools is a critical issue in Collier and Lee. The Legislature delivered a paltry $24 more per student, some $200 less per student than Scott proposed. House leaders instead crowed about helping charter schools.”

Health Care


Legislators struggled to resolve health care funding issues, ultimately agreeing to cut $521 million from hospitals, including a reduced reimbursement rate for serving poor and uninsured patients. (Naples Daily News / Health News Florida)


Environment


Funding for the environment is always a contentious issue. Ultimately, Senate President Negron got money for his priority, a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that will be used to help avoid harmful discharges to coastal waterways. And while the budget includes funding for beach and springs restoration, nothing was provided for the Florida Forever land acquisition program. (FloridaPolitics.com / Tampa Bay Times)

My take


Like many, I am not happy with the budget that was passed. Per student K–12 funding was shortchanged at the expense of a private school voucher program and charter school expansions. Gov. Scott does have the power to veto the entire budget, but that’s unlikely since Speaker Corcoran has said they have the votes to override. I can only hope the Governor will use his ability to line-item veto budget items and/or veto outright HB 7089.

Hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured will have to make do with half a billion dollars less. The will of Floridians who approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment 1 in 2014 was again ignored.

We need to do better.

This is not the first year I’ve been unhappy with the Florida budget, but wouldn't it be great if it was the last? Next year, Floridians will elect a new Governor and Cabinet, all 120 members of the House, and 20 of the 40 members of the Senate.

Elections matter. We need to be paying attention and start preparing now.



Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.