HB7069: A threat to Florida’s public schools and students

By Valeria Bula

Inundated with at least 10,000 emails, phone calls, letters and signed petitions from Floridians, educators, and members of the Florida School Board Association and Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Rick Scott was met with an overwhelming public urging for him to veto the infamous House Bill 7069.

Unveiled and passed within three days, HB 7069 is a 278 page bill entailing reform of anything from providing controversial financial incentives to charter schools, to reduction in the administration of testing, as well as allocating $234 million to the Best and Brightest program, a bonus for top principals and teachers – all with $419 million in spending attached.

By the end of the most recent legislative session, a program called Schools of Hope was set to receive $140 million grant which allows private charter schools to open in the vicinity of impoverished public schools, enticing them to compete against these chronically failing public schools.

The bill has faced the backlash of many amidst claims that the piece of legislature will divert public dollars from the state budget towards charter schools, encapsulating a myriad of policies that critics say will abate traditional public education.

“So many times in this building we say how charter school students are public school students, and we shouldn’t treat them differently for other reasons. I think to treat them differently for this is disappointing,” said Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores to the Miami Herald.

At the forefront of its opposition is Miami Dade County Public School’s superintendent, Alberto Carvalho. Having conducted a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott urging him to veto the bill as well as holding a several town hall budget meetings to discuss the financial detriments the bill will evoke to members of the community and to amplify the district’s disapproval of the bill.

“If in past years the level of funding for our public schools was not sufficient to meet our needs, what is currently being discussed by the Legislature, which is to move money to schools run by private entities lucrative for construction expenses, further aggravates our situation.” wrote Carvalho for the Nuevo Herald. “This policy means that taxpayers’ money will be used to build and maintain classrooms that do not belong to taxpayers, but that belong to private interests.”

The bill poses a major threat to the financial resources available to public schools across Florida, including Miami Dade County.

Public school districts, under new administration, are forced to share federal Title I funds as well as state funds for construction and capital improvements – funds which come from Floridian’s property taxes.

“Title I, under this administration’s budget is suffering a $550 million reduction.” said Carvalho.

Initially, a budget increase of $85 Million was given to Miami Dade County. However, after the 60 day legislative session a “race to the bottom” resulted in a reduction in revenue increase, resulting in a sum of $5.9 Million. Of the $5.9M, $5.7M return to the state towards funding the Florida retirement system. The remaining sum of $200,000 is the actual revenue increase.

“If you divide $200,000 by 353,000 kids, you have nothing but 50 cents per child for the year. A gumball is worth 50 cents. Our children are worth more than a gumball.” added Carvalho.

Amidst the voices of opposition were also many pressing Gov. Scott to approve the bill. At the forefront of its support is House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes. A veto of the bill, however, would place Scott at the side of opponents including democrats, teacher unions and school boards.

Despite this, it would be unlikely for Scott to veto the bill, according to Manny Diaz, R-Miami. If Scott were to veto the bill, however, it would be difficult for lawmakers to override the decision.

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