Central Florida school districts ask Scott to veto education bill

Lake, Orange, Seminole school districts ask governor to veto education bill

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist
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Governor Rick Scott announces during a press conference at Jungle Island that the number of tourists visiting the state for the first three months of 2017 was about 31.1 million people on May 15, 2017 in Miami, Florida.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Public school leaders in Central Florida are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto the 2017 education bill and the state budget because of the negative effects officials said it would have on local school districts.

Several school district leaders said they are concerned about sharing funding with charter schools, a temporary fix to teacher bonuses and losing control of important funding for disadvantaged schools and students.

Pinellas County Title I director Felita Grant created a three-page document for school leaders, in May, before the Title 1 funding bill passed the Senate.

Grant said the bill would mean school districts would have not have the ability to decide where their Title 1 funding goes, including funding for programs for at-risk, disadvantaged and migrant students, as well as the teacher loan forgiveness program.

News 6 contacted six area school districts to see how the education bill HB 7069 could affect Central Florida students.

Orange County Public School district officials said in a statement to News 6 that the bill does not benefit all public school students.

“It would remove school district discretion on the spending of Title 1 dollars, which would have dire implications for our most vulnerable students experiencing poverty,” OCPS said. “Additionally, if the bill becomes law, it would force school districts to share their publicly-funded capital outlay dollars with charter schools.”

Seminole County school district officials said the blanket Title 1 allocation takes away the flexibility from schools that may really need it while punishing all the schools who have utilized the money well in the past.

The Seminole County School Board is also asking Scott to veto HB 7069.

Seminole County Public Schools communications officer Michael Lawrence said the bill would affect capital funding, which provides money for new construction and improvements, by sharing those dollars with charter schools.

"It’s always a challenge even when we do have capital budget," Lawrence said. "There are 100,000 new students every year. At the same time, we have to put these students somewhere."

And beginning in 2017, Florida schools were required to accept students as part of open enrollment that allows students to attend preferential schools. Schools also must abide by class-size requirements.

"As a district, it's really hard to plan ahead. It's like an algebra equation," Lawrence said.

The funding would not only affect new schools, but also remodeling and improvement projects for current schools, Lawrence told News 6.

Lake County School District Superintendent Diane Kornegay wrote a letter to Scott, asking him to veto the bill in an effort to show legislators that schools need more support than the bill would offer.

The budget would “have a detrimental impact on the students we serve in Lake,” Kornegay wrote.

Kornegay added that the bill would dilute Title I funding for schools with the greatest needs. She also said the $234 million bonus package for teachers and principals is unclear as to who would qualify for the money, and the fix was temporary.

The school district issued a call to action on May 25, asking residents to contact the governor and ask him to veto the bill and the budget.

“House Bill 7069 would require us for the first time to share about $1 million in capital funding with charter schools – even if those schools are run by for-profit private companies,” the district said in a statement posted on their website.

Brevard County Superintendent Desmond Blackburn joined the other education leaders around Florida calling on Scott to veto the education bill. The district was "grateful for the budget deal," which spares it from a loss of more than $800,000 in 2018, a district spokesman said.

“Although (Blackburn) was encouraged by the move toward testing reform, his top concerns were loss of control of Title 1 spending and new mandates to fund and support charter schools,” Brevard Public School assistant superintendent Matt Reed said.

Education bill critics also say the 278-page bill was decided on in secret by House leadership without proper vetting and input from schools and parents.

“(Tallahassee has) become a place where policy is secretly decided and dictated to others by an elite few who often profit handsomely from setting the agenda,” Orlando-based advocacy group Fund Education Now said in a news release.

Lawrence said while some items in the bill will not benefit Florida students, many items were needed and will help. They just shouldn't have all been thrown together in one bill.

"Our issue is that they brought these things in in the overnight session," Lawrence said. "These things could have been separated."

Scott has until June 27 to sign the bill or veto it. While in Miami on Tuesday, Scott told reporters that he was still reviewing it.

News 6 contacted school districts in Osceola, Marion and Volusia counties. This story will be updated with their reactions.

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