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Florida Education Bill Has Educators On Edge

Jun 9, 2017
Originally published on June 8, 2017 1:23 pm

Gregory Adkins, superintendent of The School District of Lee County, held a press conference backed by about 50 district employees.

"We demand Governor Rick Scott veto House Bill 7069," he said, standing at a lectern. 

Adkins was referring to contentious legislation that concerns K-12 education in the state. Last month, the district sent a letter to the governor, asking that HB 7069 be vetoed. 

In the first paragraph, it reads:

". . . the negotiations on this bill were not conducted in an open and public manner. As a result, the School Board and District staff were unable to provide meaningful comments and suggestions to our legislative delegation about how the policies enacted through this bill would impact the students, taxpayers and citizens of Lee County."

There are a lot of unknowns about the repercussions of the $419 million bill. But, superintendent Adkins said there are a few things he does know about what the bill means for the Lee County school district. 

"This legislation will harm our schools, cut programs to our students and make it hard to recruit effective and highly-effective teachers," Adkins said. "House Bill 7069 takes your tax dollars and requires us to send them to for-profit corporations that run charter schools." 

The bill allocates $140 million for "Schools of Hope". Those are charter school companies that agree to turn around low-performing schools. 

Mark Castellano, the president of the teacher's union in Lee county, said the charter school component of the bill is a problem. 

"It siphons funding from our public schools. Public tax dollars are being siphoned off into charter schools, but that's just one small component of this bill," Castellano said. "It does not allow our district to negotiate with us, in good faith, which is chapter 447 in the [Florida] Constitution, that we have the constitutional right to collectively bargain our salary and our working conditions."

The Florida House has a video that makes a case for HB 7069. Towards the end, it talks about benefits everyone can get behind, scholarships for students with special needs and eliminating unneeded testing. 

From the video:

"The new law also mandates 20 minutes of recess for elementary school students!"

Castellano, of the teacher's union,  said he is unimpressed. 

"They're hanging their hats on that?" he asked. "As if that's going to do something for us. It's petty in the big picture." 

But there is support for HB 7069. Step Up For Students is a Florida-based scholarship program that administers the Gardiner Scholarship. It gives money to families to spend on education for students with disabilities. 

Patrick Gibbons, with Step Up For Students, said the bill provides an additional $30 million for the scholarship. 

"Without that additional funding, a lot of the new applicants, if not all of them, wouldn't be able to get a scholarship next year," he said. "And frankly some of the renewals wouldn't be eligible either." 

Lee County School superintendent Adkins said the school district has several budgetary options in case the bill does pass. But, he said, no matter what, they'll work with what they have to educate students. 

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