Charlie Kennedy, the chairman of the Manatee County School Board, did not mince words when it comes to the education bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Thursday afternoon.
“Hopefully this is not the new normal,” Kennedy said. “It’s just an awful bill.”
The $419 million House Bill 7069 is a comprehensive law Scott signed during a ceremony at Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando. With several measures that favor charter schools over traditional public schools, the majority of public school boards in the state petitioned for the governor to not sign the bill.
Kennedy said he objected to Tallahassee-mandated limitations on the cost of building new schools, restrictions on how schools spend Title I funding, a reduction in the required amount locals contribute in taxes to the school system and minimal changes to the amount of tests students take.
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“They just threw everything and the kitchen sink into this bill,” Kennedy said.
While public school advocates were nearly universal in their distaste, charter schools in the district are poised for growth as a result of the law, and a scholarship program for disabled children was expanded by $30 million.
Manatee’s Deputy Superintendent Cynthia Saunders and chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts both said they did not yet know details on how the district would comply with the new regulations or the fiscal impact. Saunders said they were waiting on advice from the state Department of Education and that the state would have to hammer out policies for the raft of new regulations and provisions in the 274-page bill.
While the details of how the new law will impact Manatee’s schools remains to be seen, the potential impact on a handful of areas in Manatee schools is already evident.
The law gives charter schools access to public school facilities not being used, allows charter schools to bypass zoning laws, requires districts to share capital outlay funding with charter schools and includes a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program to subsidize charter schools in low-income neighborhoods with failing traditional public schools.
Manatee School for the Arts Chairman David Kraner said area charter schools that stood to benefit the most from the law were ones with high populations of poor children, but with the new incentives to expand charter school offerings, MSA was considering expanding its outreach to lower-income students.
Like Kraner, Palmetto Charter School principal Brian Bustle said the law benefited new charter schools and ones serving mostly poor students the most, but Palmetto Charter had plans to expand as well.
“Our board is on a plan to increase our school by 50 or 100 percent,” Bustle said.
And Bustle said he hoped the law would encourage the school district to be more supportive of the county’s charter schools.
“Sarasota is very generous to their charter schools,” Bustle said. “Manatee County, maybe because of their financial difficulties, is not so supportive. I know the district is in difficult financial straits sometimes, but that shouldn’t impact our kids. I’d like to be able to give family health insurance to my teachers as well.”
Under the law, all teachers rated highly effective in their annual evaluation would receive a $1,200 bonus, and all teachers rated effective would receive $800.
In Manatee, teachers in 2016-17 received small pay raises due to a drawn-out impasse between the school district and the teacher’s union. While the school board agreed to three-step pay raises for effective teachers and four-step pay raises for highly effective teachers, the board did not make the raises retroactive to the beginning of the school year. As a result, the four-step increase equated to about $212, and the three-step increase was $159, according to district chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts.
Manatee Education Association president Pat Barber said she was not a fan of the legislatively mandated bonuses, and she would rather have seen that money set aside specifically to go toward pay raises.
“A bonus only benefits people one time. It does nothing to improve their base for the future, and it doesn’t go toward retirement,” Barber said. “It takes money out of the general fund that we could have negotiated for actual real raises.”
Manatee Technical College director Doug Wagner is concerned about a loss of performance funding for earning state certifications. In 2013-14 the state began awarding incentives to technical schools for every industry certification its students earned, incentivizing districts to attract more students to their technical school offerings, promoting courses like automotive repair or the police academy.
In 2016-17, the state gave technical colleges $717 per certificate, and Manatee earned the fourth-most certificates statewide.
The performance funding will remain in place for middle school, high school and college-level students, but the law removed incentive funds for students in post-secondary technical schools.
Last year the state awarded MTC $341,681 for post-secondary students earning industry certifications.
“We would use that money to better prepare students for the industry certifications,” Wagner said. “For example, the automotive test is constantly changing. They are using it to update their program, tools and equipment.”
Best and Brightest
Last year, 131 Manatee teachers qualified for the state’s controversial Best and Brightest Scholarship, which awarded $6,816 to teachers who were rated highly effective and scored in the top 80 percent on the SAT or ACT. That criteria remains in place for the next two years. Beginning in 2020, highly effective teachers will qualify for the scholarship based on an expanded number of test scores and by their college ranking.
HB 7069 expands the scholarship to include principals who have a high number of Best and Brightest teachers at their school. If a school’s percentage of best and brightest-award winning teachers is in the top 20 percent statewide, the principal will receive a $4,000 bonus ($5,000 for principals of Title I schools).
Since principals help conduct teacher evaluations, principals who know a teacher could qualify for Best and Brightest could be motivated to award the teacher a highly effective rating.
“That wouldn’t be ethical, so I hope they wouldn’t do that, but there is money involved,” Barber said.