The Florida Influencer Series

Education: Students need smaller classes and safer schools, teachers need more pay

Chairman: CINDY ARENBERG SELTZER. Members: CAROL DOVER, EDUARDO PADRON, STEVE ZACK, FEDERICK INGRAM, FELICE GORORDO, MARIA ALONSO.

THE QUESTION: How should Florida’s elected leaders ensure Florida’s children have access to a better publicly funded K-12 education, one that prepares them for the workforce of the future?

Summary of the survey findings of 50 Influencers:

The Florida Influencers ranked education as the most pressing issue of the election year, as it is intertwined with many other challenges the state grapples with. At the K-12 level, about six in 10 of the Influencers said raising teacher pay should be the top priority, arguing that higher salaries would encourage more people to join the profession and current teachers to remain in the field, resulting in better outcomes for students.

Nearly 20 percent of the Influencers said reducing class sizes would be the best way to improve the education system, while around 15 percent cited improving school safety. The Influencers also urged state officials to prioritize traditional public schools over charter schools. Roughly half said it was not important to expand charter schools in Florida.

And a plurality (44 percent) of the Influencers said increasing post-secondary vocational training is the best way to improve higher education in the state. By comparison, 27 percent chose increasing performance funding, 19 percent recommended capping tuition and 9 percent chose raising taxes to allow students to graduate debt-free.

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Florida Influencer Maria Alonso of United Way, alongside Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, joins other Inflencers to discuss educationt in a breakout session on Tuesday. PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Statement summarizing the views of the working group regarding the issue:

For Florida to compete in the 21st Century global economy, attract businesses and develop a quality workforce that provides economic mobility for all of its people, education must be viewed as an investment rather than an expense. The Legislature should provide the funding necessary for a high-quality education system that pays teachers a wage commensurate with the national standings we wish to achieve and supports the social emotional learning, critical thinking skills and safety of our students. Funding provided through the Lottery and local referenda must be used to add to state education general revenue and not be used to supplant.

Potential solutions:

  • The District Cost Differential for education should be reinstated. Or some other methodology needs to be developed to take into consideration the dramatically different cost of living and doing business in different counties.
  • New Sources of Revenue for PECO (Public Education Capital Outlay) need to be explored. This is the primary source of state funding for infrastructure for K-20. A portion of those funds comes from gross receipts on sellers of communication services, which are rapidly diminishing as people move away from traditional landlines. The definition needs to be modernized to include internet and cellular phone services.
  • To promote the safety and security of students, attention needs to be paid to the social emotional development, mental health and critical thinking skills of students in addition to the physical hardening of the school buildings.
  • Funding provided through the lottery and local referenda must be used to add to state education general revenue and not be used to supplant that revenue. The funds should be used to increase teacher pay to make Florida competitive on the national stage in order to retain and attract quality teachers.

What questions will the new governor and legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?

  • How can the state increase instructional time in K-12? That should include exploring the efficacy of year-round and / or extended day K-12 schools.
  • How can we create more needs based scholarships for higher education? This could include conducting an analysis of converting Bright Futures to a needs based scholarship.
  • Examine the relationship between charter schools and vouchers on traditional K-12 public schools. This should include the diversion of the current inadequate funding from traditional K-12 to charters, the lack of accountability of charter schools and the requirement for school boards to issue charters without the ability to regulate the charter schools in their jurisdiction.
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