Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Financial crisis looms over public schools

Here's Kirtley on another debate in Florida:
The head of the Florida teachers’ union had the column below published all around the state last week. Below it is a response written by the head of the state free market think tank. I agree with the response—good teachers would make much more in a more free market for K-12! Another purpose of the response was to point out what was missing in the first column—how much do we actually spend?
The head of the union repeats all the messages you'd expect: spend more money hiring more teachers, "focus on learning versus a focus on testing", etc.  Gotta give the unions credit for always staying on message (however misleading or wrong that message may be).


Tallahassee Democrat

Article published Aug 19, 2007
Financial crisis looms over public schools

As public-school students and teachers go back into the classroom, Florida faces a fiscal crisis. In recent years, political leaders have pushed through an a-la-carte menu of tax cuts totaling more than $20 billion.

Most Floridians never saw any of those tax cuts. Any benefit you received was quickly offset by the burden of paying for public services such as public safety and education - a burden that has been shifted more and more to local government by the Legislature. It's no surprise then that most of our state's citizens continue to feel that the tax burden is overwhelming.

Now the state is experiencing an economic downturn and we are immediately faced with reductions in services at both the state and local levels, with significant potential consequences for public education. Last year, there were about 3.75 million students enrolled throughout Florida's public education system, and it is the responsibility of all Floridians to prepare our young people for the future. At the Florida Education Association (FEA) we take on that responsibility because education is our calling.

FEA believes in the importance of smaller class sizes, with a focus on learning versus a focus on testing.

FEA believes that we must close achievement gaps by moving beyond a conversation toward a vision of what our schools should look like in the future.

FEA believes that we must reduce Florida's high-school dropout rate. Our elected leaders and special interest groups must stop arguing about whether the percentage graduating is 60 percent or 70 percent. . . . In either case we are losing a third of our children and the impacts, both personal and economic, are huge.

FEA believes that we must continue the work to improve the base salaries of all education professionals in a meaningful way that allows Florida to compete on both a regional and national level to recruit and retain the very best people.

Beyond the core issues that we support, FEA must still defend our children and our members against bad public policy. There is no shortage of bad public-policy proposals out there today. Many of them involve the manner in which our schools are funded, and the implementation of these proposals would damage our schools and the futures of our children.

FEA is asking a simple question to our elected leaders: How can you cut the education budget and hold education "harmless" at the same time?

The anticipated budget cuts are going to have an impact throughout the state, in local districts and classrooms. Programs will be cut, school services curtailed, raises on salaries won't meet inflation growth and there will be layoffs in some places. Rather than lawmakers making across-the-board decisions from the Capitol, why not give districts the flexibility to decide how to tweak their own budgets if cuts are needed?

Meanwhile, the Legislature has put a constitutional question on the ballot for Jan. 29 that provides homeowners with the option of taking a higher homestead exemption, which would lead to further revenue problems in the future.

All this comes as public education in Florida is at a crossroads. The state has always under-funded education. When compared to other states, Florida languishes near the bottom in nearly every category related to education funding. In addition, government and the public are asking schools to do more and more.

A new school year is beginning and it's going to be a challenge. And I'm not just talking about the challenges of curriculum, discipline and paperwork. Our state is in the midst of a financial crisis that will undoubtedly have an impact on our public schools. FEA will stand along with all Floridians in fighting for the things that we believe in and against the bad public-policy proposals that threaten the future of our children.

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