TALLAHASSEE — While not prepared to join other Florida school districts in a lawsuit against recently passed HB 7069, Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is clearly frustrated with the new legislation.
“The state is trying to destroy public education which is a cornerstone of our great nation. Without a productive education system, I fear for the future of, not just Leon County, but all the students in the state of Florida,” Hanna said in an interview with Tallahassee Reports.
HB 7069 was signed into law June 15 after it narrowly cleared the Florida legislature on the final day of session. It easily passed the Republican majority Florida House, 73-36, but only passed the more politically divided Senate with a 20-18 vote.
The legislation sends more public money to privately-run charter schools. It also requires recess in elementary schools, makes changes to the state’s standardized testing system, and includes millions of dollars for teacher bonuses, known as the Best and Brightest Teacher Program.
“The Best and Brightest Teacher Program is absolutely absurd,” Hanna said.
“We are rewarding teachers based on criteria of college entrance scores when they applied to go to college. It’s just crazy,” he said.
He explained that under the program there will be some first-year teachers that haven’t even been evaluated by their schools who will qualify for a $6,000 bonus while 80 percent of Leon County teachers, most of whom are more experienced will not qualify because they may have gone to a junior college or don’t have a qualifying college entrance score.
“A SAT or ACT score has no correlation to the effectiveness of a teacher. It is a morale buster,” Hanna said, “because nothing will split an organization faster than money.”
He continued, “When we have 200 of our teachers being rewarded and 2100 are not, it causes a lot of animosity.”
He said because of the colleges in Tallahassee, it’s not as hard to attract teachers.
“There’s really no need to incentivize a $6,000 bonus for a teacher with a high SAT score to attract her to Leon County where, in other counties, that might be an issue. That should be left up to local superintendents and boards to make those decisions as opposed to the legislature where it’s one size fits all,” he said.
“I would, honestly, rather not have the money,” he confessed.
He said the Florida Education Association (FEA), the school teachers’ union, is suing Leon County Schools and all the other school districts because they are implementing the Best and Brightest Teachers Program that the legislature is forcing on the districts.
“How ironic is that when even the teachers’ union realizes that it’s a bad program,” Hanna said.
But it really is not that surprising considering many have called HB 7069 an all-out attack on FEA by House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R).
During his remarks at the opening of the 2017 legislative session Corcoran called the union “downright evil” and accused it of trying to “destroy the lives of 100,000 children, mostly minority, and all of them poor.”
After Governor Rick Scott signed the legislation into law Corcoran said, “Today is a great day for Florida’s students, parents, and teachers. This bill is the most transformative pro-parent, pro-student, pro-teacher, and pro-public education bill in the history of the state of Florida.”
Hanna vehemently disagrees.
“The legislature is slowly and methodically taking away all local control from district superintendents. The state just wants to control all 67 school districts in Florida, for some reason. It’s disappointing. Our needs in Leon County are very different than in Okaloosa or Miami/Dade, and for us to lose control at the local level kinda handcuffs school district superintendents because they can’t make the decisions which best fit the needs of their school community,” he said.
He was particularly incensed with the charter school provisions within the legislation.
“They are sharing capital outlay dollars with charter schools, who’s schools are located on private property. So we are using public tax dollars to renovate and remodel private property. That to me seems completely unconstitutional,” Hanna said.
Several of the other larger districts think it’s unconstitutional, too, and have filed suit with the state.
On July 5, the Broward County School Board voted to sue the Florida Legislature over provisions of HB 7069, and Pinellas County joined the suit July 15. Others like Alachua county are considering joining too.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, lawyers for Broward County say HB 7069 violates the state’s constitutional requirement that bills focus on a single subject, by encompassing more than 60 separate measures. It circumvents the constitutional mandate that school boards operate, control and supervise all public schools in their district, with the creation of a separate “schools of hope” charter school system and it violates the constitutional rules regarding ad valorem taxes for schools, with the requirement that districts distribute a portion of their capital funding tax revenue to charter schools.
“We’re monitoring what they’re doing,” said Hanna. But he said Leon County would not, at this time commit taxpayer dollars to file a law suit.
“Now we may, if we don’t see any relief whatsoever, as a last alternative (join the suit),” Hanna said.
“(Before making that decision) I’ll talk to school board members about jumping in on the suit,” he said.
He explained the big districts are affected a lot more and have more resources with which to fight.
“We don’t have the resources these bigger districts had and even if we did I’m kinda reluctant to jump into a lawsuit to sue the state. I would hope common sense will prevail,” Hanna said.
He continued that he had spoken at a recent meeting of the Florida Board of Education about the lack of autonomy and lack of local control.
“I’ll keep screaming from the mountaintops and hopefully at some point they’ll listen,” he said.