Tag Archives: education

Students Speak Out Against Proposed Budget Cuts to CISE at UF

Photo by Amanda Adams

In late April, the University of Florida administration proposed drastic budget cuts – $36.5 million total – to the Computer and Information Science and Engineering department (CISE), causing a wave of resistance (like the study-in in the photograph above) that brought the issue into the national spotlight. Students, faculty and others opposed to the budget cuts, which come from the Florida Legislature and are non-negotiable, called on UF to spend part of its $67 million available in reserves to solve the budget cut problem; as of press time, UF President Bernie Machen said the administration would consider using the reserves.

Florida Legislature’s Attack on Public Education


The Florida Legislature is hard at work implementing an ideological agenda to defund, demonize, and demoralize traditional public schools.  But why, you may ask?

The answer is that they are government institutions and the Florida legislators believe that private is better than public. Never mind that our public schools have been the great equalizer in America, enabling the most humble among us to compete on a level playing field. Never mind that they have made this country great.

The move now is to enable for-profit charter schools, for-profit virtual schools, and publicly funded private schools to take over. Students will certainly get the shaft as private companies work to squeeze a profit out of the pitifully small amount the state allots per student. Profit, not educational excellence, is the motive.

Here are some recent developments taking place in Tallahassee:

1.  The corporate voucher bill gives tax deductions to corporations on the condition that the corporations use this money to fund vouchers for private schools.  Of course, this tax break is paid for by taxpayers, so it is an end run around the Florida Supreme Court ruling outlawing public money to fund vouchers for private, including religious, schools. This year the amount given to this program is $250 million, and the bill stipulates that the amount be increased by 25 percent each year hereafter.  This is money denied public schools and private schools will gradually usurp their role.

Amendment 8 on the 2012 ballot asks voters to approve “religious freedom.”  However, the real purpose is to permit taxpayer funded vouchers for private, religious schools.
2.  The state, in opting out of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, has agreed to changes that will dramatically increase the number of failing schools in the state.  They do this by making the FCAT significantly harder and by requiring the FCAT scores of English language learners to count in the school’s grade after their first year in this country. (Research shows that it takes 2-5 years to achieve enough mastery to compete with native speakers.)  I would love to see our legislators personally accomplish this.  Disabled students’ scores would also count in the school grade.
3 .  The so-called “parent trigger” bill would allow a majority of parents in a low-performing school to “put the trigger” to close the school (remember, there will be more failing schools  See #2.) and turn it over to a for-profit charter school corporation.  The new charter school may be no better than the one it replaced, and in fact, studies show that charters perform no better than traditional public schools.  In California where the law is in effect, charter schools advertise constantly for parents to “pull the trigger.”
The Florida legislature already requires all students to take and pass a college prep curriculum to graduate as well as an end-of-course exam for every subject taught (without providing funding for test development).  The student must pass the exam to pass the course.  These actions will undoubtedly increase drop-outs as not all students are interested in taking chemistry or physics.  (Only 30 percent of Florida’s students ultimately complete college.)

The Florida Legislature is hoping you will not notice their schemes to hijack public schools. By handing down unfunded mandates and passing unfair laws to undermine or destroy public schools, they think they will convince the public to abandon public education and settle for a system that rewards stockholders at the expense of children.

District Court of Appeal Rules in Favor of Public Education Funding

Report courtesy of Citizens for Strong Schools

In a major legal victory for the local group Citizens for Strong Schools and other public education advocates across the state, the 1st District Court of Appeal has rejected the Florida Legislature’s request to dismiss a lawsuit on educational funding and policies.

In an 8-7 vote, the court ruled that the issues raised in the lawsuit are “of great public importance” and asked the Florida Supreme Court to hear the case.

“We’re thrilled with the ruling,” said Mark McGriff, chairman of Citizens for Strong Schools, an education advocacy group established in 2008. “It means state leaders can’t prevent us from having our day in court.”

The Gainesville-based non-profit Southern Legal Counsel filed the lawsuit back in 2010 on behalf of Citizens for Strong Schools, an Orlando-based group called Fund Education Now and several parents from Duval County. The lawsuit alleges that the state has not lived up to its obligation to provide a ‘uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system’ of public schools.

That obligation is spelled out in Article IX of Florida’s Constitution, which also says that public education is the state’s ‘paramount duty.’ The language was added to the Constitution in 1998 after 72% of Florida voters approved it. Since then, the state has cut school budgets dramatically and shifted more of the responsibility for funding schools onto local communities.

Lawyers representing the legislature, the Board of Education and the Department of Education raised a number of objections to the lawsuit, including a contention that the courts have no role in interpreting Article IX. Circuit Court Judge Jackie L. Fulford rejected that argument back in August of 2010, but state leaders appealed her decision to the District Court of Appeal.

In the court’s majority opinion, one judge wrote that the case “involves a clash of two extremely important precepts,” namely the power of the legislature to fund schools and set educational policy and the right of citizens to demand that the language they added to the constitution be followed–and to appeal to the courts if they believe that’s not happening.

He also wrote that “the defendants are here seeking to derail proceedings in the trial court before they can conclude here.”

Jon Mills was Speaker of the Florida House in 1986-88 and was a member of the Constitutional Revision Commission that drafted Article IX. He is currently teaching law at the University of Florida and is working with the Southern Legal Counsel on the case. He said he fully expects the Supreme Court to take on the case.

“This is a confirmation that the ‘high quality’ provision in the Constitution means what the public thought it meant and that the court believes it’s enforceable,” he said. “That’s the biggest step forward yet and puts us in the best position we could be in at this point.”