Mike Wright / Citrus Chronicle
Citrus County School Board members are joining counterparts statewide in calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto a massive education bill compiled in the waning days of the legislative session, saying the bad components outweigh the good.
School Board Chairwoman Ginger Bryant signed a district letter to Scott on Tuesday that asks not only for a veto of House Bill 7069, but also to veto funding for two projects that educators say take dollars from classrooms.
“We can and have lived with bad budget years, but we cannot live with bad policies,” Bryant’s letter reads.
The Florida School Board Association and Florida Association of District Superintendents sent Scott similar letters Tuesday, outlining a host of objections to legislation that was pieced together from other bills the day before the session ended.
State Rep. Ralph Massullo, who voted for the bill, said he understands the district’s position, but he believes educators are overreacting.
“I’m sure they’re sincere and interested in education and want the best for our children,” Massullo, R-Lecanto, said. “The Legislature also feels equally as strong that they have the best interest of individual students as well.”
The biggest issue for Citrus County is the bill’s requirement that federal Title 1 funds be given directly to schools. Title 1, often referred to as the free- and reduced-lunch program, provides funding for school districts to help with the education of lower-income children.
About 72 percent of Citrus County’s students are eligible for Title 1, and the district received $4.5 million this year for programs, district Chief Financial Officer Kenny Blocker said.
Title 1 schools are those with more than 50 percent of the student body qualifying for free- and reduced-lunch programs, school board member Thomas Kennedy said. All of the district’s elementary and middle schools meet that criteria, and the district provides programs to assist students districtwide, not school by school.
House Bill 7069 would change that. Rather than the district deciding how to spend Title 1 dollars, money would follow eligible Title 1 students directly to their schools.
Kennedy said the county uses Title 1 for summer school, which helps students whether they are Title 1 or not. With the new bill, high schools with eligible students would receive Title 1 funding, removing funds for programs aimed at helping the middle and elementary schools.
Kennedy said the school board and principals could agree on a spending plan, but the bill gives principals autonomy over their Title 1 funds.
“There is no oversight other than the principal,” he said.
Massullo said principals know best the needs of their schools.
“They’re more involved in the schools than the school board,” he said. “It actually is a step to provide more local control.”
The bill is not without its positives, Kennedy acknowledged.
It eliminates the Algebra II end-of-course exam and allows varsity and junior varsity sports to qualify as physical education credits in high school.
Massullo, who has now completed his freshman session, acknowledged the bill is packed with details.
“It’s a difficult bill to swallow,” he said. “I believe the good outweighs the parts that are perceived as bad.”
WHAT’S IN IT
House Bill 7069 is a 274-page consolidation of numerous education bills that was compiled the day before the legislative session ended, and it covers a wide variety of subjects. Here are some of the objections Citrus County and Florida education leaders have with the bill:
* Provides federal Title 1 money directly to schools, based on students who qualify for the program, rather than the school district. Educators say this has the potential of eliminating successful district-wide programs.
* Requires school districts to share capital improvement tax money with charter schools. That provision would not have an impact in Citrus County.
* Expands the “best and brightest” teacher bonus program to include school principals and significantly increases funding. Districts say that decreases their per-pupil funding and the program is not a proven recruitment vehicle for teachers.
* Establishes “schools of hope,” which are charter schools funded by the state to act as alternatives for failing public schools. Citrus County has no failing schools.
Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.