Discussions concerning hot topics in Florida public education are underway ahead of the coming Legislative Session, from school safety to leadership positions.
On January 22, the State Senate Committee on Education heard from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. He told the Committee districts around the state have not been complying fully with the Florida Legislature’s 2018 school safety bill.
“There is not the right sense of urgency. There is not the right sense of moving the needle fast enough and far enough,” Gualtieri said. “And these districts have to comply with what you all put in law.”
The Sheriff and Commission Chair used the example of behavioral threat assessment teams – multi-disciplinary groups made up of law enforcement and various school staff – being mandated for every campus.
“One of the school boards in the state is having a discussion about whether it’s a good idea to have threat assessment teams. Seriously? It’s in the law that you will have them. And they’re having a discussion about whether they think they should have them,” Gualtieri said.
One reason Gualtieri says some districts aren’t falling into line is a lack of enforcement potency in the Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools.
“The problem is with a lot of this, the Department of Education and the commissioner lack oversight authority. Which you all put into 7026, saying the Office of Safe Schools shall have oversight authority,” Gualtieri said. “But they have no compliance authority – there’s no teeth to it.”
Gualtieri asked Senate members to make sure districts are in compliance before legislating further change:
“Before you start looking at additional, bold initiatives – new initiatives, let’s make sure that what you already put in place is fully implemented and making the difference you intended that it make.”
Elsewhere in Florida’s public education landscape, Democratic State Senator Janet Cruz wants voters to decide who heads Florida’s Department of Education going forward.
Cruz filed a resolution for the coming session that would become a constitutional ballot initiative if enacted. Voters could then have their say in the 2020 election, as to whether the State Education Commissioner becomes an elected position.
A sixty percent vote in 2020 would have Florida voters choosing a Commissioner starting in the 2022 election. If it becomes an elected position, the Commissioner would be a member of the Florida Cabinet.
The State Board of Education, made up of governor appointees, currently votes on who becomes Commissioner. In December, the state board voted former Republican Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran in to helm DOE.
Corcoran has long been an advocate for school choice in the state. In December, he faced questions from the State Board about possible conflicts of interest concerning charter schools, which Corcoran vehemently denied.
Speaking at a meeting of Tallahassee’s Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates, State Senator Bill Montford gave his opinion on public education funding and charter schools Tuesday.
“If we’re not careful, we’re going to wind up with two separate public education system,” Montford told attendees.
Montford says he supported charter schools at their advent, seeing them as an outlet for students living in underperforming districts. Now he says he fears the scales are uneven when it comes to dollars.
“If we’re not careful, we’re going to have an imbalance – especially from a financial standpoint.”
The Senator’s commentary didn’t stop there.
“What we’ve done is, we’ve slipped – I believe – too far to the profit motive, if you will,” Montford said. “There are a lot of companies making a lot of money off of charter schools.”
Montford says he and his colleagues need to insist traditional public schools are funded.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, the state does, to clean up the mess that we’ve created in a lot of ways, for public education,” Montford said.
Montford currently serves as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.