Bill takes Title I funds to incentivize charters

- A bill now awaiting Governor Rick Scott's signature has public school leaders in the Bay Area - and some politicians - concerned about the future of Hillsborough County Public Schools.

House Bill 7069, nicknamed the "Schools of Hope" bill, narrowly passed by a vote of 20-18. The $419 million K-12 public schools bill would give the state $140 million to incentivize privately-operated charter schools to open in areas where public schools are failing.

On Tuesday, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, Florida State Representative Sean Shaw, along with representatives from Hillsborough County Public Schools, gathered at West Tampa Elementary to encourage parents to contact Governor Scott and encourage him to veto the bill

Representative Castor said the bill steals Title I funding from public schools. Title I funding offers resources to schools with a high number of students from low-income families.

"It continues to divert our tax dollars from our public schools. On the one hand, many of those dollars [would be] going to for-profit corporations that operate as charter schools," said Castor.

Castor said the state of Florida gets $775 million in Title I funding. The Hillsborough County School District receives about $60 million of that funding.

According to Superintendent Jeff Eakins, the Hillsborough County School District currently uses about $8 million in Title I funding to recruit National Board Certified teachers and highly trained staff to struggling schools that need them the most.

"We hire additional academic coaches, psychological services, social work services, to try to lift up our students academically and in some of the challenges they may face in their homes," said Eakins.

Representative Sean Shaw, of Hillsborough County, voted against the bill. He said he's upset that representatives were not given enough time to review the bill before taking a vote.

"Not only is it full of bad policy, the procedure by which it was done was way out of whack," said Shaw. "What it does is siphon money from the public school that's in that area."

Shaw said he's worried the plan will hurt families who choose to stay in their neighborhood schools.

"What happens to the failing school that we've given no funds to get better? We've done nothing to improve the conditions for that school to get better," added Shaw.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, of Land 'O Lakes, standing behind the bill, calling it "transformative and bold," when questioned about the bill in Tallahassee.

He said the bill offers a way out for families and students stuck in "failure factories."

"We have game-changing legislation that says that won't happen anymore," said Corcoran.

Republican representatives have said the bill raised school funding by about $200 million, meaning money going to charter schools is not funding that is being diverted from public schools.

HB 7069 also included information on bonuses for educators and school recess, among other school changes.
To read full, 274-page version of House Bill 7069, visit http://flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/7069/BillText/er/PDF

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