Every year, new state laws hit the books that have to be implemented once they take effect. But House Bill 7069 isn’t your average new law.
The sweeping, 274-page, $419 million measure that reforms Florida’s public K-12 schools spans dozens of changes in statute — some of which are complex and take effect at different times over the course of the next few years.
So, what goes into implementing something like that?
The Florida Department of Education doesn’t want to answer questions about it and hasn’t offered much detail publicly three weeks after HB 7069 became law on July 1.
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It is pretty straightforward in terms of process, and I don’t think there is anyone who has anything additional to offer.
Meghan Collins, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education
The department had published only three points of guidance to school district superintendents as of Friday:
▪ A brief memo clarifies the new requirement for daily recess in traditional public schools.
▪ Details explain the testing schedule for 2017-18 and 2018-19 because HB 7069 pushed statewide exams to the end of the school year.
▪ Information was issued on new mandates and resources for failing schools — such as financial aid some of the state’s worst-performing traditional public schools can now apply for through the “Schools of Hope” program.
However, the DOE has yet to reveal other key information on failing schools: How it will select those “hope” schools or how it will choose the specialized operators to whom HB 7069 provides tens of millions of dollars in incentives to set up privately managed charter schools that will compete with the existing schools.
That’s just the start of what districts and schools don’t yet know, and complications are already surfacing.
Superintendents, principals and teachers can implement some aspects of HB 7069 themselves, but for several others, administrators say they need direction from the state. Absent that, at least one district warns, things like teachers evaluations — and by extension, promised bonuses the new law provides for top teachers — will be put on hold.
“It’s not at all unusual for DOE to take some time, obviously, do their due diligence and prepare technical assistance papers and provide guidance of regulations,” Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.
“What makes it difficult,” he continued, “is we’re not just dealing with one, or two, or three independent bills. We’re dealing with a massive omnibus bill that will dramatically impact so many different levels of education policy, funding and processes in the school system.”
Many school districts — including Miami-Dade — have been vocally critical of HB 7069, which was rushed through in the final days of session by House Republicans. The law heavily favors charter schools, which receive public funding but are privately managed and outside the purview of elected school boards.
Some districts, led by Broward County, say they plan to sue over the law’s constitutionality. No lawsuit has yet been filed but several other districts — such as Miami-Dade, Pinellas, Manatee and Bay counties — might join the effort. Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties already have.
In the interim, the districts have to follow the law as it is, and they require the state DOE’s guidance.
The Florida DOE declined repeated requests from the Herald/Times in the past three weeks to make a department official available who would explain how the various aspects of HB 7069 will be implemented.
“Our plan, consistent with prior years, is to review the law and provide guidance to districts on the different components. As you can see, we are in the process of doing that now,” spokeswoman Meghan Collins said in a statement Wednesday. “It is pretty straightforward in terms of process, and I don’t think there is anyone who has anything additional to offer.”
However, State Board of Education members — appointees of the governor who have final say over some statewide education policy, including how parts of HB 7069 will be executed through formal rules — have even had a hard time digesting the complex law.
A “summary” provided by DOE to the board members spans 34 pages.
“Deputy Commissioner [Linda] Champion can tell you how many times I’ve asked and said, ‘I don’t know if I still understand,’ ” board chairwoman Marva Johnson said with a quick laugh when the board met Monday.
Johnson did not respond to a request from the Herald/Times on Thursday for comment on what rules the state Board of Education would have to adopt or how that process would unfold.
Although the DOE issued initial guidance on new school improvement requirements, the help came too late for a couple of failing schools from Alachua and Hamilton counties — which spent months developing turnaround plans only to come before the State Board on Monday with a type of plan that was no longer allowed under HB 7069.
Alachua Superintendent Karen Clarke told the board she was not officially told that by state education officials until that day. She said she had only had “conversations” that her district’s proposed plan “might not be an available option” anymore.
Absent viable or approvable plans, the schools face a “transition” year, state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, before in 2018-19 — because of HB 7069 — they’ll have only three options: to close, be taken over by a privately managed charter or convert into a district-run charter with all new administrators, teachers and staff.
HB 7069 also eliminated the planning year newly failing schools used to have to develop comprehensive turnaround plans. Stewart noted that “designing an effective turnaround plan requires many months of time and careful, thoughtful work.” But 93 failing schools — the ones also now eligible for “Schools of Hope” aid — have less than a month to come up with solutions to improve their standing.
Carvalho noted another area where the state’s delay in providing guidance to school districts might also cause problems in the interim.
We’re dealing with a massive omnibus bill that will dramatically impact so many different levels of education policy, funding and processes in the school system.
Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho
One popular aspect of the highly controversial new law is it does away with a six-year-old mandate that requires districts to evaluate their teachers using a state-approved, statistical formula called the “value-added model,” or VAM, which is based on students’ test scores and performance.
But, state law still requires evaluations to factor in student performance in some way. “So if not VAM, then what?” Carvalho asked. “It is that question that we’re tackling right now ... and yes, we are expecting some guidance from the state on this.”
Until that happens, Carvalho said, final teacher evaluations would be delayed, which could impact teachers’ ability to know whether they qualify for “Best & Brightest” bonuses.
HB 7069 keeps the existing bonus plan for top teachers who scored well on their SAT or ACT exams in high school. And new this year, it expands the bonuses to some principals and also guarantees $1,200 bonuses for “highly effective” teachers and up to $800 for “effective” teachers for each of the next three years.
So teacher evaluations are “an indispensable element” to determining who gets a bonus, Carvalho said. “This is one that I think will impose some degree of delay.”
The districts also need direction on how to comply with the revised bonus program itself to ensure eligible teachers can be rewarded.
“We have not seen schedules. We have not seen financial runs from the state or technical guidance on this issue,” Carvalho said. “I know the state, based on conversations with the DOE, is preparing that information.”
On Thursday, Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, called for the DOE’s intervention on another issue that’s surfaced: How the elimination of the end-of-course exam for Algebra 2 students is resulting in “unfair” grades for some who had planned to take a make-up test this month, but can’t since the test no longer exists.
Because the exam counts for 30 percent of students’ final grades, Hutson’s office said: “There will be students in the same graduating class who will be graded differently in the same course depending on if they took it before or after the [end-of-course exam] was eliminated.” He wants the DOE to “fix” the disparity.
(Hutson voted for HB 7069, which passed the Senate by only one vote on the final day of session after other senators cautioned the rushed legislation was “flawed,” needed further review and would have to be fixed in some areas.)
Meanwhile, as the DOE works privately to implement the law, school districts are moving ahead with policy changes within their control, where the new law is clear.
Both Pasco and Pinellas counties recently updated their student progression plans for the 2017-18 school year to incorporate mandates of HB 7069 — such as policy revisions to help students who struggle to read and requirements for more civics instruction.
“We have begun meeting with various staff members to go over sections of the bill for policy and other implementation issues,” said Tanya Arja, spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Public Schools. “There are some pieces that we will need guidance on from the state.”
Instituting 20 minutes of daily recess will be simpler in some counties than others. A few, such as Orange County, already mandated daily recess on their own. Miami-Dade had been planning for it with a pilot program last year.
The state’s recent guidance made clear districts could offer recess indoors because the law “does not specify where recess must be provided.” Each district superintendent was also sent a single-sentence “certification of fidelity” to sign, confirming they would be in compliance with the new mandate.
Other major changes required by HB 7069 — which superintendents have complained about for weeks — are causing some headaches as districts seek to follow the new law.
For instance, to comply with a mandate that districts share local tax dollars earmarked for school projects with privately managed charter schools, Miami-Dade County is having to review its five-year plan — a report required by the state — to see where it can cut back. (The district will have to share more than $200 million with charters over the next five years, Carvalho estimates, starting with $23.2 million in 2018 alone.)
“The only way to do it is either to abandon some projects, stretch out the time-line for some projects, or reduce the scope of some projects,” he said. “Part of that process is also to go back to the communities and really disclose the truth that despite the promise made in the five-year plan to invest in their neighborhoods, because of this legislative action, it may not pan out in the way it was approved and promised to the community.”
He said Miami-Dade has also had to revamp its Education Transformation Office — which helps the county’s most struggling schools — because HB 7069 changes how districts must disburse federal Title I dollars.
“Because it imposes a different distribution process, it undermines our local strategy,” Carvalho said. “We’ve had to basically turn the program inside out and it has not been easy. ... This was an onerous decision that was quite negatively disruptive to a way of work that’s been successful.”