Jason Fischer: Our kids deserve hope

Re-posting an op ed post from www.floridapolitics.com -- Jason Fischer: Our kids deserve hope

Over the past few days, many district superintendents and other defenders of the struggling status quo have attacked HB 7069, a bill focused on reforming and improving K-12 education. As a former Duval County School Board member, I am proud to have voted for this bill and urge Gov. Rick Scott to sign it into law.

The notion that this bill will gut public education or undermine public schools is hogwash. Instead, it provides the reform and disruption our K-12 education system desperately needs.

HB 7069 does several positive things: boosts K-12 funding to a record high $24 billion; rewards teachers and principals with bonuses; reduces standardized and computer testing; expands school choice access for special needs and virtual school students; implements mandatory recess for early grades; and provides the needed funding and incentives to attract nationally-proven charter school networks to Florida.

The last provision listed above, known as “Schools of Hope,” sets aside money designated for high-performing charters, which can provide high-quality alternatives for students assigned to chronically failing traditional public schools. School districts who wish to convert a chronically failing traditional public school to a district-run charter are also eligible to access this funding should they choose to submit detailed turnaround plans.

My interest in “Schools of Hope” stems from Duval County, which has 10 failing traditional public schools who have earned failing grades for four or more years. One, in particular, has been failing for 10 years, and the parents whose students are assigned to that school have had little to no options to send their children elsewhere.

No parent or child should have to wait 10 years to be assigned to a high-quality school. Furthermore, taxpayers should not be asked to fund failure year in and out when we know there are proven charter networks from around the country who can do better. This is why certain established charter networks like Great Hearts or YES Prep should be given an opportunity to seek out Florida’s underserved communities and provide the education our own schools have failed to deliver.

The only problem is Florida’s charter school funding and accountability models are so restrictive, the nation’s best actors in the charter school realm face too many financial and structural barriers to coming here. “Schools of Hope” will help remedy these challenges.

The bill also rewards Florida’s 165,000+ hardworking teachers and principals with bonuses for the next three years, ranging between $800 and $6,000, based on eligibility, placing more dollars directly in the pockets of our educators.

At the request of many parents and educators, elementary school students will now receive 20 minutes of required daily recess.

The bill adds more flexibility in testing by rolling back some required state assessments, allowing for paper-and-pencil testing in grades 3-6, and giving state tests later in the school year, so students and teachers have more instructional time in the classroom.

Most importantly, the bill extends school choice to more students by ensuring Gardiner Scholarships for special needs students is fully funded, and it removes longtime barriers to accessing virtual school for homeschool and private school students.

What the bill does not do is cut funding to traditional public schools. Duval County will see an $8.3 million boost overall or $16 per pupil increase in funding.

When a child is assigned to a failing school, one day is too long to wait for a better option. If my child was stuck in one of the 10 failure factories in Duval County, I wouldn’t wait 10 years to see if it gets better.

It is a moral disgrace to insist some of our neighbors here in Duval County remain stuck in failing schools for generations because of personal or political vendettas against nontraditional public schools.

We have a moral obligation to give every child an education that equips them to succeed in life. No one should have to wait another day to access that education. We also know that more flexibility at the local level will lead to better student outcomes. That’s why this legislation is in the best interest of Florida’s students.

Jason Fischer is a father, businessman, former Duval County School Board member, and current State Representative for House District 16.