The 3rd Community Meeting to discuss a common legislative agenda for public education in Jacksonville took place on October 31, 2011. At that meeting, Save Duval Schools presented the Legislative Agenda that had been developed over the past year with intense work from a small group of eight organizations during the summer of 2011.
Everyone who attended the meeting was asked to take the agenda back to their boards & staff for support and endorsement. After taking the agenda to Tallahassee and discussing it with various legislators, the agenda was tweaked to bring about the best results possible this year for Jacksonville's children. The above link will take you to a .pdf copy of the agenda for your review.
History of the development of our Agenda:
On Friday, February 11, 2011, Save Duval Schools, the Duval County Council of PTAs, the Community Foundation of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and United Way of Northeast Florida brought together community leaders and educators to develop a core Legislative agenda which could be supported by all.
After much discussion, there were three main areas which the groups all agreed to bring back to their respective boards for consideration.
1. Unfunded & underfunded mandates;
2. Equal accountability for all schools; and
3. Requiring students to stay in school until age 18.
Unfunded and underfunded mandates: We agree with the Governor that too many rules and regulations are like weeds choking growth - mandates by the state are choking our schools. Eliminating just some of these mandates could save the district upwards of $50 million dollars.
In this category we also discussed the need for local control of education dollars. More than 30% of the District's budget comes to them as a "categorical" meaning they have no say over how that money is spent. We believe those choices should be made locally, not in Tallahassee.
Equal accountability for all schools: Accountability is a good thing for every student educated using public tax dollars. This includes any charter school, voucher school or home school that receives public money to educate children. We, as the taxpayers, have a right to know how children are performing in a fair and accurate comparison - apples to apples - with our tax dollars.
In this category we also discussed supporting the District's move to have High School Grades match the new grading system. Currently "turnaround" school grades are based on the old DoE formula that only looks at FCAT scores. The new DoE grading system looks at many other factors, including college readiness. According to the new formula, Duval does not have any failing schools. All of our turnaround schools are making progress. The old system is unnecessarily punitive and creates confusion for the public. It is time to align the grading system with current DoE practices.
Raising the age from 16 to 18 for compulsory education: Currently students in Jacksonville can make the choice to drop out of school at 16. Many of these students are already a year or two behind grade level. In essence, we have freshmen in high school making a life-altering decision. If we, as a community, are going to truly "value" education, then we have to walk the walk and clearly set our expectations. Concern was raised over what programs might be able to respond to the needs of these students so that they are not disruptive to the learning of others. Superintendent Pratt-Dannals assured the group that there are programs in place to fill this need. Some concern was raised over the increased cost for such a program. The question we would pose is how much will it cost us to not fund this initiative? As West Virginia's former Governor Wise said when he spoke in Jacksonville last spring, "Reducing Jacksonville's dropout rate by 50% for a single high school class would result in $48 million in increased earnings, an additional $36 million in increased spending, and $13 million in investing. (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2010)
The next steps of this process involve getting research to those who attended, gauging support of the 3 main areas and getting a commitment from the participants to support these goals.