Accountabaloney On Trial: Day One

Today, broadcast live on The Florida Channel, Accountabaloney went on trial. For Florida’s public school advocates, and perhaps public school advocates across the country, this is the “trial of the century.” You should watch it (here).

The basics of the case are outline here by The Gainesville Sun (read about it here, here and here).

Article 9 of the Florida Constitution says the state has “a paramount duty” to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

In Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education, plaintiffs say lawmakers have inadequately funded public schools and given financial preference to charter and private schools.

“They see education as a business, a money-making business,” said Karen McCann, president of the Alachua County Education Association.

Citizens for Strong Schools is a nonprofit based in Alachua County that studies and recommends ideas to improve education. Other plaintiffs include Fund Education Now, an Orlando-based organization, and six citizens. In addition to the Board of Education, the state Senate and House of Representatives are defendants.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 and is finally being heard in Leon County Circuit Court this week. The complete non-jury trial is expected to take weeks. Today, 5,494 exhibits were offered into evidence.

We are not court reporters and encourage you to watch the trial yourselves and pay attention to the trial news. Here are what we consider to be the highlights from this morning’s opening remarks:

In opening statements, the plaintiffs stated they aim to show how high stakes tests, their uses and the time spent testing, negatively impact our schools. They aim to hold the state accountable for the same measures for which it holds the schools, teachers, and districts accountable. They claimed the system fails low income and special needs kids and that the state funding formula was enacted in 1973 and the state has never re-evaluated what resources are actually needed for a high quality system. They are asking the court to find that Florida has not fulfilled its paramount duty to fund an adequate education for ALL students. They claim Florida has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to our kids.

The State, in its opening remarks, declared rather than being a failure, Florida has become a leader of states in successfully instituting education reforms. They celebrated Florida’s 4th grade NAEP scores as among the highest in the nation. They did not mention that most of us recognize that the high 4th grade NAEP scores are a direct result of mandatory 3rd grade retention, a policy that has been show to cause more long term harm than good.  There also was no mention that all the 4th grade NAEP gains disappear by the 8th grade NAEP assessment, suggesting the improvements are temporary, at best. (The National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, is a federal mandated assessment, which evaluates a sampling of 4th, 8th and 12th grade students in a variety of subjects, every other year via “The Nation’s Report Card”, read more here.)

The defense also reported improvements in FCAT scores, graduation rates and participation and performance in AP exams.  They are prepared to defend the use of VAM, High Stakes testing, School Choice, 3rd grade retention and Florida’s A-F school grading system. (It sounds to us like it is Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, or “education reform,” in general, on trial here. The entire country will be watching. #jebucationontrial).

In his opening remarks, the defense attorney admitted that annual testing was designed to monitor teachers, not for informing instruction. He, also, claimed Florida’s education system to be a model of “efficiency,” reporting the “State has targeted funding in a prudent and efficient manner…” by the states FEFP formula which requires a higher “Local Required Effort” from more advantaged districts and less contribution from less advantaged counties. (Interestingly, this form of “equitable” school funding appears to have been eliminated in the recent budget negotiations, when legislators removed the local required effort and funded per pupil spending through the general fund. Read more here).

Then the state threw the districts under the bus…  asking the judge to question, if there are short comings, whether it isn’t all the fault of local school boards and school districts: “that is very important when you hear about things that aren’t perfect, who’s fault is this?” The State is claiming that priorities and choices are made at the district level; some districts spend money wisely, others do not.

In other words, the State is willing to accept responsibility for the things that go well and blame the districts for the things that do not… And that, my friends, is the definition of “Accountabaloney.”

There is another attorney representing the interests of 6 families, 3 have children using vouchers so their children can attend private school and 3 utilize the McKay Scholarship so their special needs children can attend private schools. Their attorney appears to be ready to argue that McKay Scholarships and Vouchers benefit not only these children but children across the state, as they have caused schools to pay closer attention to the education needs of subpopulations of children.  He also argued that the state constitution discusses education for ALL children, not just those that attend public school.

The first witness will take the stand this afternoon. Suffice it to say, as this is Accountabaloney on trial, we will be watching to call out all the baloney …

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