Florida’s school funding adequacy suit: No matter what Judge Reynolds says, our schools need new strategically targeted investments

While Judge Reynolds dismissed the lawsuit about the adequacy of Florida’s education funding, it is clear that there are gaping holes in the state’s K-12 program that need to be addressed.  The state’s middle school math program is rapidly unraveling, according the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress.  There are still substantial gaps in educational opportunity between high-poverty and low-poverty schools.  There is a shortage of strong teachers in math, science and computing fields.  And there are more.

Florida needs new education funding, and it needs to be directed to strategically targeted initiatives.  These initiatives should be focused on recruiting and retaining strong teachers.

Ironically, Governor Scott and the Legislature agree with that statement.

To wit:  This year, Florida is investing $49 million in a program that they say will attract the best and brightest to teaching and then keep them in the profession.  The program is called, of course, the Florida Best and Brightest Teachers Scholarship Program.  It is the program that depends on two measures that are notoriously problematic – the scores that teachers earned on college entrance exams themselves (mostly when they were high school students), and ratings teachers receive on the state’s amazingly capricious teacher evaluation program.  The percentages of teachers who earned the “highly effective” rating necessary for Best and Brightest eligibility varied from 2% to 90%, depending on the school district.

The Best and Brightest program actually disproportionately funds teachers in low-poverty schools, so it doesn’t appear to be helping close the gap in educational opportunities between low- and high-poverty schools.  In fact, it might be making that gap worse.  And Best and Brightest doesn’t focus at all on math, science and computing.

The lesson, of course, is that new money has to be tethered to common sense – or better yet research on what improves student learning.  And while the defense in the adequacy suit argued that school districts sometimes make poor spending decisions, the Legislature can (and does) make poor spending decisions itself.

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