Florida education is America's worst employer and customer service provider, part 1: your courts are entirely political

Quick note: I'm going to bring back the weekly Facebook town hall starting this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. I expect it will have a school focus because our audience was people interested in schools. But I intend to keep it going after my term ends; and folks can ask me anything. The community these town halls provided during the COVID summer and campaign was a great comfort and benefit to me, personally. And I think it served that function for attendees, too. We're in a bonkers period of history. It might do us some good, as people of good faith, to spend a little time together working through it. The article that follows might prove some fodder for discussion.

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Everybody has had this boss at some point, I expect:

Here's an impossible, stressful, and perhaps dangerous task that I can give you because I am more powerful than you. I won't give you any resources for it; in fact, I will take them away. You'll have to work relentlessly night and day to even try to succeed at this task. I'm going to blame you for everything that goes wrong. And if, by some miracle, you make some headway and manage to create some value out of this task I've given you, I will take credit for it. And you will not get a raise or any career advancement. It's nothing personal. I just don't care about you or the longterm health of this company or function. I'm looking out for me.

If you're an educator in the state of Florida, this is who you work for today. But of course, you know that. This is Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, and the Florida courts -- and it's what dictates the behavior of your local board and unelected staff leaders.

The DeSantis court is clear: education is a political, not legal, question

If you doubt me, read the entirely predictable masterpiece of passive aggressive activist judging that follows below. It's from the state appeals court opinion striking down the Florida Education Association's (FEA) lawsuit about reopening. Here's a link to the entire opinion. It's kind of awesome in its way.

At its core, the FEA suit sought to allow elected local school boards to reopen as they saw fit without any funding penalty from the state. Because online education is funded at a lower level than in-person, the state coerced local districts into full reopening by holding a funding gun to each district's head. Without state relief, doing e-school at scale would come with massive funding cuts that would cripple any effort to stagger school starting dates or evolve carefully and gradually into wider in-person schooling.

The FEA lawsuit aimed to prevent the state from penalizing local districts, thus diminishing the coercion quotient. Here is how the activist judges addressed that coercion. Note the part in bold.

As to school districts, none has been “forced” under the Emergency Order to offer in-person instruction. It is left to the individual school districts to determine whether offering in-person instruction poses risks to the welfare and safety of their students, teachers, and school personnel. Nothing in the Emergency Order disturbs a school district’s discretion to determine when to reopen schools and whether to offer in-person instruction. And nothing in the Emergency Order limits a school district’s ability to reopen schools under the funding formulae approved by the Legislature and administered by DOE. And if a school district is not satisfied with the terms offered under the Emergency Order and does not want to reopen for in-person instruction, it is not left without a remedy. If a school district desires increased funding for online instruction, it may petition the Legislature for relief from the funding statutes.

In sum, nothing in the Emergency Order forces school districts to reopen schools for in-person instruction. Nothing in the order requires a student to choose in-person instruction. And nothing in the order forces a teacher to return to the classroom. Because Appellees showed no irreparable injury from the Emergency Order, the trial court erred in entering the injunction.

Shorter judges: "You don't have to reopen; the state will just take away your capacity to function as a district if you don't. But that's not our problem or the state's; it's your community's problem because you don't have any power. Go beg power. Hahahahahahahahaha. Aren't we clever legal minds?"

State political power in Tallahassee will NEVER take any responsibility for anything. Never. Not until local elected officials, local power, local labor, and local voters force them to politically and operationally through raw, non-violent, political and operational confrontation. The judges say that themselves, both in the excerpt above and in the excerpt below.

In this reopening suit, the justices literally define the reopening question and the larger constitutional obligations imposed on state and local government as entirely "political" questions.

Appellees are also unlikely to succeed because their complaint presents a non-justiciable political question—whether the State violated its constitutional obligation to “make adequate provision” for a “safe, secure, and high quality” public school system.

The Florida courts are closed as a vehicle of legal redress unless you are powerful and wealthy. Everyone needs to understand that. Courts are not about law; they're about power. Everyone needs to understand that. I have no doubt that every legal argument made in this ruling will be flipped against people who do not have individual wealth and power if the current people of power in Florida are ever thrown out of office and replaced by people who want to make political change to the existing power structures. The Florida judges in power don't care about legal consistency or precedent; they care about power and practical outcomes.

These are your courts; but they're not your courts. A small handful of powerful people own them. You do not. That doesn't mean we can't make change; it's just that the courts will not be an ally. We'll have to fight them and structure policy with minimum court vulnerability in mind. None of us can afford naïveté.

Legally restoring state government's political bribe: here's $40K and health insurance, local board members; now take all public blame and heat for us.

This is not a surprising ruling. I expected it; but I did not expect it to ignore as precedent the Florida Supreme Court decision from summer of 2019 on the lawsuit related to House Bill 7069.

The ruling in that lawsuit essentially abolished local elected school boards as anything but a $40K-plus/health insurance jobs program for a small handful of people.

In doing so, it also legally removed the political buffer between the public and its state government. It closed the distance between the public and Kelli Stargel or Melony Bell or Sam Killebrew or Richard Corcoran, et. al. It legally removed the political shield that Florida school board members are bribed (politically, not legally) into providing.

At the time, I wrote in depth about this decision it in an article called: "Activist judges just effectively abolished Florida School Boards. Gut check time for board members." Read at this link.

The 7069 decision ruled that local School Boards had no right -- "no standing" is the legal term -- to bring the lawsuit at all. The activist judges further ruled that even if boards did have standing, there is no limit to the state's power to infringe on local school board powers. Here is the plain language from the Supreme Court decision.

The Florida Constitution therefore creates a hierarchy under which a school board has local control, but the State Board supervises the system as a whole. This broader supervisory authority may at times infringe on a school board’s local powers, but such infringement is expressly contemplated – and in fact encouraged by the very nature of supervision – by the Florida Constitution.

Note the lack of any word between "at" and "times." There is no legally-expressed limit to the infringement. And yet, hilariously, just a year later in the reopening suit, the appeals court trolled everybody with this, including the Supreme Court, apparently. Note the part in bold.

In fact, the Emergency Order does not require school districts to do anything. Rather, school districts retain the discretion to continue to offer students the choice of in-person instruction, to require teachers to report for duty under their contracts, and to determine teaching assignments. And so, whether a school district assigns them to in- person or online instruction is a matter between those teachers and their employing school districts. Governor DeSantis, Commissioner Corcoran, and the other Appellants have no say in the matter. And the school districts that do have a say are notably absent from this lawsuit.

Catch that? Let me translate that for you:

"The state power that we ruled in 2019 has unlimited power to infringe on local school boards has no power to infringe and thus is not infringing in 2020. And why haven't the school districts that we ruled in 2019 have no standing to sue decided to sue? Clearly they're happy with the state's power. If they thought they were coerced, these districts that have no standing to sue would have sued. Where are they?"

LOL, that is some genius-level bullshit, I have to say. One has to sort of admire the shamelessness. If you don't, it will drive you insane. Indeed, for your sanity, you have to understand that today's most powerful courts in Florida are going to start with the political and operational outcome they want and reverse engineer whatever legal nonsense they need to argue to deliver it. Power. It's not about law; it's only about power.

In retrospect, I should have expected the judges in this suit to essentially overturn the Supreme Court's 7069 ruling, rather than cite it. That's because unelected activist judges legally abolishing local elected school boards was a terrible political ruling for state government. It's why they never talked trash about it. They didn't want anybody to know about it.

Now the courts and government are just pretending like the 7069 suit doesn't exist. The political bribe is clearly, legally, back in place: $40K-plus health insurance to shut up and take whatever Kelli and Melony dish out.

By the way, that inherent political bribe is also what Ruling-Class Club was fighting so hard to restore in the my election. What do you think "Positive Voice" in this political and operational context means?

Fleeing a terrible employer

Most of us who have experienced the kind of boss that Florida is will do whatever we can to get away from that boss, as quickly as we can. This fact always amuses me about the "run government like a business" people. There is absolutely no business in America that could function with the level of selfish contempt that Florida government has for its customers and highly skilled employees. None. A real private sector HR function would've dragged out so many legislators and DoE flunkies by now there would be none left.

So it's hardly surprising that Florida, in a pandemic economic depression, still suffers from accelerating erosion of talent and staff capacity in its schools today.

Florida's right wing state government is a terrible terrible terrible employer and service provider, with no regard for the human well-being of employees or even the "customers" they serve. Everything is short-term thinking about short-term power and short-term personal benefit.

Their courts reflect those priorities; but those same courts cannot halt the collapse of the teacher pipeline or the erosion of the overall service. They can't stop my son's psychology teacher from quitting in the second week of school, presumably because forced simultaneous e-school and in-person teaching is miserable employment experience. And they can't find non-existent teachers to replace those that quit.

The Jeb era of political education is ending. COVID is accelerating its evisceration because fewer and fewer human beings want to subject themselves to the employment model that delivers it. I don't know what comes next and neither does Corcoran. He had fantasies about forcing everybody online, remember? I wrote about that at this link. Those fantasies are gone, too.

I'm focused on the future; and I understand that there are historical and operational forces at work far more powerful than me or the Florida judiciary's hilariously tortured politics.

What has reopening taught us -- about the present and the future?

In part 2 of this, I'm going to assess as best I can what's happened in reopening and what we've learned. Three principles guided my thinking on re-opening schools. They would have led to a very, very different overall approach; but they still would have produced a lot of in-person schooling.

  1. I didn't want to kill anyone; and I thought Florida and Polk's plan were likely to kill a small handful of adult employees -- perhaps up to five based on my analysis of COVID mortality data.

  2. I didn't want to coerce anyone; but economic coercion, as the lawsuits demonstrate, is the beating heart of the reopening plan. And it's crushing the teaching and staff capacity needed to deliver.

  3. It was insane to try to jam COVID-era schooling into the dead box of Florida's failed test-chasing grifter model.

I'm going to take a close look at each of these; but I find it intriguing that the scale of quarantining that the district seems to have imposed after positive cases has created, in a sense, a de facto, staggered start to the school year. That and the mask mandate seem to have, at least for now, helped my concerns in #1 not happen. That's good news; but we have a long way to go. And #2 and #3 are both enormous issues.

If you're an employee or parent with experiences or insights related to any of those principles, please email or text me. And I look forward to chatting on Wednesday evening and taking any questions.