This series of posts is primarily aimed at Polk's business community and the wider community that doesn't follow the intricacies of education policy and politics. It's aimed at answering some basic questions:
What are the real world consequences of years of self-defeating state stinginess in education funding? What does money buy? Why are community districts talking about money?
Buying the basics of the service
First and foremost, money buys personnel. It buys the fundamental delivery of the public education services that 100,000 Polk kids and families demand -- and that the state constitution requires communities to provide. Indeed, state government provides most of the funding and virtually all of the mandates through which local districts fulfill constitutional obligations.
Here is the funding breakdown in a pie chart.
With that in mind, consider this:
The Polk County School District would like to hire 1,200 teachers before the next year starts. That's about 18 percent of our teacher force. Let that sink in. It's the first exhibit in what money means to a community school district. It means basic staffing. What if the Lakeland Police Department was down 20 percent of the force? Would that be a crisis?
A national, state, and local problem
Here is a note from Polk Schools HR Director Teddra Porteous explaining where the 1,200 figure comes from.
The 1200 is for overall hiring for the 17-18 school year if we were to hire them before school started, which is ideal. Essentially, it’s a combination of the amount of vacancies from natural attrition (retirements and resignations) we will have, the number of current provisional and long term subs in our classrooms and the anticipated vacancies when we open schools for the 17-18 school year.
Lord knows, Polk has had localized employee relations problems. See this recent grievance hearing as an example.
But the aversion to the teaching profession, when the demand for service is constantly growing, is commonplace virtually everywhere in Florida. See this link. Demoralization of teachers is real even in the "highest performing," wealthiest districts. I have spoken to multiple of those administrators.
This is what happens when you starve public schools and immiserate the teaching profession for 20 years. The teacher shortage, in Polk and elsewhere, reflects a combination of pay and stress level that human beings will not accept at scale. I wouldn't accept it. That public education functions at all is attributable entirely -- ENTIRELY -- to the heroic sacrifices of the great teachers who have stuck this out for 20 years.
Behold the Florida model: the Kathleen Middle School example
Consider the example of the Kathleen Middle kids and teachers who produced the champion middle school music video of 2017's Polk County Schools Video Awards. It's called "Get to work." Watch it.
Now, remember that Sen. Kelli Stargel, Gary Chartrand, and the rest of Florida's morally corrupt Board of Education didn't think these kids deserved to have teachers. Really. Despite significant growth in test scores, KMS scored five points short of a C on the fraudulent school grade measure in 2015-16.
So, just after the 2016-17 school year started, the corrupt BoE used Stargel's fraudulent VAM teacher evaluation equation, shown below, to remove more than 80 percent of KMS' English/Language Arts teachers.
Because we have a teacher shortage, we had to replace them with subs and administrative fill-ins for months. (By the way, VAM is on its way out because even our terrible legislature now recognizes it's fraud. Oh well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Bygones.)
BoE did something very similar for four other Polk middle schools.
In Polk County, these stupid and illegal teacher transfers caused a total of 1,800 years of lost instructional time. See this post for explanation of that number.
I told this to Stargel to her face twice. She was completely indifferent. She does not care what happens to any of the human beings in that video. She has demonstrated that amply.
We can't rely on selfless heroism all the time
The people who accept this stress and pay point over a long period of time in Florida are missionaries deserving of reverence. The people of Kathleen Middle, who fought through Kelli Stargell's open sabotage, deserve reverence. Yet, Jeb Bush and his cronies like to smear them. I think that's morally reprehensible.
Moreover, it prevents many bright, idealistic young people from pursuing education because of an entirely justified sense of self-interest.
To make teaching a profession that broadly appeals to a person's career self-interest, we need to both reduce stress and increase what we pay. Otherwise, we will not able to meet educational demand or constitutional obligations.
That's what the Florida model plus a starvation budget -- fewer resources than 10 years ago -- prevents from happening.
Florida's dated model has no future
Teachers were once high skill, medium wage employees. They are rapidly hurtling toward high skill, high stress, low wage employees. Supply and demand dictates the employment outcome. When I say your state government wants to destroy public education and replace it with nothing, this is what I mean.
Some legislators have some vague idea that some time in the future, you could pay attendants to manage thousands and thousands of kids in front of computers in some farcical notion of education. But that's about it. There is no other Florida vision for public education at scale. The final vision would have to end with ending compulsory, publicly-funded education entirely. That's the only logic behind providing fewer resources today, per student, than 10 years ago.
If you were a business owner, and you chronically struggled to staff your business with its key employees, would you increase demands and freeze the pay of your existing employees? Indeed, it took Posto 9 just a few months to adjust its tipping policy based on employee supply and demand. Education services are not exempt from supply and demand.
Florida has eroded teacher quality of life and economic security for a generation. We, as Floridians, must wake up to that and face it.