The FSBA rises: a strong, important document on re-opening schools shows it can be a force for advocacy
I've been loudly and publicly critical of the Florida School Board Association's (FSBA) public advocacy on behalf of public schools. So I want to be equally public and loud in praising the FSBA's "Recommendations for Re-opening Florida’s Public Schools 2020-2021 School Year" document released this week.
It's long (5 pages), detailed, and assertive. It appears designed to create important moral and political confrontations over vital operational and structural detail and the future of public education. See it at this link.
Here's how I would sum up the FSBA's position paper, under three broad headings:
Do your job on the health response, state and federal leaders.
We need to be a flexible human resource; not a tired authority. Kill state testing and fake accountability again.
Schools will need more state collaboration and resources during COVID, not less.
Let's look briefly at each.
Do your job on the health response, state and federal "leaders"
The FSBA says state government better have a real, structured test/trace program in place, with fully stocked PPE, if it wants to open compulsory education schools with local board approval.
I see no evidence Florida will ever have either of those things because of the incompetence and fecklessness of leaders at all levels. The only clear goal I see for state and federal leaders is to find somebody to blame other than themselves for all suffering -- in health or economics -- every day. To make that "plan" work, they really need elected school board members to eat the consequences of their competence and malevolence.
This document says, "Nope. Do your job, state and federal leaders. You own it." So that's confrontation #1. And it's very new from the FSBA.
Heres an example:
FSBA encourages all school districts to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Florida Department of Health guidelines. Parents, families, and staff will rely on these partners to ensure a thorough and effective COVID-19 testing and contact tracing process is in place. School boards are prepared to assist these partners as needed in these efforts. To have positive educational outcomes, we must ensure health and safety of students and staff is at the forefront of all decisions and operational changes.
Believe me when I tell you that your state and federal government will not meet the standards in that paragraph.
We need to be a flexible human resource; not tired authority. Kill state testing again.
Forget testing and mindless and data compliance again in the coming year.
"Continue the abeyance of state required assessments for the 2020-2021 school year and allow districts to use progress monitoring to demonstrate learning gains to provide the necessary time for schools and families regain their academic footing. Without this, assessment results may inadvertently capture the effects of a digital divide and other impacts of COVID-19 on student learning and education."
There's not a practical way to have meaningful testing in these conditions, even if the testing was actually designed for some meaningful educational purpose, which it is not. Two years without fake data FSA testing will kill the Jeb Bush fraudulent Florida accountability model. And it deserves to die a low energy death under weight of its useless excess. We don't need it and can't afford it.
This is what's needed, as the FSBA says clearly:
Flexibility will be necessary for school districts to continue to meet the demands of local communities, the Florida Board of Education, the legislature, and our state. The 2020-2021 school year will be predictably unpredictable and infused with a series of “next normals”. The evolving needs of primary schools may be very different from the evolving needs of middle or high schools as so many things continue to be in flux. Districts will need to respond to unfolding changes with fluidity and unprecedented pliancy.
Schools will need more state collaboration and resources during COVID, not less
The FSBA points out:
We must address the mental health needs of our students and staff.
Districts will need additional skilled professionals and other resources to recognize and address the welfare and mental health of all students and staff. School districts are currently providing meals for historic numbers of students, unemployment rates in Florida and the nation have reached unprecedented highs in an unprecedented short timeframe, students and staff are experiencing illness and death of loved ones and loss of many other securities. All of these impacts of COVID-19 cause stress on students and staff. Research of stress on children shows lasting negative impacts on learning which will need to be mitigated as soon as is practical.
1. Grant additional fiscal allocations for needed resources to address increased mental health services for all students, maximizing their readiness to learn.
Indeed, if Florida wants a functioning human education system, if Ron DeSantis and the Chamber of Commerce ever want that free childcare back, Florida's going to need a state bailout. Pay no attention to the red state/blue state nonsense of Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell. Florida's in trouble, like everybody else. Maybe the state beancounters finagle the money crunch out beyond the election. I doubt it; but who knows?
In any event, this horribly governed state will soon face a clear choice born of a pandemic depression:
Pretend like Florida doesn't need a bailout and destroy the education system entirely, along with the capability to fully "open up" the economy and thousands of paying customers for businesses. Or suck it up and tell the president and Congress to fire the Federal Reserve money cannon at all the states, Florida included.
And as I've written and pointed out over and over again, the Federal Reserve has already done this for Wall Street and the value of private of wealth. It can do it for public services, easily. See chart below.
Ron DeSantis is going to have to make a political choice that engages that chart, eventually. I'm not sure exactly when. But he will own that decision, all by himself, because nobody knows who individual legislators are. The "Ron DeSantis-mass educator-firings" will be a thing. You can be assured I'll make them a thing with every fiber of my being.
The FSBA document underscores this choice by pointing out all the vital human infrastructure that public schools provide and the vast extra cost of bringing the up to standards set by the CDC and other.
Districts, which can't raise our own money, can't come close to paying for the PPE needs and heightened operational costs of trying. The FSBA is clearly looking to the state to pay for every additional bit of capacity -- from safety to mental health to longer school days if kids need it -- that will be needed to function. And the FSBA should have the expectation; the state has made it clear repeatedly that it rules the local districts. It's a state school system.
Good policy is the best politics in the era of "herd immunity by incompetent default"
This document injects "politics" into the fate of Florida public schools in the best, most healthy kind of way. It takes specific, common sense pro-public school positions that will either set the terms of "reopening" or force Gov. DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the ridiculous legislature to override them.
Let me tell you from experience: the state hates that kind of confrontation with local districts and publics, especially when they are united. The FSBA paper fills a massive vacuum of speculation and feckless state leadership with markers of expectation from the local political representatives of Florida's community schools.
The federal government and Florida state government have basically decided, without acknowledging it or telling you, to pursue the "herd immunity" approach to COVID that Sweden has taken and that United Kingdom abandoned because it would kill too many people over time.
Our state and federal leaders are not taking this path out of any thought or theory; they're just lazy and incompetent and unable to organize anything else. They've wasted every second of the precious time our communities gave them with suffering and isolation to develop a real approach. And there is very little to show for it at any level of power. As a local elected official, I have to govern in that reality.
Confrontational common sense
I expect the fate of physical schools, compulsory education, and education employees as an economic force to become the crucial social and political flashpoint of this state and federal non-strategy -- both in terms of the virus itself and of the economic crisis surrounding it.
Big, hard decisions are coming. And we won't be making them with state government partners; we'll be making them with state leaders who want to shift blame and responsibility to other people for any suffering of any kind. Again, I have to try to govern, as a local official, in that reality.
And for the first time since my election in 2016, the FSBA has created a document that clearly recognizes this.
It recognizes that the state government and education leaders with power over local districts are, in fact, the existential enemies of public education. To be clear, this document doesn't call them that. It's not rude; although you could argue there is some clever trolling of Richard Corcoran included by quoting his commitment to "compassion and grace" -- as if he means it.
But mostly, the FSBA document simply demands imminently reasonable and popular and humane policies designed to support and strengthen public education next year and beyond. That hardly seems controversial or confrontational until you understand that our enemies in Tallahassee want to either: kill public education or use it as nothing more than free child care staffed by essential, expendable people in order to "re-start" the economy.
As my dear friend Sue Woltanski, Monroe County School Board member, says: common sense is confrontational in this environment.
We cannot afford any wishful thinking or delusion
Indeed, when the other side wants your extermination; declaring your intent to live is a declaration of war.
I think this document clearly understands that. And this document declares, on behalf of elected local school board members, that we intend for our service to live and grow. It's very different from the lousy document that the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS) put out a couple weeks ago, which was more than happy to be complicit in destruction as long as superintendents get paid, I suspect.
I wish this common sense document was not inherently confrontational. I wish this set of circumstances we're living through did not exist. I wish we did not have to fight with our state and federal education "leaders" publicly for the existence of ALL vital community government functions.
In a wider sense, I wish that American power did not look at every person that provides it any convenience at all as both coercively essential and ruthlessly expendable; but it does. I wish this country had leadership; but it does not. And I don't waste much time or energy on empty wishes.
As a local elected official, I have to fill the wish vacuum with action and expectations as best I can on behalf of the public.
This document helps in that effort.
Getting to the battlefield first
Through its insistence on responsible and reasonable policy for "re-opening" of schools, it has beaten the bad guys to the battleground. Indeed, it is a very troublesome document for both sides of DeSantis vs. JebWorld civil war within the forces of teacher and public education hatred. I wrote about that civil war here. In short:
DeSantis can't wait to force everybody back into schools for the free child care so "the economy" can "restart" with 20%-plus unemployment. He's indifferent to human well-being or community spread that would ensue.
JebWorld and Corcoran can't wait to try impose "test-and-punish-from-home on screens forever" as the "cutting edge" of something. They're indifferent to massive cuts and sending people back because they think this is the culmination of their great generational grift.
Those are utterly incompatible approaches to hurting the people of public education -- both child and educators alike. And this document rejects both. It exploits the gap clearly and smartly -- with pages of substance. Good for FSBA.
It makes it much harder for all Jeb's people and the Richard Corcorans and Kelli Stargels and Manny Diaz-es to do what they're going to do with impunity. And it makes it harder for DeSantis to unilaterally give the all clear and force people into a dangerous daily mass gathering of adults and kids.
That's a pretty good day's work for a school board advocacy organization.