Governor-elect Ron DeSantis' transition committee on education met Wednesday to discuss how the state could begin to implement his campaign proposal that 80 percent of all education funding be directed "into the classroom." The short answer: it's not going to be simple.
Many committee members said the first step is to define what "classroom spending" would actually include.
"While we've made great progress in the state and much of our intent has been very noble, we've missed the mark oftentimes in the execution phase in how we define, and I'm using air quotes, 'instruction' and 'classroom' ... to make sure we don’t devalue things like school security, the arts, etc.," said Desmond Blackburn, the CEO of a national nonprofit called New Teacher Center and a former Brevard County superintendent.
"It seems to me we could have much more productive conversation about ... how to improve instructional efforts in our schools if we had a more uniform way of evaluating the way that money is being spent," added Rick Stevens, managing director of the Florida Citizens Alliance, an educational advocacy group.
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Andy Tuck, who is the vice chairman of the State Board of Education and hails from Highlands County in Central Florida, suggested that rural counties could combine administrative resources to eliminate the need for some positions, since the total student population of six rural districts might equal one urban district anyway.
"We've got to have bus drivers, food service people — I'm not saying we're totally top heavy — but there are some thing we could look at privatizing to save some money or cooperating to achieve that number," Tuck said.
He said he was "thrilled" with DeSantis' proposal of 80 percent of expenditures going to the classroom, "but that being said ... it's going to be a pretty tough goal to meet."
The 44-member committee, which met by phone and was open to the public via a dial-in number, also discussed the issue of teacher pay, and how it can be changed to mitigate Florida's teacher shortage.
Many on the committee were on board with the current system of performance-based bonuses for teachers, though several members wrangled with the many different factors that should be included in measuring how effective a teacher truly is. Others said teachers should be rewarded with more professional development, like getting help to go back to school and earn a master's degree.
"With the VAM scores (model for teacher evaluations), you’ll see across the board that some teachers that think it's unfair and doesn't work and others who think it's critical to assessing them fairly but I think it's worth looking at again," said Connie Milito, a lobbyist for Hillsborough County Public Schools.
She also said Florida should reconsider returning to national board certification as an incentive. The state used to subsidize teachers' applications to the national board as well as give them bonuses for having that certification, but that was eliminated in recent years.
But a few members also advocated for a general rise in the base pay, saying it was crucial to keeping Florida competitive with other states — perhaps a signal that the familiar debate over teacher bonuses vs. raises may continue this year.
"We just have to figure out a way so the masses of educators feel they start every day out with fair and appropriate compensation before we figure out what a bonus structure looks like linked to performance," Blackburn said.
The final issue of the meeting was the revelations earlier this year that the University of Central Florida misused state funds that were supposed to be spent on operating expenses, instead directing them to constructing a new $38 million building.
"It's imperative we look at what UCF did ... to make sure they rectify it, obviously it is an embarrassment that it did happen but he need to move forward without affecting students or the educational experience at UCF," said state Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs.
There is an ongoing review of university spending on construction, according to staff on the call.