GA run-offs need your help!

Free Georgia Clipart

Extremely important. Volunteer if you can. Thank you if you are already doing so.

Out of state opportunities here: 

Raphael Warnock:

Jon Ossoff:

What’s at stake?

Republicans are guaranteed 50 of the Senate’s 100 seats next year after Alaska’s race was called in their favor and North Carolina’s contest went their way as well, with the Democratic challenger there conceding.

Democrats are set to get at least 48 seats, but are aiming for 50 through victories by their two Senate candidates in Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. They would have control of the chamber with just 50 senators in 2021 as a Democratic vice president, Kamala Harris, would cast tie-breaking votes.

1 billion dollars is being spent on these races.

Florida influence started immediately after election:

Rubio & Scott:


Karl Rove:

FL teacher speaks: Ed Tech & the dystopia of individualized learning

OWL COMPUTEREditor’s note: This post was submitted by a veteran Florida teacher whose identity must be protected for obvious reasons but whose insight, knowledge and willingness to speak out is heroic in these times.  Here’s to the truth that must be told and the insiders who step up to tell it.  Here’s to this teacher for sounding the alarm on the risks of “replacing humans with laptops” and “harming students in our zeal to elevate metrics.” 

I work in one of the largest school districts in North America, in one of the battleground states over public education.  While most of the conflict I’ve seen in my career has been political (vouchers, charters, “choice” as a euphemism, school grades, pay-for-performance, anything else elected officials can dream up to get their fingers into the financial prize of the public education tax trough) a fair amount comes from within.  It’s hard to defend public education when the stakeholders who are supposed to support classroom instruction suck just as badly as the clowns in the Legislature.

Not to paint too broad a stroke on it, but often as individuals elevate out of classroom roles, they lose sight utterly of what instruction should mean.  I’ve seen two major shifts in the past fifteen years, both of which had promise, both of which have caused me deep concern:  first, the transition from “administrator” to “curriculum expert/teacher manager” in our leadership, which I will discuss further elsewhere, and second, and more insidiously, the embracing of educational technology.  The effects on children (and employees) might surprise those not currently in classrooms, but they are worth discussing, and perhaps reconsidering.

I have deep concerns about the wholesale embracing of educational technology at the expense of what is developmentally appropriate for children, and it seems no coincidence that the alarming empathy deficit of our culture today might parallel the ongoing fascination with all things digital.  Anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, certainly, but now actual scientific studies are backing up what we teachers have known for a while—attention spans, eyesight problems and increasing headaches, and lack of information retention all correspond to one-to-one digital instruction.  It’s not the panacea we were sold.

My district embraced digital tech early and with tremendous speed.  The digital rollout took a few short years, starting with some schools that had iPads on carts with pre-approved software loaded on to each device and culminating with almost every single child in a massive school district with a laptop of his or her own.  I love technology and use it regularly; as a free-lance writer and editor, my laptop is attached to me in every non-teaching hour I have, and as a social media addict, my phone is with me often as well.  I use technology for my job, for information acquisition, and for entertainment, and I think it has its usefulness in the modern age.  Should kids learn how to use technology, down to software, hardware, and coding?  Absolutely.  Should every bit of instruction come on a computer?  Absolutely not.

Let’s talk logistics first.  I work at a “good” school with a lot of amenities.  Our kids are well-fed, well-supplied, and well-shod.  They all have their laptops and most of them remember to charge them before school.  In a good week our internet will go out no fewer than three times.  We get repeated emails from the district apologizing for the inconvenience, but when the internet goes down, everything stops.  We were told to have “back up plans” on paper but with copy limitations (some schools don’t allow photocopies at all, or only at teacher expense) and with fewer textbooks (some schools have replaced all of their textbooks with the digital version) that only goes so far.  And if a student has a presentation, a lab, or an iReady module to do, and the internet goes down, what then?  Interruptions in instruction impede learning, cause frustration, and slow the process.  We have the laptops but we don’t always have the infrastructure to support said laptops.  Testing season is always a nightmare. 

Okay, let’s assume everything is clicking along and working—wireless is functional, everyone is charged up and ready to go, kids know how to rudimentarily type.  What then?  We have created a dystopia of individualized learning that fosters distraction, entertainment, and impeded social skills. We have LanSchool to block websites and ensure kids stay on task yet I met a fourth grader who got around LanSchool in less than ten minutes.  Most of our kids who struggle with comprehension can still manage to get around a firewall. The current middle school obsessions are Snapchat and shoe design, and students will find any way to shift from Nearpod to something more enticing. Tired of the current module?  Two clicks and you’re designing Adidas kicks.  Teachers are in a never-ending battle to keep students focused, while simultaneously being judged on student engagement. 

One other issue I find particularly disturbing is the silent classroom.  I mentored a teacher recently to offer suggestions on professional development and found an eerily quiet room, every student on a laptop with earbuds listening intently to a tutorial.  100% engagement by modern metrics, but zero relationship building, zero chance to interact meaningfully, zero opportunity for teacher-student interaction.  I asked the instructor if this was the norm and he said, “Yeah, it’s great.  They do their thing and I just have to grade it.”  This may not be the norm across the school or even in typical classrooms but we are seeing students becoming more withdrawn and introverted and this type of “instruction” exacerbates the problem. 

Digital technology is here to stay, but we need a way to blend the innovation and modernization of classroom tools with the so-called “soft skills” employers crave.  Kids need to learn cooperative play, verbal and listening skills, executive functioning and management, and social interaction fostered by actual, you know, conversation.  Ideally a blend of activities would be encouraged by administration to allow for multiple learning styles and maximizing student growth, but I keep hearing about teachers “dinged” for not having kids on computers.  One teacher who has AP classes (which require paper-pencil testing at the end of the year) was told to have the kids online to best reach performance benchmarks, but the actual testing instrument isn’t online and the students need to practice the physical effort required to generate handwritten equations and explanations. 

To be clear, and I know I’m rambling now—I am no Luddite nor am I against the advancements of technology.  I am against doing things to students that are repeatedly shown to be developmentally inappropriate or not an actual best practice according to child psychologists.  I am against jumping on every new bandwagon that rolls out just because we can.  I am firmly against buying every new private program or application just because someone downtown falls for the sales pitch.  I am against replacing humans with laptops or iPads, and I am against harming students in our zeal to elevate metrics, elevate test scores, and make our district leaders win awards. 

The ideal classroom is a buzzing hive of activity with a blend of options and resources, child-centered and focused on creating a safe, supportive and warm environment in which children feel valued and challenged.  Digital technology is not the enemy.  Mandatory implementation and robotic compliance to district initiatives, however, has landed us in a world where I fear for our students. 


Charging a terrified 10-year-old girl as a criminal is a very bad look for state attorney Dennis Ward

DENNIS WARD MONROE STATE ATTYWhat the hell is going on? As a parent, I feel very comfortable using this exact wording to ask this question. In the aftermath of the horrific Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, we must ask ourselves just how far we will let fear push us. The MSD Safety Act means police and armed staff are in our schools and interacting with our children at unprecedented levels.

Recent incidents in Monroe and Orange counties are a shocking reminder that increased police presence in our schools can result in escalating common childhood behaviors to criminal charges that, thanks to obsessive data collection, will become part of a child’s permanent record. This is the highest of stakes.

Protecting our kids isn’t just about active-shooter drills and looking out for bad guys. Real everyday protection means police must be trained and devoted to de-escalating situations in schools. Principals, teachers and staff must possess the professionalism and empathy to recognize that all this talk of being violently killed by unknown AR-15 toting assailants is extremely traumatizing for everyone, especially children.

It’s particularly disturbing that Dennis Ward, the State Attorney from Monroe County is determined to press criminal charges this week against a frightened ten-year-old student at Stanley Switlik Elementary School who everyone agrees had no intent to harm anyone. This little girl put a steak knife in her back pack should “an armed attacker enter the school, she intended on defending herself with the steak knife.”

After discovering the knife, both the school principal and Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer Robert Bulnes had a golden opportunity to de-escalate and demonstrate wisdom in this situation.  Instead, they punted to State Attorney Dennis Ward who intends to throw the book at this child which will no doubt change the course of her young life leaving her with a stigmatizing permanent record.

What’s worse, Officer Bulnes, made this comment on the official Monroe County Sheriff Facebook page, “I’m also grateful to report that the incident was handled jointly with our law enforcement and community partners who decided what the appropriate criminal measures should be going forward.”

At the moment there are 574 comments on the MSCO-Florida Keys post and 98% of them strongly object to the way State Attorney Dennis Ward, Officer Bulnes and the principal of Stanley Switlik Elementary School have treated this little girl. Let’s hope they come to their senses and try to help this child and all the others they are supposedly “protecting.”

Here’s a sampling of the comments:

Olivia Bivens Wow so you see a fifth grader so scared she wanted to defend herself and think treating her like a criminal for a issue we adults fail to solve is correct? Let’s get some better training going IMMEDIATELY this should be a wake up call not a criminal case!

Amy Gage I am heartbroken and angered as I read this!! This little girl deserves hugs, and love, and reassurance that WE, as adults, will keep her safe; NOT criminal charges!! WE put the knife in that little girls backpack!! WE, who give “thoughts and prayers” each time a school is attacked, with no tangible solution to follow. It is WE that has to change this in 2020!!

Kathy Vereline Sad that our children are scared for their lives every day the go to school. I am scared to see mine go to school. She should be able to have a safe place when she goes to school. Instead she was scared enough to think of defending herself if attacked at school. Counseling should be available for her to learn how to feel safe in school. I can’t believe they are seeking charges\

Rosemarie Jensen This is absolutely ridiculous. You are pressing charges on a 10 year old girl who has heard your messages loud and clear that someone may try to kill her at school. Discipline her but to press charges is insane and indicative of the lack of common sense that rules both the sheriff’s office and the state attorney.

Laura McCrary That poor girl must be scared to death with all the active shooter drills. This makes me sick. My goodness! What do expect young children to do, and what kind of message are we sending them with thinking they aren’t safe in school. Shame on this state attorney. He really needs to visit a classroom active shooter drill for that age group! 😥

Kelli Berndt Lyndon This is an embarrassment to your school and local government. These kids are scared to death of what might happen to them at school. This girl doesn’t deserve any of this action. She’s 10 years old and had zero intent of hurting anyone. I hope the voters remember this when it comes time to vote for a new SA. Pathetic.

Read the entire MSCO – Florida Keys FaceBook post below:

Girl charged with bringing knife to school

A Stanley Switlik Elementary School student was charged with possessing a weapon — a steak knife — on school grounds Friday morning.

There were no injuries.

The 10-year-old girl — a fifth-grader ؅— was showing other students the knife in the cafeteria before classes began at approximately 8 a.m.

The girl told other students that should an armed attacker enter the school, she intended on defending herself with the steak knife.

The girl did not threaten anyone with the knife.

Another student reported this to school officials at the front office.

The school principal and Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer Robert Bulnes stopped the girl as she was leaving the cafeteria and took her to the front office.

They found the knife in the girl’s backpack. The girl admitted to showing other students the knife and she admitted to telling other students she intended to defend herself with the knife should an armed attacker enter the school.

The Sheriff’s Office notified the State Attorney’s Office, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Monroe County School District.

The State Attorney’s Office decided to proceed with criminal charges.

The joint decision was made to give the girl a notice to appear in court and not place her in juvenile custody.

The girl was released to the custody of her parents.

“This was an unfortunate incident, but it was handled quickly and professionally by our School Resource Officer Robert Bulnes and school officials,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “I’m grateful this young girl did not threaten anyone and that did not appear to be her intent. I’m also grateful to report that the incident was handled jointly with our law enforcement and community partners who decided what the appropriate criminal measures should be going forward.”

Different reaction at Orlando School 

Last week an Orlando incident made national headlines when a school resource officer at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy charter school, arrested two 6-year-old children. He handcuffed the traumatized kids, perp-walked them out of the school and took them downtown for fingerprints and mugshots.

The charge against the children? Misdemeanor Battery. One of them had a meltdown during which a teacher was struck on the leg. Police have not disclosed details about the second child since Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon dropped all charges against the children and fired Reserve Officer Dennis Turner, saying that “the arrests made him ‘sick to [his] stomach.’ He apologized to the children and their families.”  State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she will not pursue any action against the children and their records will be expunged. “I refuse to knowingly play any role in the school-to-prison pipeline,” Ayala said. “… The criminal process ends here today. The children will not be prosecuted.”

OPD  also moved quickly to change policy, stating that no student under 12 can be arrested without department approval. Records show that Turner retired from OPD in 2018, and according to the Orlando Sentinel, was involved in a 1998 child abuse case “in which Turner, then 37, was arrested by Apopka police after officials found welts and bruises on his 7-year-old son’s arms and chest. Rolón said an OPD internal affairs investigation sustained allegations against Turner and he was disciplined. Court records show the criminal case against Turner was dropped by prosecutors…It was unclear how Turner was allowed to serve as a school resource officer with a record of child abuse.”

According to the Sentinel, State Attorney “Ayala said arresting children as young as 6 is unfortunately not unheard of, noting that Florida remains one of the states with the highest number of child arrests, and that the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties, led the state in youth arrests in 2018.  This is not a reflection of the children, but more a reflection of a broken system that is in need of reform.”







In these times, trolls pushing extremist views underscore the need for critical thought

crying statue of libertyThis is a season of extreme gaslighting where everyone from politicians to internet trolls are tripping over themselves to use psychological means to manipulate us into questioning our own sanity.

This week a person posted an article for general consumption on the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook facebook page entitled, Fix Education by Radical Decentralization by the Tenth Amendment Center. It came with a comment that read: “Interesting read. I would like to hear (I should say, read) your educated opinion on this. Cheers.” and was posted by someone with almost zero content on their FaceBook page. In other words, the poster was very likely a paid-to-post troll. Although the post generated 78 comments and 15 shares it had only 4 likes.  Gratefully, Florida’s smart public education advocates gave a solid push back.

Turns out that The Tenth Amendment Center and it’s founder, Michael Boldin is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist anti-government group. Read their conclusion:

Michael Boldin is the founder and executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC), an organization that favors “nullification” of federal laws it considers unconstitutional. Founded in 2007, the TAC is based on an expansive reading of the Tenth Amendment, which says that those “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Boldin describes the TAC, which offers model bills and resolutions on its website, as “a non-partisan think tank that supports the principles of strictly limited constitutional government.” Boldin evidently runs the organization from his home, which also houses Webstores, LLC, where he is listed as manager.

As a practical matter, however, the TAC is on the political far right, opposing a whole array of federal laws and regulations. It has gained wide support among hard-line libertarians and neo-Confederates who are still angry at the powers the federal government accumulated after the Civil War that allowed it, among other things, to act against segregation, discrimination and other social ills. (In the 1950s, several states tried unsuccessfully to resist desegregation by nullifying federal laws. The courts have consistently rejected nullification as unconstitutional.) The group’s site, in another indication of its politics, rails against centrist Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a “dedicated Socialist.”

For a time, Boldin crisscrossed the country, taking the TAC’s nullification message to supporters known as “Tenthers.” Its “Nullify Now!” conferences were held between 2010 and 2013 in cities including Austin, Texas, Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., and Manchester, N.H.

These conferences were often headlined by prominent figures in the anti-government “Patriot” movement, which years grew dramatically after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The Austin gathering, for instance, featured Art Thompson of the John Birch Society, which once argued that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist agent, and Stewart Rhodes, head of the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers, a group that encourages police officers and soldiers to disobey “unconstitutional” orders. Kevin Gutzman, a professor of history at Western Connecticut State University and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, also spoke.

Turns out that the Tenth Amendment Center and other efforts like it are nothing new. As Rachel Tabachnick writes in Nullification, Neo-Confederates and the Revenge of the old Right:

“Advocates base their argument for nullification and its ideological twin, secession, on the “compact theory,” which holds that the U.S. government was formed by a compact among sovereign states that have the right to nullify federal laws—or leave the union.3 Their work has the potential to provoke the most dramatic showdown over states’ rights since President John F. Kennedy federalized Alabama’s National Guard in response to Gov. George Wallace’s refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama.”

Extremism often appears innocuous at the start. Kudos to the readers and public education advocates who pushed back against the content of this post. Never underestimate the importance of questioning what we read and being self-aware about the extreme value of thinking critically.


Parent-empowerment voucher could irreparably harm public schools |

CRYING EYE ETCHINGThe new “parent empowerment” voucher, passed during Florida’s 2019 legislative session, is a calculated gateway to universal vouchers which are often linked by reformers to the end of brick and mortar public education as we know it. The victory laps being taken by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, House and Senate leadership and former Gov. Jeb Bush ring hollow when you consider that we are in our 21st year of GOP dominance. Where’s the “victory” when despite enormous public outcry, there is zero possibility of a different policy outcome?

Predictably, op-eds have cropped up across the state featuring Bush assuring everyone that, “public schools will not be harmed by private school tuition vouchers,” and Senate Education Chair Manny Diaz proclaiming in the Sentinel that the “new voucher is good for students and the state” (May 7). While public schools stand to lose funding and bear the responsibility of bringing returning voucher students back on track academically, it’s the children using this newest “choice” voucher to attend unregulated schools who run the greatest risk.


The very use of the word “choice” conjures up a different meaning for everyone. When a parent chooses to give up their child’s right to a free and appropriate public education, take a voucher and attend a private religious school there are consequences. Private schools reserve the right to discriminate against any child for any reason, they are not required to accept any student, parents are responsible for the tuition gap, teachers may have little more than an high school diploma, curriculum is not subject to state review and can be loaded with alternative, even radical content, there are no required anti-bullying programs, safety protocols, facility standards or transportation. When there is a dispute, often the solution is to leave the school.


The way Florida sells “choice” relies heavily on gaslighting its citizens. We’re talking two decades of psychological manipulation to get both politicians and the public to doubt the credibility of teachers, the value of public schools, the importance of respecting the separation of church and state, even their own childhood school memories. To complete the picture, add the pain and suffering of starvation funding, high-stakes testing, arming teachers and a hostile spate of accountability measures imposed solely on public schools by the state. For perspective, there are nearly three million students in Florida public schools and just over 100,000 voucher recipients in private schools that cost the state a billion dollars every year.

The Parent Empowerment voucher is like the program shut down by the Florida Supreme Court in the 2006 Bush v Holmes decision. Instead of using diverted corporate tax revenue, this new voucher drains funds from the same property tax dollars that comprise the primary funding source for Florida’s public-school districts. It features an eligibility escalator which eventually includes families of four making $100,000 per year resulting in an enormous middle-class entitlement. When these vouchers, valued at approximately $7,200, are redeemed at private, mostly religious schools, it’s understood that parents are responsible for the balance, which could be upwards of $18,000 per year. It’s easy to see how the low-income students that politicians purport to serve could be squeezed out of this “choice.”


Both Bush and Diaz cite glowing, largely unproven notions that vouchers have “improved the outcomes of disadvantaged students, they’ve also improved the performance of all public schools.” How exactly do vouchers improve the performance of public schools? Is it by removing academic low-performers from the A+ Accountability data? Diaz cites an Urban Institute study, which was funded by the Walton family and Bush’s own Foundation for Excellence in Education, saying that voucher students are “43% more likely to enroll in 4-year colleges and 20% more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees.” But Diaz fails to add the line from the study that says, “the effects on enrollment, however, were largely at the community college level, and the effects on degree attainment were slight, with no effect at the bachelor’s degree level.” The spin just never stops.


The bottom line is that the state is absolutely obsessed with imposing strict accountability standards on its public schools. Yet Bush, Diaz, Corcoran, House and Senate leadership feel no such compunction to make sure voucher students are receiving the same quality from private religious schools. In fact, there is zero interest from the state as to the type of education voucher parents are choosing for their children, what they are learning or whether they are staying on grade level. If that doesn’t raise a billion red flags, it’s hard to imagine what will.


The author is the founder of, a non-partisan group focused on Florida education policy. First published in the Orlando Sentinel. 

Smoking gun: FL can’t insure armed teachers from liability

SAD EMOJIWith SB 7030/Arming Teachers passing in the Florida Senate as was predicted, the question raised by this blog about whether or not this is insurable remains.

Did knowledgeable political insiders deliberately plunge an entire state into a horrific Sophie’s Choice debate over forcing public school classroom teachers to live every day knowing that they or their colleagues must pivot from teaching the students they love to possibly shooting one of them?

Was this just a cruel distraction to allow the greatest threat to Florida Public Education, universal vouchers/Education Savings Accounts and a slew of other deeply hostile bills to pass into law with considerably less opposition from exhausted public education advocates?

Not to put to fine a point on it, but here’s the smoking gun as to whether arming classroom teachers can be insured. Fellow blogger Mercedes Schneider addresses the question and points out that:

The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) uses AIX Specialty Insurance Company to provide its educators professional liability policy. According to that policy, armed teachers would not be covered if they make an error when using that gun. From the policy:


This policy does not apply to any claim: …

26. Alleging or arising out of:

a. any actual or alleged breach of duty, negligent act, error, omission, misstatement, or misleading statement committed by an INSURED while acting within the scope of their law enforcement activities for the educational institution; and

b. Any allegations of negligence or wrongdoing in the supervision, hiring, employment, training, or monitoring of a person whose conduct is included in Paragraph a. above.

For the purposes of this exclusion, “law enforcement activities” means activities, services, advice or instruction that is within the scope of the authorized duties of the educational institution’s law enforcement and security guard personnel. This exclusion shall also apply to any armed FULL-TIME INSTRUCTIONAL PERSONNEL.

So, armed Florida teachers, know that as of this writing, any negligent act associated with that gun is not covered by FDOE liability insurance. Supervisors connected to negligence of armed teachers are also excluded from the liability policy.

Understand this, public education advocates, voters, teachers, parents, students, critical thinkers: At best, arming teachers with a one-time $500 bonus and three weeks of training when a full time sworn school resource officer costs $100,000 per year is a preposterous level of cheap.

At worst, is the looming reality that this chaos over arming teachers was a deliberate plan to provide cover while lawmakers passed a radical political agenda knowing the idea was doomed from the start. This is 100% unacceptable.

Politicians are supposed to work for us. We all know what happens to employees who lie, scheme, enrich themselves and others and plot to destroy the company. They get fired.

Join the fight to save our public schools and transform them into what’s best for Florida’s children and their teachers.

If “arming teachers” can’t be insured, is the debate just a cruel charade?

PINNOCCHIO DONT LIEWake up Florida. We are being gamed again. There’s a good chance that the whole uproar over arming teachers is just an orchestrated distraction.

Zero evidence suggests that arming classroom teachers as described in SB 7030/HB 7093 is insurable. Right now, SB 7030/Arming Teachers is on its way to a full senate floor vote.  No one is stepping up to underwrite the enormous liability of putting guns into the hands of classroom teachers with scant training. Out of approximately three weeks of training, only 8 hours are devoted to learning to shoot. Where are the insurance companies for districts, unions or sheriff’s offices on this?

Following last year’s passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Act, Stephanie Luke, Chair of the Lake County school board in Florida had this to say about insurance, “It’s a discussion we’re having with our lawyer and our insurance company,” Luke said, emphasizing that those talks are only at the early stages, as the board does not want to appear that it has come to any conclusions on a new policy. “But it (arming district staff) would be more liability,” she conceded.

It’s disturbing to think that the 2019 Florida Legislature, filled with impassioned debate and often deeply personal public outcry over the obvious insanity of arming a teacher, is a cruel political calculation providing cover for:

  • the radical transformation of private religious school vouchers into a middle-class entitlement paid for by public school dollars
  • the transference of public-school referendum money into the hands of charter profiteers,
  • ripping charter authorizing authority from school boards and granting it to the state,
  • expanding the oversight powers of the appointed Commissioner of Education has over district superintendents and boards
  • school board term limits

Immediately following Senate Appropriations passage of SB 7030, articles appeared revealing quotes from Democrat Sen. Perry Thurston, a committee member:

“The chances are “60-40,” Thurston said, with the higher percentage going toward the idea that arming teachers would be removed from the bill. The Democrats withdrew several amendments related to the teacher portion of the bill during Thursday’s vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, citing their agreement.

“If they take that out, there are quite a few [Democrats] who would be willing to vote for it,” added Thurston, a Democrat from Lauderhill.”

The dominant Senate GOP does not need a single vote from the Democrats to pass SB 7030 as is. If the Senate strips language arming teachers from SB 7030, two things happen: Democrats and advocates are granted an improbable victory and legislators get rid of the certain embarrassment that will arise when “armed teachers” cannot be insured.

Last year during the debate over the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act, politicians suggested that deaths, injuries and mishaps caused by school staff armed with guns would be covered by Stand Your Ground. This year House Education Committee chair Jennifer Sullivan implied that it was “the entities responsibility” when asked about insurance. Very little of the money budgeted  in 2018 for the Aaron Feis Guardian Program that armed school personnel other than full time classroom teachers has been spent.  Many districts across the state, including Orange County Public Schools ,have approved resolutions not to arm teachers.

The News Service of Florida reports: “From the 25 counties that have decided to arm school personnel, all but one have requested funding from the state —- a total of $9.3 million out of the $67 million that lawmakers set aside for the program this year. Polk County has requested $1.5 million to implement the program, the most of any county. The county’s sheriff, Grady Judd, was a key player in helping shape the statewide program. The rest of the state’s 42 counties have opted out of the program and are not able to tap into the unspent $57 million for other security measures.”

Further, arming teachers has been met with push-back from insurers across the nation.

Kansas passed a law in 2013 that allowed members of school staff to be armed after the Sandy Hook massacre claimed the lives of 20 elementary school children. But five years later, no Kansas school employee has legally brought a gun onto a public K-12 campus.

EMC, which covers most Kansas school districts, immediately sent a letter to its agents in response to the prospect that districts could legally allow teachers to be armed on their campuses. “EMC has concluded that concealed handguns on school premises pose a heightened liability risk,” the letter read. “Because of this increased risk, we have chosen not to insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns. We are making this underwriting decision simply to protect the financial security of our company,” it concluded.

And Colorado was even more direct about the fallacy of arming low-trained staff, “More guns make insurers nervous in other situations, too, said Scott Kennedy, president of CCIG, an insurance company in Colorado. He pointed to the common preference among insurers that nightclub bouncers remain unarmed, while off-duty police officers working security are usually allowed to carry firearms.”

If arming classroom teachers turns out to be a wag the dog scenario that insiders always knew was uninsurable and therefore doomed, advocates and voters should feel betrayed by their so-called public servants. The sheer cruelty of plunging an entire state into a Sophie’s Choice debate over forcing public school classroom teachers to live every day knowing that they or their colleagues must pivot from teaching the students they love to possibly shooting one of them is too much to bear.



Ron DeSantis Has ‘Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals’ for Florida Education and That’s Bad

Family Empowerment voucher paves the way: Choice 2.0 Education Savings Accounts


Choice 2.0,  Education Savings Accounts (ESA) are the “reform” endgame and they won’t live up to Florida’s “choice” lore.  With the Family Empowerment Voucher, former Governor Jeb Bush, the Milton Friedman Foundation/Ed Choice, voucher and charter proponents and of course vendors are teetering on the edge of their most ideological, profit-driven dreams. Corporate charter operators are dreaming about converting to private schools as soon as ESAs become a reality. All at the expense of the three million students who attend Florida public schools.

The Family Empowerment Voucher is different because it will be funded through the Florida Education Finance Program, with the money specified for public schools. This money is paid to private/religious schools who are free to discriminate, avoid standards/regulation, charge more than the voucher for tuition. teach extreme curriculum, hire “teachers” with less than a high-school diploma, provide minimal safety and make no guarantees as to excellence or student success.

Florida politicians are determined to use billions in public school dollars to fund this latest radical voucher/private religious school entitlement for the middle class. The Family Empowerment voucher escalates in value to families of four who earn $100,000 per year. It is the last step toward the implementation of Education Savings Accounts.

Florida’s Corporate Tax Credit voucher allows corporations to divert their taxes to Step Up for Students, the state’s largest designated Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO). The resulting vouchers are then used primarily for private religious schools that do not have to meet any of the standards imposed by the state on public schools. Since its inception in 2001, lawmakers have expanded Florida’s voucher program so that $1 billion dollars annually, once destined for state general revenue that should have funded a wide range of needs has been diverted to private schools. Keep in mind that Step Up for Students has been paid at least 3% of the gross or $81 million dollars over the years as a “fee.”

Education “reform” is all about chaos and disruption. Because it’s hard to tear down a cornerstone asset like public education, reformers rely on issuing a series of unfounded “studies” in the hopes that the press and politicians will quote their theoretical “findings” as fact. That strategy, called “moving the Overton window,” manipulates public perception with the goal of normalizing radical policy ideas like annually transferring $800 billion public tax dollars spent by states every year into privatizing public schools.

One such study by Matthew Ladner, is entitled The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family. Ladner works for Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, writes the K-12 Education Report Card for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is a fellow at the Friedman Foundation for School Choice/Ed Choice and the Goldwater Institute. He is also the current executive editor of ReDefineED, the “Choice” propaganda blog funded by Step Up For Students and John Kirtley. Don’t dismiss this study because it was written in 2012. Its contents are a road map that should not be ignored. Of course, ALEC conveniently provides legislators with an off-the-shelf model bill called the Education Savings Account Act.

Ladner writes that, “Education Savings Accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.” He lays out all the usual reasons for why, in his opinion, public schools are failing. He claims that public education is a 20th century “factory” model. In reality, what could be more factory-like than “reform” standards such as high stakes testing, teaching to the test,virtual learning and student data obsession?

Of course, Ladner blames teachers unions and school boards while ignoring the trauma of poverty and hostile legislation. On one hand he extols parental “choice,” on the other hand he decries the locally elected voice of school boards as “monopolies.”

Camel’s nose under the tent

Florida already has several forms of vouchers. There’s the aforementioned Corporate Tax Credit Voucher, Voluntary Pre-K, McKay Scholarship for Exceptional Education Students (ESE) students, the Hope voucher for bullied students that allows them to leave their public schools without proving an incident occured and a targeted ESA program called the Gardiner Personal Learning Account that expanded the pool of eligible ESE students to include 504 classifications and requires recipients to relinquish their right to public education.

School reformers have been busy. Since 2014, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee have adopted ESA programs.  The easiest first step is to write legislation that covers ESE students. That’s the so-called “nose under the tent.”  Once that happens the door is open for states to pursue Education Savings Accounts for every child while launching a wholesale conversion of existing voucher programs.

Zero proof exists that ESAs are better than public schools

There is an assumption that handing tax funded Education Savings Accounts over to parents will transform them into discerning consumers and thereby “providers will have powerful incentives to compete on the basis of both quality and cost.” That’s the thinking that destroyed thousands of healthy mom and pop businesses across the nation and left us with Walmart. Put another way, should we allow our children to be used as guinea pigs to prove whether consumers control the market or the market controls consumers?

One thing is clear, voters, teachers, parents and children have been gamed by high stakes test and punish reforms. The past 20 years of notions such as “failure factories,” “ineffective teachers,” “status quo,” “merit pay,” “Common Core,” “mandatory third grade retention” and “choice” are the semantics of a scheme. All the high stakes discomfort, micromanagement, cruelty and humiliation vectored toward teachers and children were never about improving or investing in public education. If it were, why would Matthew Ladner write this?

“The job of a private school, private tutor, or community college accepting funds from an ESA is decidedly not to teach the state K-12 academic standards. Rather, people should understand ESAs as an opt-out of the public school system, not as an extension of it into other delivery methods. The hope of an ESA system would be to allow a broad diversity of approaches. We should view dictating a single set of curriculum as a self-defeating anathema to such a project.

The public does have an interest in the academic progress of students in such a system nonetheless. Requiring students to take a national normed exam would serve the needs of transparency in a fashion that does not dictate curriculum to providers or students.” The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family

Where’s the truth? In Florida and other “reform” states, Jeb Bush, legislators, lobbyists, education commissioners have all supported state tests, vehemently rejecting any substitution or use of a nationally norm-referenced test, citing the incongruity with state standards. What about Pearson, AIR and all those vendors with their expensive data-manipulated criterion referenced tests, prep and remediation that cost taxpayers billions?

Public Tax Dollars + For-profit Corporations = Privatized Education

School reformers dislike the fact that the U.S. Constitution is clear about the separation of church and state and that most states have a “no-aid’ or Blaine amendment prohibiting states from using tax dollars to fund religious schools.  An analysis by the National Education Policy Center of Ladner’s “Way of the Future” points out that:

A lengthy discussion that follows of so-called Blaine amendments (the generic term for measures enacted in various state constitutions forbidding direct government aid to educational institutions with any religious affiliations) contends that since the ESA money goes to parents, state constitutional prohibitions against funding religious institutions are avoided.

This is the same type of work-around Florida uses to divert dollars to Step Up for Students Corporate Tax Credit vouchers.

Ladner himself writes, “Relative to a voucher program, a system of parent-managed accounts may have constitutional advantages over school vouchers. The broader possible use of funds may help to immunize choice programs from court challenges under “Blaine Amendments” in some state constitutions.”

Privatizing public education is corporate welfare on steroids. These “reformers” don’t really care about kids, quality or accountability. They believe the $800 billion dollars states spend annually on public schools is their “entitlement.”

 Education Savings Accounts buy more than education

 ESAs require a shift to private schools and a rejection of public education. Here’s what they do:

  • Parents must withdraw/”opt out” from traditional public school
  • Deposits 90% of district per student funding in ESA account (ex: in Nevada that’s $5,100)
  • Districts lose these funding dollars
  • Acceptance to private schools, which are free to discriminate, is not guaranteed
  • Parents determine if teaching certificates, curricula, standards or accreditation is necessary
  • 3% of all ESA funds are paid to private Scholarship Funding Organization for management “fees”
  • Allows private schools to charge more than the ESA for tuition and other services
  • Allows parents to use ESA money and their own wealth fund expensive private school tuition
  • Allows private oversight firms to apply penalties/seek criminal charges against parents/vendors
  • Allows private schools to expel students at any time for any reason
  • Can pay for textbooks required by private school
  • Can pay for tutoring or other services
  • Can pay for on-line virtual K-12 schooling
  • Can pay for national norm-referenced test fees
  • Can pay for special ESE instruction and/or services
  • Can pay for college or university tuition if student is dual enrolled
  • Can pay for textbooks for a state college or university
  • Can pay for transportation to school
  • Can pay for purchase of curriculum or any supplemental materials
  • Leftover funds can be applied to a 529 college tuition program

Perhaps the most striking problem on the list above is the amazing opportunity ESAs have for inequity. Obviously private schools reserve the right to raise their tuition, discriminate and teach whatever they want as long as consumers buy. Reformer’s can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim to be concerned about zip codes keeping  poor students “stuck” in schools while pushing publicly funded ESAs designed to allow Johnny’s parents to pay an extra $20,000 per year for an exclusive prep school when Ricky’s parents cannot.

As an analysis by the National Education Policy Center of Ladner’s “Way of the Future” points out:

”Research evidence from the United States and abroad suggests that parental choice policies, such as ESAs, result in increased social, economic, and racial stratification. This poses a fundamental equity issue for the provision of universal education in a democratic society.”

ESAs – national strategy

Predictably, ESAs were front and center at Jeb’s recent Foundation for Excellence in Education National Summit where there was talk of schooling in a “post facility” world and “education savings accounts (ESAs), voucher-like subsidies that can fund not just private school tuition, but also things like tutoring and home schooling.”

Writer Rachel Cohen, who attended the summit observed: “In theory, additional money to pay for educational expenses sounds like a great way to level the playing field between well-off and low-income students. Children from wealthy families take advantage of all sorts of costly educational opportunities outside of school, such as summer enrichment programs, sports teams, and private tutoring. But at least as they’re currently conceived, education savings accounts are more about redirecting existing per-pupil funds away from public schools, not so much about supplementing public school students with additional money.” 

Years of legislators passing “reforms” that hurt children and harm their teachers speaks volumes. Without the ability to divert funds, it will be very hard to enact Milton Friedman’s sixty-year-old free-market voucher/ESA vision that devotees like U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Jeb’s Foundations and the James Madison Institute want so badly.

Of course DeVos, an ardent voucher/ESA fan, has invested heavily in her effort to undermine public schools. The Washington Post reports, And in 2000, the DeVos extended family spent $5.6 million on an unsuccessful campaign to amend Michigan’s constitution to allow school vouchers — the only choice tool not currently in play in Michigan.”

Make no mistake, the political school “reform” agenda intends to destroy public schools. They’ve talked about it, they’ve written about it, they’re passing a suite of laws to do it.

Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Now would be the worst possible time for public education advocates to back down from this fight. These are our children and they desperately need us to be their voice. If we fail to reverse course in 2020, that’s on us.

Marianna Mom Ali Wiggins: Speaks about Hurricane Michael, isolation & recovery

For many survivors of Hurricane Michael Facebook is the only place to reach out in hopes of being heard. It was Ali Wiggins post about life after Michael that really resonated with me.

Many affected counties like Jackson and Calhoun are difficult to reach rural, farming communities.  Children from at least eight counties — Washington, Liberty, Jackson, Gulf, Gadsden, Franklin, Calhoun and Bay aren’t returning to school any time soon. In a direct message, Ali said to me, “We all feel isolated here. And we all know help is coming, but we never knew how long it would take. We never knew what our “help” would have to go through just to get to us. Heartbreaking.”

Ali’s voice and words are powerful, please read:

Ali Wiggins, October 25, 2018, Hurricane Michael survivor, Marianna, Florida. Printed with author’s permission.


If you are tired of seeing Hurricane Michael posts, maybe you should unfollow me. And this post will be longer than most so move along if you need to. This is pretty much the only sure fire way we can communicate with folks.

If you think a little rain and some wind rolled through here, you’re wrong. If you think since folks are getting their power turned back on everything’s fine now, you’re wrong. If you’ve seen some pictures and think you know what it feels like to live it cause you’ve seen a hurricane before, you’re wrong. 45 minutes either east or west of us is probably close to being normal again.

If I hear one more person say, “Yea, I’ve seen a few hurricanes. “So and so” hurricane was bad.” Well this wasn’t just a hurricane. It was the third strongest hurricane to hit the US in modern history. And I don’t care what hurricane you’ve seen, you ain’t seen bad! If you were alive in 1935 and saw the “Labor Day” hurricane hit the FL Keys, or in Mississippi in 1969 to see Camille, then we’ll talk. If not, you have no clue.

If you are seeing the news about Panama City and Mexico Beach, we are close to the same. The storm never really slowed down much or weakened when it left them. It hit us full force and we are 60 or so miles inland. Jackson and Calhoun counties were hit just as hard. Folks are living with generators, ridiculously made slow-pour BS gas cans, sometimes rationed gasoline if you can find a place that sells it. Curfews. Only two times of day: daylight and dark. Living in tents, their cars, friends houses, hotels.

You don’t go to the store, you get in line at the PODs. We have long lines for water, MREs, tarps, bugspray, and baby diapers. You could be the wealthiest guy around and it wouldn’t matter. There are very few places to spend it. It’s cash only purchases, no fast food, no ATMs. The stores that are open are only open from sun up to sun down. So you can forget picking up a gallon of milk on your way home. Winn Dixie closes at 5 now. And Walmart probably not long after that.

We have no idea what’s going on outside of this bubble because we have no internet, no phones, no cell service, no tv. We live with our windows wide open and no air conditioning. We have looters and scammers. We have people from all over the nation here, most of them to help us. But how do you know for sure? Some just walk up behind you in your own yard while you’re hanging your laundry on the clothesline and scare the crap out of you just asking if you need help with a downed tree.

Fella snuck right up behind me. He should’ve hollered from his truck. NOT COOL! You can’t tell who belongs in your neighborhood or not. You carry a pistol with you at all times just in case you guessed wrong on whether they are a good guy or a bad guy. Now it’s time for bed, the whole family piles up in one room with air mattresses, fans, open windows and our firearms in case someone decides they need your generator or gas cans or food more than you do.

You can’t sleep because you hear every single noise outside. You hear every siren and you cringe with each one. Flashlights in the dark? It could be a lineman or a boogie man, you don’t know! You go a week and then realize you haven’t seen nor heard one bird because there are no trees left. All the trees are on the ground, and I mean ALL of them, and all the creatures that lived in them are now everywhere. Yellow jackets and mosquitoes that look like they’re from Jurassic Park. The sounds of chainsaws, diesel trucks, helicopters, sirens, and generators constantly.

The death toll continues to rise. Houses are burning down as some folks get power and all the history that they’ve held are now gone with them. Debris piles are taller than the homes they sit in front of. One lane roads and downed power lines everywhere. AND THIS IS DAY 15!!

The depression this brings is real. No one here is dreaming this up. You couldn’t even if you tried! And if you think you could handle all this and go right on like nothing happened, you are welcome to set up camp here in Jackson County, Florida. I’ll give you my spot. I would love to see how you fair. Every where else in the world seems to be business as usual. Not here!

We are all now using the phrase, “new normal”. I hate it! I liked my old normal (as crazy as it was) just fine!!! I’ve cried. I’ve thrown shit. I’ve screamed. And I’ve cried some more. My heart hurts for so many people right now. And I am no where near what some people have experienced. They’ve lost it all. We still have our family and our home. A little damaged but still intact. So many don’t.

This wasn’t just a hurricane. This destroyed the lives of thousands of people. We post a dozen or more things a day to help folks find what they are looking for, whether it be a place to wash clothes, a hot meal to fill their bellies, or 5T clothes for their little boy or girl.

We post what we are living. This is all we can think about. This last 15 days have been awful. And if you can pick right up and get back to it already, then good for you. I’m having a little trouble with that right now. It still looks like a war zone here. Things won’t ever be the same again. I’ve tried so hard to be positive for the last two weeks. Now on day 15, I’m tired. My muscles ache from cutting trees and hauling fence. I wasn’t cut out for this. I’ve got poison ivy and ant bites. I’m pissed and I wish this was all just a bad dream. And I really, really miss Netflix.

Whew! Glad I got that out. I feel better now. Goodnight from JACO. Now y’all can go on about ya business.

How to help Florida Panhandle victims.

How to help Florida Panhandle victims.