Michelle Rhee Grades Florida Among Top Two States in the Nation on Education Policy

Students First, founded by Michele Rhee, has issued its 2013 State Policy Report Card. No state received an “A” grade. Florida and Louisiana both received a grade of “B”, all other states were graded “C” to “F”. Florida received an A- for Elevating Teaching, a C- for Empowering Parents and a C for Spending Education dollars wisely.

The following outlines the rationale for these grades and why Florida was ranked in the top two nationally by Rhee:

“Florida has established itself as a national leader in putting students first. The state has adopted meaningful educator evaluations, and it requires districts to base all personnel decisions, as well as compensation structures, on classroom effectiveness. Florida is also a model for empowering parents. The state provides parents with useful information regarding school and teacher performance. Parents can also choose from a robust network of public charter schools and a tax credit scholarship program. Florida should provide comparable funding to public charter schools and needs to improve in holding local districts accountable for increasing student outcomes with their investments. The state should also allow mayors to take control of local districts that fail to improve under existing governance structures. Lastly, to ensure career flexibility and sustainability of Florida’s retirement system, it should require teachers to participate in its portable retirement option.”

ELEVATING TEACHING A- (GPA 3.64):

Florida is a leader for the rest of the country when it comes to ensuring effective teachers and principals are identified, retained, and rewarded by districts. Florida requires districts to evaluate educators meaningfully; several key multiple measures are incorporated, including student academic growth, which comprises 50 percent of the overall evaluation. Of importance, Florida mandates that performance drive all district personnel decisions, including placement, layoff, and tenure decisions. The state has already made progress in its implementation as well. Additionally, Florida invests in compensating its teachers through strong performance pay systems and in recruiting top teaching talent though its alternative certification programs. Adopting comprehensive reforms has allowed Florida to lead the country in its efforts to improve teacher quality and elevate the profession.

EMPOWERING PARENTS C- (GPA 1.94):

All families should have the information and access they need to choose high-quality schools for their children, and no student should be forced to attend a low-performing school or be taught by a low-performing teacher. Florida empowers parents by requiring all PK-12 schools to receive annual report cards that include an A-F letter grade based on student achievement and by requiring that parents are notified when their children are placed in the classroom of a teacher who has been rated ineffective. The state should pass parent trigger legislation that empowers parents to sign a petition to turn around a failing public school. Florida allows for the formation of public charter schools that must meet key accountability provisions, but it should allow for multiple authorizers. Additionally, the state should establish a publicly funded scholarship program limited to low-income students in chronically failing public schools and ensure private schools that participate meet certain accountability provisions.

SPENDING WISELY C (GPA 2.0)

Florida allows the state to intervene in academically underachieving schools and districts, but additional governance flexibility, such as mayoral control, is needed. While Florida allows districts to achieve cost efficiencies through multiple management alternatives, it should require districts to link spending data to student outcomes and permit governance changes when funds are mismanaged. Adopting these changes will strengthen Florida’s ability to ensure that resources are spent wisely and that districts are focused on improving student achievement. Florida has made significant progress in teacher pension reform by establishing a fully portable retirement option for teachers. The state should continue its reform efforts by requiring all teachers to participate in its portable plan.

To see how your state was graded click here.

Time for government employee pay and benefit cuts?

President Obama, senior administration officials and public policy advisers have stated that the greatest threat to our national security is our national debt. Our military understands this and the Department of Defense is taking the lead in proposing major cuts in pay and benefits for our military, veterans and their families.

The Center for American Progress led by Chairman John Podesta has called for capping military pay raises, eliminating military health benefits for many retirees who are covered by an employer-provided plan, and reducing the value of military retired pay as well as making military retirees wait until age 60 to start receiving it. These proposals have been embraced by the Department of Defense. It is estimated these changes will save $1 trillion over the next ten years.

Should all government employees at every level show the same commitment and take the same pay and benefit cuts to keep us all from falling off the “fiscal cliff”?

If our soldiers who are on the front lines defending this nation and our veterans who have served honorably can sacrifice cannot every government employee? Should not teachers, our police, firefighters, city, county state and federal employees not do their part as well? Are we not one nation facing the same fiscal future?

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has recognized government pay and benefits as a priority issue to be addressed during the upcoming Florida legislative session.

The Five for Florida Plan states, “Our politicians must stop making promises that taxpayers can’t afford. We must force them to be honest with us, and make decisions that will protect us now and in the future. We need an honest, transparent retirement plan that works for both hardworking taxpayers and government workers.”

AFP’s Five for Florida Plan reports:

  • Florida’s Retirement System (FRS) serves more than 1 million government employees, making it the fourth largest public pension program in the country. Source: James Madison Institute
  • The FRS is 88% funded, assuming a 7.75% return on investment. Over the last 12 years, the fund has received an average return of 3.3%. Source: James Madison Institute
  • Florida currently has an optional defined contribution plan, however only 16% of employees elect to be enrolled in it, versus the 84% in the pension plan. Source: James Madison Institute
  • Public sector pension programs guarantee a rate of return that is 3 to 4 times higher than what private sector workers are able to earn. Source: The Heritage Foundation
  • The State of Florida currently contributes $5.5 billion per year to the FRS, but would need to double that contribution to $11 billion a year for the fund to remain solvent. Source: James Madison Institute

Changes must come; government must set the example for the rest of us by stepping up to the plate and making the hard decisions to rein in spending in the short and long terms. Government employee salaries and benefits are now coming under greater scrutiny by both liberal think tanks like the Center for American Progress and conservative ones like Americans for Prosperity.

Finally, we are getting somewhere when both of these organizations come to the same conclusions. The question is do our political leaders have the will to do what is needed?

Now is the time for political leaders at the city, county, state and federal government to see the writing on the proverbial “fiscal cliff”.