Legislature No Longer Funding School Advisory Councils

Legislature No Longer Funding School Advisory Councils

By Thomas Kennedy

This column originally ran in the Citrus County Chronicle on Sunday, October 30, 2016

SACThis Florida Legislature has nearly “put the nail into the coffin” of School Advisory Councils by no longer funding them and with it potentially taking away an essential voice: the voice of parents in our schools.

School Advisory (Enhancement) Councils, commonly known as SACs or S.A.E.C.s, were formed around the early 1990s.  Retired School Board Members Pat Deutschman and I were parents that began our public service on SACs.  Ms. Deutschman was there at the creation of SACs so I reached out to her on the subject. Deutschman shared, “SACs were originally meant as a vehicle for parents to get more involved in their child’s school by denoting them as ‘stakeholders’”.  Some of our best curriculum tools began as SACs initiatives.  Deutschman explained that SACs were often places where parents made impactful decisions in the classroom. For example, Deutschman shared, “(SACs) bought the school an actual computer” which was the first ever for that school.

SACs have been the places where a wide range of folks including, parents, students, community members, teachers, staff and administrators sat down together and reviewed the student performance data in detail. (State law required that a majority of the SAC members be parents and community members not employed by the school district.)  From the data reviews and in-depth discussions about the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the school a specific School Improvement Plan was drafted with measurable goals and timelines for review.  As a result, the district provided more teacher training sessions and data analysis training and formed a district- wide agreement about how to achieve those goals.  Deutschman shared, “There were many ‘Aha’ moments that led to improvements and contributed to our district to consistently be rated ‘High Performing’ for many years and earning a grade of ‘A’ for most of the past 10 years, something only a few other school districts in Florida have been able to achieve.”  Much of our District’s success has been attributed to the high expectations set by SACs, the Superintendent and the School Board.  Without the SACs and the individual School Improvement Plans SAC was responsible for monitoring, much of that success would have been haphazard at best.

SACs are in Florida Statue 1001.452. The law states, “The school advisory council shall be the sole body responsible for final decision making at the school relating to implementation of the School Improvement Plan.”  When SACs were established, they were provided $10.00 per student to meet the objectives of the School Improvement Plan.  The entire SAC funding for a district the size of Citrus County was less than $150,000. Yet the impact from the funds was significate.

The funding for SACs came from the Florida Lottery revenues. It was clear that the law did not want SACs to act as Parent Teacher Organizations or fundraising entities.  They were to be school based decision makers.  By law, they were also to “assist the Principals in the development of the school budget and approve the school budget”.  It should be noted that the law expected that each year the state funds for SAC should be spent in that year to meet the current year’s School Improvement Plan.

Beginning in the mid-2000s the Florida Legislature began reducing the funding to SACs to $5.00 per student. In 2009 the Legislature stopped funding SACs and instead only provided funding after the Florida School Recognition Program funds were used and the remaining unused recognition program funds were then assigned as “discretionary lottery funds”. Once the School Recognition funds are awarded the remaining unused funds can be allocated to discretionary funds for SACs.  Unfortunately, the State often reduces the discretionary lottery funds during subsequent calculations leaving the available discretionary lottery funds to a minimum for SACs, if any.  In 2011-12 this meant $3.15 per student, in 2012-13 $3.38, In 2013-14 $5.00 a student, but then in 2014-15 and 2015-16 $0.00 per student were funded.  The Florida School Recognition funding is a program the State Legislature created to “reward” schools for improving their schools’ grades or receiving an ‘A’ grade. The Florida School Recognition program is also funded using Florida Lottery revenue.

Has SAC funding been cut because of decreased Florida Lottery revenues? I don’t think so! Then we have to question why then they have been cut?

You see, SACs have less influence and less input from their stakeholders when they aren’t funded. The Legislatures actions of defunding and now virtually eliminating funding to SACs would suggest that the next step would be to do away with them all together which would be a grave mistake.

Legislators have in past claimed their desire is to increase the voice of parents in school decisions.  They point to support of Charter Schools and Parent School Choice policies as examples of this.  However, the purpose of the SACs was to increase parent and community involvement.  With no funding to accomplish any goals, they are essentially unable to do much more than provide lip service. That was not the vision for the school improvement process when the SACs were mandated by the state.

The legislature has usurped essential decision making from local School Boards for years and now they are taking it away from parents and community members.  This is a dangerous trend that undermines the “public” nature of public education and discourages involvement and input from the parents about the quality of education their children receive.  I believe Ms. Deutschman was correct when she said, “The Legislature’s mandates have taken even the value of the School Improvement Plan away, as the state creates their school improvement plan for our schools based on test scores. So now, with no funding from the state it means the state has no purpose for involving ‘stakeholders’ (parents) as the state now holds all the cards.”

I implore our new Florida Legislators to voice their support of SACs and reverse this decision to terminate SAC funding. It is imperative they restore funding to its original $10 per student per school using the Florida Lottery revenues.

Thomas Kennedy is a School Board Member for Citrus County School Board, District 1. Read his blog at http://www.thomastalks.org.

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