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Low scores could cost schools

A new state law says schools would lose money for not meeting goals, but details still are being ironed out.

By RON MATUS
Published November 16, 2004

Until now, schools that didn't do well enough on the FCAT had to watch as the state handed reward money to schools that did.

But under a new state law that kicks in next year, schools could lose money if their students don't meet a range of goals, including higher test scores and improved graduation rates.

It's all part of the state's push to further tie school funding to learning gains.

Not everyone is happy.

"This is sort of like overkill," says Jim Hamilton, chief of staff for Hillsborough district schools.

By Dec. 1, the Florida Department of Education must submit a plan to the state Legislature that explains how it will tie funding to student performance. Under the new state law, at least 10 percent of state education dollars will hinge on how well students do.

"The intent is to drive performance," says DOE spokesman MacKay Jimeson.

But it's not clear what will happen to districts that fall short. The statute does not say whether funding will be cut or transferred, and who will make those decisions.

"This is an issue that is up for discussion," Jimeson says.

The plan, which is on the agenda for the state Board of Education meeting today, follows a series of other accountability measures, including recognition money for schools that do well on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and sanctions meted out under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The new plan is unnecessary, Hamilton said. But he doesn't think it will hurt.

DOE officials are saying they want to redirect money, not cut it, and that districts would be given leeway in deciding where the money goes, he said.

Ultimately, the Legislature will have final say.

Among the plan's goals: improving FCAT scores; increasing the number of students in advanced classes and the ratio of minority students in those classes; and upping the wages of recent graduates.

Statewide, more than $700-million could be in play, including $32-million in Pinellas and $49-million in Hillsborough.

Under the proposed formula, $1.1-million in Pinellas County and $1.7-million in Hillsborough County would have been affected this year, because neither met state goals for increasing the percentage of minorities in advanced classes or the numbers of recent graduates making more than $7 an hour, a state analysis shows.

In Hernando County, $119,000 would be affected, but no money in Pasco or Citrus counties would be at risk.

Elsewhere, the numbers vary wildly, from $8.1-million in Broward County to zero in Miami-Dade.

Pinellas County officials familiar with the plan could not be reached for comment.

Other education officials are watching closely.

Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said withholding 10 percent of a district's state funding was unlikely, and wouldn't be effective if it came to pass.

"Penalties don't work," Blanton said. "Incentives do."

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 727 893-8873 or matus@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 16, 2004, 00:39:15]


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