Fiscal transparency keeps Florida from top spot in educational survey

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Fiscal transparency is what keeps Florida’s educational system from the top spot in common-sense policies, according to a report from an advocacy group founded by former D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

StudentsFirst, in the recently announced 2014 State Policy Report Card, says Florida leads in forming education policies that put students first, with an overall position of second in the nation, only a couple tenths of a point behind Louisiana.

Instead of ranking states on current student achievement levels, StudentsFirst evaluates states on policy environments in place to raise academic levels.

Florida received the highest marks for its policies to develop teacher and principal evaluations, A-F grading of schools, and student assessments. However, the state received its lowest scores on fiscal transparency.

With only a few policy changes, the report says, the Sunshine State can become No.1.  The 2014 State Policy Report Card is available online here. 

Currently, Florida officials cannot satisfy the most basic questions about how education tax dollars affect student learning. For example, it is difficult to explain how an ‘A’ school in any given school district allocates funds compared to schools that score a ‘D’ or ‘F.’

By linking school-level academic and financial information the state already collects, parents, policymakers and legislators can have a clear vision of the ways specific education spending affects real classroom learning. They can then ensure spending goes directly to student achievement.  

 “This type of fiscal transparency is great for students, parents, and hard-working taxpayers,” said Rep. Manny Diaz. “Legislation like this will give every taxpayer confidence that his or her tax dollars are being put to the best uses possible when it comes to education.”

 “At the end of the day, the goal should be to make sure we’re spending money in a way that helps as many students as possible get a great education,” said parent Holly Haggerty, executive director of the Community Learning Center in Clearwater.

“It’s common sense to link the educational and financial data the state already collects on schools so we can see how effectively we’re spending our money to reach our goal,” she added.

“It seems like every year people call for more spending on education,” said StudentsFirst Florida State Director Nikki Lowrey. “While there’s certainly a place for that, the reality is we don’t have a clear enough picture of how wisely we’re spending the money we already have,” “We need to connect the school-level academic and financial data the state already collects to see what kind of a return we’re getting on various school investments.”

A bipartisan movement representing than 2 million citizens, StudentsFirst is involved in 18 states, successfully helping to enact more than 110 student-centered policies nationwide.

The goal of StudentsFirst to recognize the role educators play in kids’ lives as well as making sure families have high-quality school choices and a real say in education.

For more information, visit www.studentsfirst.org.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.