On November 4, the Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE Collier) held an education summit titled Bringing Voices Together at Lorenzo Walker Technical College in Naples. The meeting was well attended by educators and community members, and co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters from both Collier and Lee Counties, the American Association of University Women, and the Naples Area NAACP, among others. Additional collaborators on the success of this event included Teacher Associations from Collier and Lee counties and Educational Support Associations from both counties as well.
The evening was kicked off with an outstanding array of appetizers prepared by Lorenzo Walker student chefs under the tutelage of their leader, Chef Claudio Ferrer. This was followed by an inspiring introduction to the topics for consideration by Keron Blair, the Executive Director of the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools. Keron has more than ten years’ experience working to bring about positive social change. He has worked at the city, state, and national levels to design and implement strategic plans on a wide set of issues, including public education.
Keron’s speech led into a review of some of the challenges currently facing our public schools here in Florida, specifically the realities of school funding. Florida is 43rd in per student expenditures, and invests less per child than Alabama or Georgia, despite having the fourth largest economy in the US, (Census Bureau 2106-2017) and the 17th largest in the world (Bureau of Economic Analysis). While Cost-of-Living Adjustments have risen by over 21% since 2008 (US Social Security Administration), Florida’s Base Student Allocation has risen by less than 3% in the same time period (FL Department of Education).
The second topic was introduced by Dr. Elizabeth Elliott, Chair of the Education Department of Florida Gulf Coast University, who addressed concerns related to teacher recruitment and retention. She noted that nation-wide there has been an almost 50% reduction in teacher education program enrollment, with Florida having among the largest decline in the US. Florida’s schools opened this current academic year minus 3,280 teachers, compared to a shortage of 1,426 in 2012-13 (FL Department of Education). Florida is currently 46th in the nation in terms of teacher salaries, and over $12,000 below the national average.
The third topic was introduced by Dr. Kathleen Reynolds, former CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida. She discussed the abundance of research documenting the benefits of high quality prekindergarten. Ninety percent of brain growth happens before kindergarten (National Institute for Early Education Research, Harvard Center for the Developing Child, Urban Child Institute). Many years of research have validated that excellent programs for disadvantaged children can lessen the achievement gap, improve health outcomes, and boost lifetime earnings, with a return on investment minimally being between 7% and 10% annually. Yet, in 2018 dollars VPK payments in 2008 were $3,079, and in 2018 they were $2,177 (National Institute for Early Education Research 2018 Report, Kids Count.)
After each topic review, attendees discussed a specific question related to it for approximately fifteen minutes. They looked at ways to make the public more aware of the facts related to public education in Florida, as well as identifying effective ways these realities might be better addressed by Florida’s legislature.
Fedrick Ingram, President of the Florida Education Association, gave a rousing closing speech. His organization represents more than 140,000 members. He grew up in inner city Miami and attended public schools. He holds a B.S. and an M.S., and in 2006 was named as the Miami-Dade Teacher of the Year. He asks that attendees “reach out across political lines to build bridges and enlist new allies as we work to improve learning conditions for students and working conditions for teachers.”
Information was collected on “best ideas” related to the topics, and will be shared by C4QPE members at upcoming meetings. Beth Povlow, President of C4QPE thanked participants for their good work, and extended a special note to the Collier and Lee School Board members for their attendance. She also noted the participation by Collier Superintendent Patton following her review of the Superintendent’s Art Show earlier that evening.
The Coalition for Quality Public Education, a 501(c)(3), is a diverse and growing organization committed to protecting and supporting quality public education in Collier County. More information may be found on their website or on their Facebook page, C4QPE Collier.