PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan Expected to Testify in Florida Lawsuit Over Public School Funding

Frank Brogan, the Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), is expected to testify on behalf of the State of Florida in a lawsuit that may prove to be a game-changer when it comes to the battle to save public education in Florida and across the country.

According to the Florida Bulldog, a non-profit investigative news site based in Fort Lauderdale, Brogan will testify alongside other experts, including those from the right-wing Hoover Institute, presumably to defend Florida’s grand experiment of “education reform” using vouchers and charter schools.  Before his role as the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida or as Gov. Jeb Bush’s #2, Brogan was one of the architects of Florida’s plan to privatize its public school system. As reported in Raging Chicken Press in August 2013,

Long before Brogan became involved with higher education administration, he was one of the strongest proponents of vouchers and privatizing public education – a fact, we should note, that does not appear on his Wikipedia page. In 1995, Brogan was one of the 12 founding members of the Education Leaders Council (ELC). The conservative leaning Washington Times reported at the time that the ELC had an explicitly conservative, pro-privatization agenda.

Brogan’s role in Florida’s war on public schools was more than nominal. As we reported in 2013, “Frank Brogan was not merely a member of the ELC, he served for years as the ELC’s Chair. During his tenure as ELC Chair, Brogan was also serving as the Florida Commissioner of Education and would often advocate for vouchers and school privatization using both titles – without a hint of a possible conflict of interest.”

In his leadership role in the ELC, Brogan testified before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce concerning H.R. 328, “The Dollars to the Classroom Act.” His testimony asserted the anti-public school ideology that has become the dogma of right-wing Republicans and corporate Democrats:

We at the State and local level feel the crushing burden caused by too many Federal regulations, procedures, and mandates. Florida spends millions of dollars every year to administer inflexible, categorical Federal programs that divert precious dollars away from the classroom and fulfilling our most important purpose, improving student achievement …

… In practice most Federal education programs typify the misguided, one size fits all command and control approach that we in the States are abandoning. Most have the requisite focus on inputs like more regulation, increasing budgets, and fixed options and processes …

… This approach goes against the growing tide of freedom and innovation currently sweeping the education landscape in our States. We at the State and local level are stressing standards, choice, enterprise and accountability and pushing authority and control of decisions and budgets to the school level. Through innovations like charter schools we are giving public schools true autonomy with respect to budgeting, curriculum and personnel and meaningful choices to parents in exchange for accountability for results. Money alone will not solve the problems of education, We must be smarter about how we spend it …

… States can learn from the success and mistakes of others, as we’ve done with the ELC, with the freedom to emulate such programs as models and/or discard those that are ineffective. Nothing typifies this better than the growing charter school movement. I’m proud to say that Florida is one of the fastest growing States in the Nation in terms of the number of public charter schools approved and in operation …

… This innovative reform is succeeding because charter schools are able to focus on academic achievement. They are not burdened with unnecessary regula our public schools. They are accountable, autonomous, and provide healthy competition by providing choices to parents and teachers.

As Jeb Bush’s Lieutenant Governor, Brogan was credit for authoring Florida’s “Bush/Brogan A+ Plan for Education.”According to testimony he  gave before the Florida Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families Hearing on “Academic Achievement in 1999,

he A+ Plan is a comprehensive accountability system, built on this foundation that significantly raises the achievement bar. Beginning this year, Florida schools will receive report cards and be graded on a scale of A – F based principally on how students perform on the FCAT. Importantly, schools will also be measured according to how well their lowest performing students learn, and will not receive high marks if these students are left behind. These grades are not simply window dressing. Our accountability package contains significant incentives and rewards for success as well as serious remediation and consequences for failure …

… For schools that don’t measure up, there is additional assistance available for remediation as well as consequences for continued failure. If a school receives an F for two years in any four-year period, students become eligible for Opportunity Scholarships which would allow them to attend the public (traditional or charter) or qualifying private school of their choice. State money allocated for the education of that child would follow. The people of Florida have determined that we can¹t continue to wait for schools to improve while the children they are supposed to serve are left further and further behind.

In short, it does not appear that Brogan is testifying on behalf of the State of Florida simply as an “expert witness;” he is doing so as one of the primary architects of the entire system that is at the center of the lawsuit. Apparently, the fruits of the seeds that Brogan helped sow in Florida are now bearing fruit. Rotten fruit, according to Citizens for Strong Schools, the lean plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

According to a January 2016 article in the Gainesville Sun, the plaintiffs are arguing that Florida’s plan to privatize and voucherize public schools has led to significant disparities in public school funding.

Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education alleges that inefficient education policies emphasize the privatization of schools, rather than supporting the public school system, leading to overburdened teachers, failure to retain effective teachers, higher dropout rates, great disparities in student achievement, excessive time spent on testing and lack of college- and work-readiness.

Southern Legal Counsel, the non-profit, public interest law firm representing the plaintiffs, laid out the specifics of those allegations on its webpage devoted to the case:

  • There were 631 D and F schools in 2014, which increased each year of the FCAT 2.0 (2011-2014).

  • The graduation achievement gap has increased between White/Black and White/Hispanic since 2009.

  • Only 19% of Florida’s students were college ready on the 2013 ACT.

  • In 2013, 15,628 Third graders and 48,453 high schoolers were not promoted to the next grade.

  • On NAEP, a national test, only 39% of 4th graders, 33% of 8th graders and 36% of 12th graders were proficient in reading in 2013. And only 41% of 4th graders, 31% of 8th graders and 19% of 12th graders were proficient in math.

  • On the FCAT 2.0 for 2011-2014, looking at all students in Grades 3-8, there has been no improvement in Math.

  • On the 2014 FCAT 2.0 for Grade 3, only 39% of Blacks, 52% Hispanic, 47% Free and Reduced Lunch, 26% of students with disabilities, and 19% English Language Learners were on grade level for Reading.

  • On the 2014 FCAT 2.0 for Grade 8, only 29% of Blacks, 43% Hispanic, 11% English Language Learners, 37% Free and Reduced Lunch, and 19% of students with disabilities passed Science.

The plaintiffs alleged that these and other failings make Florida’s public education system unconstitutional. According to the Florida Bulldog, the constitutional argument rests upon a 1998 amendment to the Florida Constitution:

The suit backers pin their case on a constitutional amendment voters passed in 1998 that declares education of children “to be a fundamental value” and requires the state to make education a “paramount duty.” The amendment says the state must “make adequate provision for a uniform system of free public schools” within “an efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system.”

The State of Florida is, of course, claiming that the plaintiffs have it all wrong. In a written response to Florida Bulldog’s inquiries, Meghan Collins, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said that “this lawsuit…ignores the success we have had in Florida schools.” She asserted that “the state remains focused on providing every student in Florida with the opportunity to receive a great education. In fact, Florida has had historical K-12 funding for the last two years.”

Collins’s statement — especially the claims of historic funding levels — echoes the same claims made by Florida Governor Rick Scott and former Governor and failed presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. However, PolitiFact Florida called their claims “mostly false,” with a little grain of truth:

Scott said, “We have the highest funding in (the) K-12 system in the history of the state.”

That’s accurate in one sense, because the state’s total education budget is at an all-time high of $19.7 billion. But enrollment is also higher than in years past. Per-pupil spending is still below historic dollar totals and remains far below equitable levels when adjusted for inflation.

Education spending has essentially stood still over the last nine years. Scott’s claim obscures that.

The statement contains an element of truth, but ignores critical facts. We rate it Mostly False.

As Jeb Bush frequently argued in his failed Republican presidential bid Florida was a leader in the (corporate) school reform movement. And, in many ways, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are giving voice to the communities all over this country that have seen their schools decimated by the privatization and charterization plans that emerged from Florida. This case will bring the failings of those plans back into the national spotlight with potential far-reaching impacts.

According to professor H. Richard Milner, an educational policy expert from the University of Pittsburgh who will be testifying on behalf of the plaintiffs, this case may indeed have national implications. As reported in the Florida Bulldog,

Milner, the University of Pittsburgh professor, said the case could become a landmark rebuke of public education and could set the standard for similar lawsuits elsewhere in the country.

Rarely has the quality of public education been subject to such a public tribunal, and Milner said the closest comparison may be the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which led to school desegregation. While the Florida case likely won’t lead to any national changes, it could expose flaws in the practice of desegregation, Milner said.

“Schools in Florida are largely still not integrated, with rich white communities providing far better education than poor black schools,” Milner said. “There are still major inequities in public education in Florida, and this lawsuit threatens to expose that.”

So, as Pennsylvania’s budget battles drag on with the State System of Higher Education still without a clear budget picture for the current or following academic year, PASSHE’s chancellor will be embroiled in potentially ground-breaking lawsuit that challenges the long-standing shock-doctrine policies of the right-wing’s attack on public education.

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1 Comment on PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan Expected to Testify in Florida Lawsuit Over Public School Funding

  1. Unfortunately, not much we didn’t predict when he got hired here. What better way to guarantee a struggling system than to put somebody in charge of it who has no idea what he’s running or how to do it right? The problem with him has always been that everything that should have disqualified him as a candidate seems like a strength to people who hate public everything.

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