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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Florida’s high performing schools get richer

BY RICK OUTZEN, Florida Voices

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott is traveling across the state handing out checks to school districts. Collier County got $2.5 million. Escambia County received $751,000. More checks and press conferences will surely follow, but did the funds go to the right schools?

The money was from the state’s $134 million School Recognition Fund, intended for those schools that have sustained high student performance or demonstrated substantial improvement in student performance.

Schools eligible for recognition awards include those receiving an “A” school grade, improving at least one letter grade from the previous year, or improving more than one letter grade and sustaining the improvement the following school year. In other words, the high-performing schools get money to get even better.

The money can be used for faculty or staff bonuses, to purchase educational equipment or materials, or hire temporary staff to help maintain or improve student performance. The school staff and school advisory council at each recognized school jointly decide how to use the financial award.

In Escambia County, Gov. Scott handed out checks to 14 schools.

“What we are doing at the state and local levels to enhance the quality of our education system is working,” crowed Gov. Scott. “In conjunction with our proposed $1.2 billion increase in educational funding as part of the Florida Families First Budget, the school recognition funding will allow our teachers and students in Escambia County and across the state to continue on their path of success.”

Sounds great, but what about the other 37 Escambia schools? No pay raises, no ice cream parties, no cool new educational software.

This seems backwards to me, maybe even racist. Minority students, especially in Escambia County, have struggled with the FCAT since it was first introduced. Of the schools that got checks, only two have a percentage of black students greater than a third of their enrollment. Nine schools have less than 20 percent.

Less than five miles from the governor’s press conference, 166 inner-city, African-American elementary students were preparing for this year’s FCAT at Dixon School of the Arts. Dixon is an “F” school according to the state’s grading system, but it also had the greatest improvement in reading and math on the FCAT last year of any school in the district.

Their teachers aren’t less dedicated than those at the 14 high-performing schools. The Dixon students work as hard, not harder, than the students in schools in the white neighborhoods. A $50,000 check could be a difference maker for Dixon for this school year.

Performance on the FCAT isn’t a valid measurement of the teachers’ efforts or the students’ hard work. We need to rethink the school recognition program and put the money were it’s most needed.

The focus needs to be on those schools dealing with our students who are struggling the most.

Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola's Independent News. He can be reached at

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