2019/2020 Advocacy Focus Areas
Our focus areas are determined based on feedback from PTA members in Alachua County, Florida PTA position statements and priorities, and meetings conducted with school administration and PTA leadership.
Children/Youth Mental Health
Our children’s mental health needs our attention. Students across our county area coming to school with varying degrees of trauma, and that the situation is getting worse. One in five children ages 13-18 nationwide experiences mental illness. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24 (according to the CDC). In 2017, there were eight youth suicides reported in Alachua County alone. Children are talking about committing suicide at a younger age, and incidents of the Baker Act being used for children in elementary school are on the rise — both statewide and in Alachua County. The situation is heightened by the fact that our schools do not have enough counselors to meet the mental health needs of our children.
ACCPTA is working with our school district to inform our community about new programs being implemented in our schools, such as Hope Squad and Start With Hello, as well as about community resources to assist families. We are working with Florida PTA on a bill that will investigate why incidents of youth being Baker Acted has increased in our state, as well a addressing this at the local level.
High Stakes Testing
At the state level, a number of high stakes decisions are made based on student scores on standardized tests, including school grades, teacher evaluations/school assignments and in some cases student class or grade progression. These tests not only lead to a loss of instructional time, but they also contribute to a test-based learning environment for children. Testing is also taking its toll on educators, and is one of the primary reasons for the statewide teacher shortage that is impacting Alachua County.
Research shows that using test scores to evaluate teachers doesn’t raise student achievement, and can in fact harm achievement for some students. One of the reasons children take so many tests is because of the numerous tests that are being used for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers. ACCPTA is working with Florida PTA to urge the legislature to remove the requirement that test scores be used to evaluate teachers. We are also informing parents about the purpose and use of testing in our state and ways to help children with test anxiety.
Increasing Teacher Salaries
Despite being the third largest state by population with a one trillion dollar economy, Florida is currently 46th in the nation in teacher pay. The average teacher salary in Florida is $48,168, which is $12,309 lower than the national average. Low pay leads to higher stress and burnout levels as well as absenteeism for teachers, as many of them are forced to work additional jobs. Higher pay will attract more people to the teaching profession and provide a larger selection of candidates, thus leading to higher quality instruction.
ACCPTA is working with Florida PTA to urge the Legislature to provide adequate funding to bring Florida’s teacher salaries up to the National average and encourage experienced teachers to stay in the classroom by fully funding a system to provide career teachers with periodic advancement and salary increases. We support providing salary increases to all teachers and support staff, and not focusing on one particular subgroup based on experience, student test scores, etc.
Public School Funding
Florida is currently 41st in the nation in public school funding. The K-12 education budget has not caught up with pre-recession levels when adjusted for inflation. The lack of financial support for our neighborhood public schools is evident in everything from lack of classroom supplies to large class sizes.
Alachua County voters continue to show their support for our public schools through local tax initiatives such as the One Mill (which pays for arts and music teachers, among other things) and the Half Cent Sales Tax (which pays for improvements to school facilities). ACCPTA is partnering with our Alachua County Education Association to advocate for more funding from the state legislature. We are also developing educational materials to help inform our local community about how school funding works.
Students deserve a safe environment in which to live, learn and grow. Unfortunately, the threat of violence is a presence in many communities and has grown in a number of schools across the country. Additional funding and support has been provided in recent years to assist with making our schools a safe place for students to learn.
ACCPTA is working with the school district to inform parents about school safety practices, as well as share parental concerns with district and state decision-makers. We are encouraging our school-level advocacy representatives to engage their school community in meaningful dialogue about this topic, including their School Resource Officers and administrators. We also support Florida PTA’s efforts to ensure that school climates are gun-free (which includes not arming teachers or administrators) and to ensure the development of adequate funding for school emergency operations.