Congresswoman Frederica Wilson - Fighting For Children
Since my days as a second grade teacher at Lillie C. Evans Elementary School and principal of Skyway Elementary School, to when I was on the Miami-Dade school board and founded the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, to my time in the state legislature, I have been a strong advocate for children.
In Congress, I am continuing to stand up for our young people. They are our future, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they have the education they need to prepare them for success in the 21st century global workplace.
The FCAT was recently administered in Florida, and in Congress the No Child Left Behind law is due for reauthorization this year. High-stakes testing was part of the original bill in 2001, but a decade later, we have learned that “teaching to the test” is not the solution.
We just celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week, and May 14 was Child Welfare Professionals Day in Florida, which is a designation I established while in the Florida Senate.
I want to use this e-newsletter to keep you informed about how I have been standing up for our children. I will continue to fight to protect all forms of education funding, to ensure that our young men have mentoring programs to turn to, and to ensure that every child in this country has an opportunity to succeed.
Frederica S. Wilson
Congresswoman, 17th District of Florida
The key to the next level of life is a high school diploma. Without it, you can't open any doors. Unfortunately, thousands of high school students will never receive that key even though they have completed all their coursework and passed every exam. They won't receive it because of one reason — the FCAT.
Instead, almost 20,000 seniors will receive a "Certificate of Completion."1 Despite working toward graduation all their lives, they will suddenly be informed that, "No, you may not receive a diploma. No, you may not have this key to your future."
Every year, they raise the passing score, and the interpretation of those scores. Every year, more struggling students graduate without a diploma. Even "concordant" ACT Reading scores that can substitute for a qualifying FCAT score have been raised from 14 in 2003 to 18 today2. The absurdity must stop.
Millions of children across Florida are readying for 'the test.' They've been taught to it for years, but you cannot prepare them for the importance it will have. Instead of 11-year-olds growing together, we have introduced 14- and 15-year-olds who have failed to pass the FCAT — into the fold. As a former principal, I cannot tell you how harmful this is. The system should seriously be reconsidered.
What do you think happens to Timothy when he graduates with a 'Certificate of Completion'? Do you think he becomes a shrinking violet hiding under a rock? Of course not.
The day after graduation his parents will tell him: "You can't sit inside all day burning up my air-conditioning. Eating all my food. Find a job!"
Then, Timothy will try. Soon enough though, he will realize that Florida's economy is still weak, and that in his black neighborhood, where the unemployment rate remains at 14 percent instead of the national 8.23, he doesn't have a chance. From there, Timothy could easily fall into the trap of finding like-minded children, roam the streets, and experiment with drugs to ease the hopelessness and shame of not having a diploma.
I pray every night that all the Timothys across Florida don't end up as another unsolved murder — another case the police will inform me about.
When you sleep at night, I urge you to think about the thousands of black boys roaming Florida because they don't have their key to life. Without a diploma they become more likely to commit crime, end up in prison, stay unemployed, and earn far less over their careers.
It's far easier to love a child than to repair an adult, so let's stop profiting off children with standardized tests. In 1996, it cost $4.44 per student to administer the FCAT4. Last year, it cost $30.87 - enough to hire 1,500 more teachers5.
Let's ban tutoring companies from exploiting vulnerable children and let's stop allowing the friends of legislators who implement these tests from profiting — even if it means banning companies like Ignite! Learning, founded by ex-Governor Jeb Bush's brother, Neil.
Not every child needs a college degree, but every child needs a key to the future. Some may use their key to open a door to a rewarding vocational career, some may use their key to explore new, creative passions, and others will use their key to propel them to law school.
Whatever their choice, let's not deny children the key to their future any longer; let's give them the key they need to move to the next level. I believe we should teach, teach, teach — not test, test, test. We should stop awarding high school diplomas based off the FCAT, and start making sure each child has a key to open the next door.
Throughout my career, child welfare has been one of my top priorities.
The memory of children who have died from abuse and neglect or have gone missing, like Rilya Wilson, a 4-year-old who went missing from my district in 2001, are constant reminders of how important it is that we do everything we can to protect children.
It’s why I introduced the Rilya Wilson Act in Congress last year. The law is designed to protect foster children and to ensure every state has a procedure in place to promptly report their disappearance. One thing is clear; we must do everything we can to do a better job of protecting children.
While challenges remain for Florida’s child welfare system, I believe we also have much to celebrate. That’s why I joined some of my colleagues from the Congressional Foster Care Caucus for a roundtable discussion in Miami on March 30 where we assessed the state of the child welfare system and the benefits and challenges of the community-based care system in South Florida.
As your Congresswoman, I continue to work closely with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and community-based care providers to transition Florida from a public to a private, community focused child welfare system.
Since this system was created, there have been vast gains in many categories including increased adoption rates, improved monitoring of children and families and greater availability of higher quality core services — including health care and education — for children. All of this has been done at lower cost than before the system was privatized.
And the system has worked. Over the past decade we have seen Florida’s child welfare system improve from one of the worst in the nation to one of the best. So much so that Florida was the first state to be granted a federal waiver for how its federal child welfare funds can be spent which has enhanced the partnership between the state government and the network of local non-profits, promoting innovation and problem solving.
However, this waiver is now in jeopardy and we must fight to preserve it. We must continue to ensure Florida’s community-based care system has the support needed to continue its innovative programs and services that have helped the state become a national leader in child welfare programs.
None of this would be possible without the men and women who work to ensure the success of our system. As your Congresswoman, I support Child Welfare Professionals Day to promote awareness of the child welfare system and the men and women who work every day to ensure children’s safety and security.
This year, my office facilitated the visit of Miami Dade County Judge Cindy Lederman and “Billy the Marlin” to child welfare offices, employees and kids at Juvenile Court in Miami. Kadie Black of Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc., the lead foster care agency that serves more than 3,400 children and their families, accompanied Billy to take pictures.
I helped create these initiatives and wrote the Rilya Wilson Act to support our child welfare system and its workers and to ensure that other states learn from Florida’s successes — and that we all come together to continue improving child welfare throughout the country.
To this day, I have not forgotten Rilya, and I never will. As a state and as a country we must do better. We must protect all children just as we would protect our own.
1 Florida Department of Education - http://fcat.fldoe.org/mediapacket/2011/default.asp - see “2011 FCAT Retake: Grade 12 Percent Passing by District” link
2 Florida Department of Education - Old: http://www.fldoe.org/board/meetings/2005_05_17/FCAT_Item.pdf ; Current: http://fcat.fldoe.org/pdf/fcatpass.pdf
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics - http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2012/ted_20120409.htm
4 Florida Department of Education - 1996: http://fcat.fldoe.org/pdf/FinCostofFCAT.pdf , 2011: http://www.fldoe.org/faq/default.asp?Dept=179&ID=977#Q977
5 TeachinFlorida.com - http://www.teachinflorida.com/Recruitment/FloridaTeacherSalaries/tabid/77/Default.aspx