BY EILEEN ROY, DISTRICT 2 ALACHUA COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER
The Florida Legislature is hard at work implementing an ideological agenda to defund, demonize, and demoralize traditional public schools. But why, you may ask?
The answer is that they are government institutions and the Florida legislators believe that private is better than public. Never mind that our public schools have been the great equalizer in America, enabling the most humble among us to compete on a level playing field. Never mind that they have made this country great.
The move now is to enable for-profit charter schools, for-profit virtual schools, and publicly funded private schools to take over. Students will certainly get the shaft as private companies work to squeeze a profit out of the pitifully small amount the state allots per student. Profit, not educational excellence, is the motive.
Here are some recent developments taking place in Tallahassee:
1. The corporate voucher bill gives tax deductions to corporations on the condition that the corporations use this money to fund vouchers for private schools. Of course, this tax break is paid for by taxpayers, so it is an end run around the Florida Supreme Court ruling outlawing public money to fund vouchers for private, including religious, schools. This year the amount given to this program is $250 million, and the bill stipulates that the amount be increased by 25 percent each year hereafter. This is money denied public schools and private schools will gradually usurp their role.
Amendment 8 on the 2012 ballot asks voters to approve “religious freedom.” However, the real purpose is to permit taxpayer funded vouchers for private, religious schools.
2. The state, in opting out of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, has agreed to changes that will dramatically increase the number of failing schools in the state. They do this by making the FCAT significantly harder and by requiring the FCAT scores of English language learners to count in the school’s grade after their first year in this country. (Research shows that it takes 2-5 years to achieve enough mastery to compete with native speakers.) I would love to see our legislators personally accomplish this. Disabled students’ scores would also count in the school grade.
3 . The so-called “parent trigger” bill would allow a majority of parents in a low-performing school to “put the trigger” to close the school (remember, there will be more failing schools See #2.) and turn it over to a for-profit charter school corporation. The new charter school may be no better than the one it replaced, and in fact, studies show that charters perform no better than traditional public schools. In California where the law is in effect, charter schools advertise constantly for parents to “pull the trigger.”
The Florida legislature already requires all students to take and pass a college prep curriculum to graduate as well as an end-of-course exam for every subject taught (without providing funding for test development). The student must pass the exam to pass the course. These actions will undoubtedly increase drop-outs as not all students are interested in taking chemistry or physics. (Only 30 percent of Florida’s students ultimately complete college.)
The Florida Legislature is hoping you will not notice their schemes to hijack public schools. By handing down unfunded mandates and passing unfair laws to undermine or destroy public schools, they think they will convince the public to abandon public education and settle for a system that rewards stockholders at the expense of children.