By Sue Legg
Education Advocacy Chair
Florida League of Women Voter
There’s a war going on, and the ammunition is fake news. Take for example, the charge that educators resist change. Recent history tells a different story. After WWII, everyone was expected to go to high school; most did not before. When I was in high school, the space race put pressure on schools to teach more mathematics. My grandchildren are now taking math courses in middle school that I took in high school. Schools are changing, but not all of it is good.
In Florida, most people believe that public schools do the best job of preparing students for the diverse and complicated world in which they will live. School reform policy, however, assumes that consumer based competition with charter and private schools will make schools even better. In fact, competition in the private consumer sector does make many choices e.g. there are 13 types of cheerios and 189 TV channels most of which none of us has eaten or watched.
Businesses find ways to cut corners and shift costs. Sometimes a pound of coffee has only 12 ounces. While some charters find innovative ways to help kids, most replicate what already exists; it is less expensive. District schools are asked to do more with less, and they have reached a tipping point.
At least fourteen districts, including Alachua, have joined together to sue the State over HB 7069, the education bill passed in last legislative session. The conflict, however, is about more than money. It’s also about local control, equity and quality.
Local control is about who decides how our local taxes are spent. Here’s the problem.
Florida’s constitution gives the authority to levy taxes for schools to the elected school boards. A majority in the legislature, however, wants to control all funding even though it only supplies half of what is needed. Local property taxes provide the rest. The legislature now requires districts to share their property tax revenue with privately owned charter school buildings. It makes it impossible for districts to maintain their own facilities, and charters must cut corners as well. No sector, public, charter or private, can provide quality facilities.
A for-profit charter management company, CSUSA, submitted a draft proposal to build a mega charter school for 1145 children in Gainesville. The company would build and own the school, but our tax dollars pay for this school. This school would benefit no one.
A group of us formed a coalition to support public education. We launched September Public School Awareness Month and sponsored forums, lectures, and films to alert our community to what is at stake for each of us. The local PTA Council and the League of Women Voters formed a PACT. We called it ParentsAgainstCorporateTakeovers. A couple of savvy political strategists from Everblue helped us launch a campaign against CSUSA. Something happened. They did not submit a formal proposal. Perhaps they felt unwelcome. D