Public Education Under Attack in Florida
Imagine a world in which public education did not exist. A world in which children did not have schools to attend. A world in which the future generation could not obtain a diploma. It is hard to imagine such a world, as the public-school system has been in place for more than 150 years, offering a precious opportunity to learn for free.
The evolution of public education in the United States most-notably traces back to Horace Mann, a Massachusetts politician who pushed for schoolhouse reform such as age segregation in the classroom and a standardized set of curricula. All those things and more are in place today.
“Luckily, today, every American can get a free education and obtain a high school diploma, thanks to the efforts of our civic-minded predecessors,” states an article in Education News titled “American Public Education: An Origin Story.”
Unluckily, today, every Floridian is at risk of losing that precious opportunity. The state recently passed a lousy law that mandates school districts share their tax revenues, i.e. ad valorem or property taxes, with private charter schools. The new law effectively will steal away funds from an already underfunded system.
“A chief criticism of school choice policies has been around the redirecting of tax dollars away from traditional public schools,” states an article in Education Dive titled “Florida law promoting choice raises critics’ ire amid DeVos praise.” “For less affluent districts – urban and rural alike – that are already struggling to make ends meet under declining public education funding and funding formulas that favor their more affluent peers, this is a particular concern. Schools and districts with less funding to go around don’t just see their quality suffer from a lack of ability to afford up-to-date resources, tech and other tools and supplies, but also when it comes to meeting socioeconomic needs their students may have beyond the classroom, such as school nurses or after-school meal programs.”
The legislation allots $419 million for private charter schools, some of which are better-rated than public schools, but many of which are not. Teachers at private charter schools need not attain certification or graduate from college, and there are no superintendents or school boards overseeing them.
“We’ve already seen scandal in Orlando with two schools accused of stealing money meant for therapy for special-needs students,” the Orlando Sentinel opines. “Yet instead of monitoring that money – and the education it allegedly pays for – legislators are simply throwing more cash at an unchecked system. It’s a recipe for disaster. It’s also wildly hypocritical for legislators who constantly yap about “accountability.”
Meanwhile, teachers are bailing out of the public-school system “in droves,” according to Brevard Federation of Teachers President Richard Smith. Perhaps it is the low pay – Florida is among the 10 worst in teacher salaries in the nation. Perhaps it is that Florida ranks 42nd in per-student funding and 49th for teacher-student ratios.
Could the Sunshine State find itself in a position where consumers have no input or control over their children’s education? Where state standards are abandoned? Where any parent can challenge the material taught in a basic science class?
Proponents of another new law say the challenge process gives consumers more input and control over their children’s education. Opponents say it will quash teachings of evolution – long a controversial topic – and global warming.
“It’s just the candor with which the backers of the bill have been saying, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go after evolution, we’re going to go after climate change,'” argues Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, in an article in The Washington Post titled “New Florida law lets any resident challenge what’s taught in science classes.”
Florida Citizens for Science, an organization of educators, employers, fathers and mothers who defend and promote the topic in the classroom, has been urging residents to remain aware of such challenges for learning’s sake.
“Unfortunately, the devious Instructional Materials bill… is now signed into law by Governor Rick Scott,” Florida Citizens for Science writes in a blog post. “This means our fight is only just now beginning. Each and every one of us has to be on alert. You must keep an eye on your local school board and everyone who brings forth a complaint about textbooks. If you don’t, we truly lose. At this point the fight is at the local level. If you’re not there and willing to stand up for sound science education, then we’re done.”