The News-Press // Mark J. Castellano
A recent editorial in the Tampa Bay Times made some illuminating and concerning points regarding the creation of HB 7069, the so-called “education” bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June.
The Republican leadership has come up with a new catchphrase to attempt to justify their blatant taxpayer funded giveaway to for-profit charter school corporations: the money should “follow the student.”
Except it doesn’t; it ends up in for-profit corporate accounts, while public school districts must subsidize charters in new and unprecedented ways beyond just student funding. As Tallahassee attorney Ron Meyer points out, the Florida Constitution calls for the state to create a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools that allows student[s] to obtain a high quality education.” Meyer clarifies that the state is required “to fund a system, not the children.” He points out that this bill is “ripe for a challenge”, specifically a legal challenge, as has resulted with so much of the partisan education legislation since Scott took office.
So far we are hearing that discussions are taking place among the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA), the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), the Florida Parent Teacher Association (FPTA), and of course, the Florida Education Association (FEA), to determine if they will mount legal challenges to HB 7069.
At the time this is written Broward, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Bay, and as of last week, Lee County school boards have chosen to challenge HB 7069 in the courts. Numerous other districts are also considering joining the suit. What those challenges will look to accomplish is yet to be revealed.
However, bigger picture concerns arise out of the looming Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). This is a group whose original intent, I am sure, was to take a bipartisan or non-partisan look at the Florida Constitution every 20 years and make suggestions for changes. However, since Florida is, at least in recent years, a one-party state controlled by Republicans, the CRC has become a completely partisan effort. Nearly all appointees are Republicans with partisan agendas. This promotes an increasingly divisive climate in an already bitterly divided state.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran has not attempted to hide the partisan direction in which he intends to push the CRC. When talking about his desire to allow public school funding to go to charters, private schools, home-schooling, or virtual schools, without being subject to legal challenges based on unconstitutional grounds, he said he will “definitely be looking for a way to make it clearer what can and can’t be done for public education.” This is the most important battle we will face in 2018. It is important that people become familiar with the rules that dictate how the CRC does its work (e.g. – The CRC can write proposed amendments and place them on the ballot without judicial review, who and how the commission members are selected, etc.).
Bottom line: the proposed changes we can expect to see on the ballot in 2018 in relation to public education will be designed to give Republicans a free hand to privatize our public schools, increase public school tax funds going to for-profit charter corporations, legalize vouchers, and continue to siphon funds out of public school districts coffers.
It is my strong opinion that the citizens of Florida must pay close attention to the work of the CRC and be prepared to inform citizens. We must stop the movement to allow profiteering off of public education in our state.
Mark J. Castellano is president of the Teachers Association of Lee County.