The Future of the Florida Senate: Will the Anti-Privatization Coalition Extend to Schools

What follows is an analysis by a long time observer of Florida politics. The writer desires to be recognized by a pseudonym, Lois Pace.

Will the emerging center coalition in the Florida Senate flex its muscle as we enter the last two weeks of the legislative session? Will those Senators who blocked prison privatization two weeks ago move similarly against school privatization, or quasi-privatization, next week? Hold on to your hats, y’all, the winds may be shifting in Tallahassee.

On February 14, a group of Democrats, maverick Republicans, and law-and-order Republicans stunned the state when they teamed up to block Governor Rick Scott’s pet project—prison privatization—from passage in the upper chamber. The law-and-order types, many of whose constituents work for the Florida prison system, didn’t take kindly to the idea of putting people out of work back home. They also didn’t relish serving up Florida prisons to corporate interests that hadn’t proved, to their satisfaction, that privatizing would yield any real benefits to the taxpayers.

Bucking the politburo has its costs, however. Long-time Senator Mike Fasano was immediately stripped of his budget committee chairmanship upon opposing the measure before it hit the Senate floor. And prison privatization hasn’t been the only issue over which the dominant party has punished those who question its top-down agenda. In the House, Representative Mike Weinstein was pulled off of his education committee for daring to oppose the controversial Senate Bill 6 in 2010. (The bill was resurrected and passed in 2011 as SB 736.)

The battle over prison privatization coincides quite neatly with the battle for Senate President. Sen. Jack Latvala , R-St. Petersburg, who led the privatization opponents, is testing his strength against the GOP establishment, which, until recently had the succession sequence all figured out: Haridopolis, then Gardiner, then Thrasher. Despite speculation that Thrasher wants to jump ahead in line to serve as Senate President in 2014, the former GOP state chairman remains cagey on the issue. Thrasher told one reporter that yes, he would be Senate President in 2014, if he got enough votes. (More votes than Latvala?)

Next week could shape the future of the Thrasher-Bush-Levesque political machine. Levesque runs Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, wrote Senate Bill 6 and other bills viewed as hostile to teachers and public education, created the Florida Charter School Alliance, and lobbies for the “edutech” industry—among other players. Charter schools and voucher schools are a captive market in the “reform” (read: privatization) movement’s push to digitize education, bust unions, and even outsource teaching to companies in India. The Senate’s move today to slow the Florida Board of Education’s grade-formula revamp may be an indication that teachers’ unions are making deals. Let’s hope that in the process, the teachers don’t settle for property tax dollars going to develop private charter real estate assets. Let’s hope they also join Florida’s parents in vigorously opposing the so called “parent trigger” bill for bringing in even more charter schools. Word is that the machine has California parents calling Florida lawmakers and that they’ve got a hired gun or two in the state to work on the trigger, no pun intended.

The teachers unions know well that GOP establishment lawmakers can’t be trusted. Instead of dealing to protect school grades, they should join the numerous parent organizations that oppose ALL of these harmful agenda items. Favoring privatization absolutely detracts from and defunds our public schools. If the teachers, the law-and-order crowd, and parents across the state can’t get this new Senate coalition to gel, we’re screwed. It’ll take decades to undo the damage done to the little that will remain of our public schools.



About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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