A teacher and candidate for Marion School Board, Diane Schrier writes in the Ocala Star Banner:
Marion County has been lucky so far, as we’ve managed to be able to keep out most of these organizations (for-profit charter schools) through implementation of special programs when needed. However, that will change this year. A new application form has been approved by the Legislature streamlining the process for charter schools. This opens up Marion County, since the power to say no will be further diminished. State superintendents have been protesting this.
Thus, for-profit charter schools get Race to the Top money for starting new schools, management money, lease money, interest money, student money and PECO funds. PECO funds are designated for maintenance and operations of public schools. During the last four years, however, all of this money has gone to charter schools. This year, more PECO money is going to private schools than public schools — again.
Private-school vouchers are being funded by money donated to one single organization called Step Up for Children. To increase private-school revenue, corporations that donated money to the fund are being given tax credits equal to their donation. Since Florida does not have an income tax, these taxes are a large part of the basis of education, public safety and all other programs. This law will raise close to $1 billion per year over the next few years — money that will be taken from public school funding. While some private schools, especially in Marion County, are excellent, others are in strip malls, offer minimal education, untrained teachers, no trained personnel for special needs, and no accountability or transparency.
There is school choice and there is the destruction of public education choice. The Florida Legislature is choosing to move down the path of destruction. However, most children attend public schools. Voters will need to make a decision.
The realities of Florida’s political map make takeover of the legislature by Democrats extremely almost impossible. Relief may be on the way if Rick Scott is defeated this fall. But Charlie Crist hasn’t been offering much of an education policy alternative with his me-too, my friend Jeb Bush rhetoric. And those easy-to-produce Crist the flip-flopper TV spots haven’t even begun yet.
Many Democrats and public school advocates are quietly moving toward former senator Nan Rich’s candidacy. In Rich, they find someone who has been reliably progressive and a friend of public schools.
It was Rich who asked a question of Sen. Rick Wise during the debate on SB 736, the 2010 teacher evaluation bill which proved prophetic . She asked Wise why it wasn’t prudent to wait until a fully funded Hillsborough study was complete before diving in. Wise’s shrill response that “children will be irreparably harmed if his bill wasn’t passed” will forever burn legislative republicans.
Rich’s resolve and energy on the campaign trail is prompting a second look by democrat voters who don’t trust Crist. Her past examples of measured wisdom on education policy don’t hurt either as Crist’s wishy-washy statements on everything have allowed Scott to erase what was once an 8 point lead in the polls.