The incoming president of the Florida Senate cannot be trusted on education policy. Not if he’s going to deliberately mislead Floridians while misrepresenting the position of the state’s teachers. Senator Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) writes in the Tampa Tribune that “union bosses, union politics or union lawyers, ” filed a lawsuit earlier this month to block families of students with disabilities from receiving Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts.
I am a father who personally understands the unique challenges faced by the parents of these students. I understand the frustrations they face in advocating for their children. I understand their deep commitment to their children. I understand that they are best able to make decisions for their children.
That is why this PSLA bill was a priority for me. I deeply appreciate my colleagues in the Legislature for passing this bill and Gov. Rick Scott for signing it. They acted on behalf of our community of families. They gave us the power to choose for our children.
The beneficiaries will include school-age children (K-12) who have an individual education plan or who have been diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina bifida, Williams syndrome, or other specified intellectual challenges. Students with developmental delays who are entering kindergarten may also be eligible.
It was not that long ago when many students with disabilities were set aside in public education because it was assumed they could not learn or could not share classrooms with other students. It was the advocacy of parents that ended these discriminatory and damaging policies.
For this reason, I think it is deeply regrettable that before the first parent could even submit an application for a PLSA, the Florida Education Association — our statewide teachers union — filed a lawsuit to block it.
The union bosses can spin the lawsuit however they want. But the bottom line is this: They view every opportunity that gives parents freedom to make education choices as a threat to their power. They are advocates for their union, not your children.
Gardiner knows he is misleading Floridians on the position of the Florida Education Association. Writing in the Gainesville Sun, Erin Jester explains:
The Florida Education Association’s issue with the program is not that it increases aid to students with disabilities, but that the authors tacked on a provision to expand the corporate voucher program on the last day of the legislative session, which the FEA called unconstitutional.
The Florida Constitution contains restrictions to lawmaking that state a law may only address one issue, and the law that created the scholarship program, unfortunately, dealt with too many, said Alachua County Education Association President Karen McCann.
The FEA filed its lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart last week. There was no action on the suit as of Thursday evening.
If standing alone, Gardiner’s PLSA bill would have sailed through the legislature with bipartisan support, yet he chose to allow his bill to be attached voucher expansion, the most controversial and bitterly debated legislation of the session. Gardiner needs to demonize someone to change the narrative regarding his own unconstitutional overreach.
Gardiner is off to a poor start as Senate President and Floridians will soon miss Don Gaetz’ thoughtful, deliberate stewardship. Particularly on education policy. Coupled with his partisan management of his own PLSA bill, his Tribune hit piece, Gardiner reveals he will be putting politics above good education policy.