Another Subtle Tweak to Help Florida Republicans Get Around Funding Public Schools

Opponents of Florida’s private school voucher system have long argued that diversion of tax dollars to the coffers of Step Up for Students to “administrate” the misleadingly named “Florida Tax Credit Scholarship” siphon off funds which would otherwise be used in the classrooms of the state’s public schools. It’s a difficult assertion to prove. The judge who will rule on the voucher lawsuit agrees. From Brandon Larrabee of Florida News Service picked up this little tidbit from the hearing:

“I agree that the nexus here is troublesome,” (Judge George) Reynolds said near the end of the hearing. “And that’s their problem, and that’s going to be their burden on this speculation that schools would do better if this program didn’t exist. You could do away with this program tomorrow morning and the budget for the school system might change not one iota.”

Reynolds observation is furthermore supported by Rick Scott’s “record” increase of per pupil spending for public schools. Scott doesn’t want anyone to know that the funding level only brings it back up to 2007 levels. And Scott knows he can count on allies to help him advance his narrative, too. Florida TaxWatch is one such ally. Writes Kevin Derby for Sunshine State News:

Florida TaxWatch weighed in on Thursday, insisting the Sunshine State could save by recalculating class size while not violating a state constitutional amendment voters approved in 2002. Florida TaxWatch finds using a schoolwide average in the calculations could save more than $14.5 million of Florida schools.

“Adjusting the class size calculation to a school average would maintain small class sizes for Florida students and teachers without putting handcuffs on Florida principles and administrators,” said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Thursday. “By adjusting the way our state’s schools calculate their class sizes, billions of taxpayer dollars would be freed up for use on proven tools to increase student learning gains. School districts would be able to invest in better teacher training programs, higher teacher salaries and more resources for students.”

Supporters of Florida public schools have seen such “tweaks” before in Jeb Bush inspired education policy changes.  It’s just another go-around to Florida law and a  legislative side-step to the state constitution. Such tweaks have occurred many times to Bush’s school grades, common core standards and high-stakes tests amid constant state-wide chaos.

TaxWatch’s reasoning for this new tweak is laughable. There is no way that school districts would be able to invest in “better teacher training programs, higher teacher salaries and more resources for students” just because of a cynical change in class size guidelines. They know it, too. But it’s about the narrative, you see.

Florida TaxWatch knows little, and likely cares even less, about the constraints Florida republicans have put on budgets of the state’s local school districts. Last year’s changes to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program qualifies some families of public school teachers who live near the law’s poverty level.  Technology improvements via republican budgets are going toward upgrading public schools for state-mandated testing. These aren’t “resources for students.”

The rhetoric of Florida TaxWatch is both cavalier and frighteningly ignorant of the realities of any classroom. One only needs to deliver a lesson once in a core subject to 35 students in a room designed for 20 to roll your eyes at such poppycock. Meanwhile, Florida public school teachers know that all that “money for technology”  Scott talks about every year is going into the infrastructure for kids to take state tests. You know, those one’s that kids only take once, but prepare for all year.





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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