A Progressive’s Guide to the 2015 Legislative Session – Issues: Education

450px-Old_Florida_CapitolTesting is becoming a big issue on the right and the left, with both sides drawing lines around over-testing.  With the awful debacle of testing around the state this week, everyone is paying attention and parents are angry.  Legislators are demanding the Governor Scott halt the testing, school districts are trying to   What this has really shown is is that our schools are hopelessly out of date with technology.   The reality is that most school district do not have the means to keep up with this level of testing – there are even school districts that do not have internet capability in their schools much less computers for each student.  Buildings are old, infrastructure is old, the technology is old.  However, even though this was discussed by education advocates, the concerns fell on deaf ears.

The testing debate will make for some strange alliances.  Perhaps the strangest bedfellows headed into this session are Senator Dwight Bullard and Representative Debbie Mayfield, who are co-sponsoring a bill to allow parents to op-out of testing.   While testing will take center-stage as Governor Scott tries to sell ‘record school-spending’, every one seems to be at a cross-roads.

Charter schools, of course, will be another main feature.  This issue continues to divide Democrats and with powerful pro-school “choice” money dangling in front of lawmakers, it is hard to keep alliances.  While the victory of the voucher bill last session may appease school choice advocates for the moment, Governor Scott and his new friend Pitbull have stirred the charter school controversy.   Senator Legg has filed a bill to provide transportation for students at the cost of the school districts, which is surely going to be a heated debate.    Senator Montford has put forward a bill aimed at regulating charter schools, which is desperately needed from a financial prospective.

The debate on charter schools needs to focus on fiscal accountability.   Closing charter schools is a huge problem for school districts and eats up and incredible amount of financial resources and in the end, the money spent on charters usually is not worth it on a district level due to their instability.   There needs to be some financial regulation to make sure that charter schools are viable.  While this should be a bi-partisan issue, if Democrats could move in and claim this as their own, they could unite around the idea of fiscal responsibility, accountability and strengthening public schools.

One issue that should come up, especially considering the debate about guns on college campuses, is safety issues with charter schools.  As they are not truly public schools, many do have not the safety procedures and protocols that are required of public schools.   If a Newton-like tragedy were to occur in a charter school, they are not equipped to handle such an incident.   Not to mention all of the dirty real estate deals that charter schools  The League of Women Voters has done some fantastic research about all the dirty details when it comes to real estate deals all over the state and it is about time something be done legislatively about it.

With all the constant rhetoric from the right being ‘run government like a business’, it seems that many do not understand the basic concepts.  If we did in fact start running government like a business and public schools as an entity of that, it seems downright ridiculous that such vast resources would be given to charter and private schools.  The very label of ‘school choice’ makes it clear that there is competition among the choices and it is far time that the Florida Education system realize that it holds all the cards.   If a business constantly gave away resources to their competition, they would be mocked and ridiculed, yet that is exactly what the state of Florida is doing with our education system.

While Governor Scott will increase education funding, watch the amount that he sets aside for charter schools.   Watch the testing debate and watch which Democratic lawmakers start siding with the ‘choice’ advocates.  These issues will be important come election season.

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