Castor, Shaw rail against GOP Florida lawmakers' "education" bill

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click to enlarge U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor implores Gov. Rick Scott to veto what she sees as a terrible shift in education policy. - Cat Modlin-Jackson
Cat Modlin-Jackson
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor implores Gov. Rick Scott to veto what she sees as a terrible shift in education policy.

Florida lawmakers made public education a private matter and they did it wrong, say education advocates.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) called on Governor Rick Scott to veto a massive education bill that advocates say would fund charter schools at the expense of public schools.

And she wasn't alone.

Standing in front of West Tampa Elementary School, State Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa), Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins, parents, school board members and advocates joined the congresswoman.

“You can see that we are galvanized in opposition to the latest attempts by the Florida legislature to undermine our public school students,” said Castor.

The 278-page bill (HB 7069) squeezed through the House last week after being negotiated, to the ire of public education advocates, behind closed doors. Shaw said the bill made its way through the House by quite the, er, nontraditional means.

click to enlarge State. Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa. - Cat Modlin-Jackson
Cat Modlin-Jackson
State. Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa.

“I know I’m just a freshman in the House, but the way I thought it worked was that a bill or an idea worked itself through the committee process, then it got to the floor, and that happened in both chambers,” said Shaw. “This bill is full of policy things that were not vetted by both chambers.”

A lot of the policies wrapped up in the bill have riled educators, parents and pretty much anyone who isn’t a right-wing charter school advocate. Once the bill hits Scott’s desk, he’ll have 15 days to decide whether he wants to sign or veto.

Speaking on Tuesday, Castor solicited support for the cause from anyone who sees the value in equipping everyone with a good education.

“We need this entire community, we need parents, business-owners, everyone to contact the governor and urge a veto of this harmful education bill.”

What’s the big deal?

Well, the bill pushes public funding for charter schools, which are private entities not held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools. Oh, and they can indoctrinate students with any nonsense they like, which doesn't make for a very informed or critically-thinking populace.

If Scott approves the bill, $140 million will go to incentivizing privately managed charter schools. The rationale is that establishing charter schools would give parents and students in areas with low-performing schools (i.e. south St. Pete) more choice about where to send their kids.

But critics say that would only dilute funding and stifle development opportunities for underperforming public schools. Rather than funding districtwide programs that are designed to support underprivileged students, the bill would require districts to give money directly to charter schools — as if public schools weren't in dire need of resources to begin with.

click to enlarge Superintendent Eakins speaks against the bill ahead of its landing on the governor's desk. - Cat Modlin-Jackson
Cat Modlin-Jackson
Superintendent Eakins speaks against the bill ahead of its landing on the governor's desk.

State leaders would take power from local leaders if the bill becomes law, say opponents who note that local leaders are more in tune with the needs of their school districts.

“We need the flexibility locally to know how to best appropriate our dollars where the needs are the most,” said Superintendent Eakins, who added that the bill would essentially reroute federal funds historically managed by local leaders.

Castor went so far as to question the legality of the bill.

“On the Title I issue, I do not believe that the federal law even allows the State of Florida to divert their Title I dollars and spread them out so I think they’re on very shaky ground,” said the congresswoman.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Pasco) has praised the bill, saying it will raise the bar for Florida’s education system by offering incentives like bonuses for high performing teachers, leaving many wondering how teachers can earn the distinction of “high performer” if they have no job. After all, there would be “many positions that might have to be scaled back” if the proposed funding system is approved, said Eakins.

There are talks that Scott would veto the entire $82.4 billion budget proposed by Florida lawmakers. Many are calling on him to at least reject the education bill, saying that the proposed policies contradict Scott’s promises to pump more money to schools. But in spite of Scott’s pro-education rhetoric, he’s notorious for skimping on public education. Even if Scott vetoes the bill, legislators could override his decision, meaning a win for Corcoran in his longtime pissing match with Scott.

No mention was made at the press conference about paying teachers more, a novel idea for the overworked and underpaid folks who grapple with the challenges of teaching at low-income schools — albeit kind of a pipe dream these days as teachers struggle to churn out a thoughtful, well-rounded, workforce-ready citizenry.

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