In the welter of other, sadder news recently, you may have missed a story with profound and far-reaching implications. It’s the one about how much additional money South Florida schools will get this year from Gov. Scott and the Legislature. The answer: bupkis.
To put it in the vernacular, South Florida public schools got screwed on the money. We were robbed, hosed and short-changed. We send billions of tax dollars to Tallahassee every year. Last week, we found out how much more we’ll be getting in return for our school kids: 47 cents. Yes, you read that right. 47 cents more for each student. How absurd, how insulting. We need to raise a ruckus.
“This is an outstanding year for education,” said Gov. Scott with his damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead flair as he signed the education bill (HB 7055) into law.
This is a governor with no clothes, but who’s being praised as a dandy by the Legislature, which found $140 million for charter schools, but barely $100 for each student who attends the public kind. Later, when reporters pressed Scott about the pitiful increase in per-pupil funding, he obtusely said he’d listened to what parents wanted and spent the money available on improving school safety and mental-health services. That’s a good thing, but not to the exclusion of money school districts need to pay higher FPL bills, repair roof leaks and cover cost-of-living increases, plus raises for woefully underpaid teachers. And remember, Scott didn’t want those teachers to be armed, but still didn’t veto the $67 million appropriation in HB 7055 to buy guns and training for some teachers, coaches and other school personnel.
Arming teachers is a dangerous idea that’s been adamantly rejected by almost every teacher, principal, school administrator and superintendent in South Florida and beyond. It may not happen here, but it will elsewhere in Florida.. So while teachers have to post wish lists to provide basic classrooms needs, they’ll be teaching alongside colleagues who are packing heat and getting paid a bonus to do it. Is this a great state or what?
The actual per-pupil increase in the budget is $65.06 in Miami-Dade and $52.25 in Broward. Whoop-dee-doo! But that’s far lower than the state average of $101.50. And after factoring Legislature-mandated spending, meaning most the the increase is spoken for, the average per-student increase is, again, 47 cents. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho screamed his objections — “historically disappointing” — and Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie called on Scott to veto the education bill and call lawmakers back into a special session to hike school spending Their complaints fell on deaf ears.
And yet Scott, before the FIU bridge collapse, was taking a victory lap around the state as his press office issued a budget message claiming that K-12 spending has increased by $3.2 billion over the last six years, up by a whopping 37 percent. I guess he’s including the $140 million in HB 7055 to pay for new charter schools, plus $40 million in “Hope Scholarships” for kids who’ve been bullied to attend private schools. Does that include parochial schools? And what’s the criteria for determining if a child has been bullied? Which private schools can they attend? What guarantees they’ll get a better education than at their neighborhood public school?
We’ll soon have a chance to ask Gov. Scott those questions since he’s on the verge of announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate We can also ask outgoing House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the power behind the “Schools of Hope” and vouchers for bullied kids. because he’ll soon say he’s running for governor.
Free public education is America’s greatest idea and our greatest hope. Public schools are the great equalizer in American life, giving kids from the most destitute neighborhood a way out and up. Schools have historically been the pathway to a more just and equitable society. Florida has made real strides over the past three decades in improving its public schools. They’d get better faster with more money. With Florida’s economy booming and about $3 billion in additional tax revenue, it looked like this would be the year the state’s public schools got a big financial boost. Fat chance.
I was at the Coral Way K-8 Education Center last year when Scott visited and promised an increase in school funding of at least $200 per child. Instead, we wound up with a measly 47 cents, and the governor signed off on it. Pitiful.
Remember that when you see the governor and other candidates on the campaign trail in the coming months.
Remember that when you vote.