Florida Gov. Scott should veto the misbegotten K-12 education budget. Turn a deaf ear to his political foes’ contention that in doing so he would be caving in to (liberal) teacher’s unions. Swat down fantastical tales of overly larded public-school budgets. Decry, resolutely, the appallingly secretive deal-making between legislative leaders that, ultimately, leaves public schools gasping for air.
Rather, the governor needs to see House Bill 7069, for the disaster that it is — and, more important, the disaster it will mean for public-school students statewide.
On the up side, the $419 million education bill includes a $234 million bonus package for teachers and principals; testing is ratcheted down a notch, and recess returns, giving kids a chance for exercise and fresh air.
However, it’s a cynical budget that pits public schools against charter schools — an increasingly deep-pocketed industry, one to which legislative leaders pander. By the close of the most recent session of the Legislature, a program called Schools of Hope was on deck to receive $140 million to allow private charter schools to open in the vicinity of challenged public schools, giving neighborhood families a choice.
And public-school districts will have to share both federal Title 1 funds, for schools rich in needy, at-risk students, and state funds for construction and capital improvements — funds that come from Floridians’ property taxes.
Public schools and the charters should not be enemies. They were sold to parents as an alternative to struggling public schools, that once having fewer students to deal with, could focus on raising the education levels of the students that remained, with more help and support from the state.
But rather than enhance one another, state lawmakers and the governor have, instead, kept the publics on a starvation diet, while charters — also public schools — have been allowed to cherry-pick more capable, less labor-intensive students.
All this has been a given recently. However, this year, in the last days of the legislative session, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran spurned the back-and-forth of bipartisan debate and compromise and repaired to the backroom instead, using a rule that let them push through their policy agendas as-is, no modifying amendments.
Parents across the state have made clear at the ballot box that they, indeed, want school choice, and that’s just what should be provided. However, that desire should not be accommodated at the expense of public schools. After all, they, too, are a choice that many families willingly make.
The state shouldn’t undermine their choice, and it won’t if Gov. Scott uses his veto pen.