Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is poised to put before you in November a disguised constitutional amendment to allow Tallahassee politicians to take control of our local public schools. They want to take power away from the elected School Board and give it to an unaccountable group in Tallahassee. And guess who will appoint the members of that group? Those Tallahassee politicians.
The CRC is trying to disguise this power grab by combining it with two other more popular ideas and using sneaky words. Why? So voters will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in our county — a job that our local elected School Board does now.
To trick us, the CRC (whose members are appointed by the same Tallahassee power structure) removed the words “charter schools” from the original draft of the amendment. They knew that state control of charter schools would not be supported by most voters. To hide the real meaning of the amendment, they came up with language that instead of saying local school boards shall have full control of all schools “within” their districts, the new language provides that only schools “established by” local school districts would be controlled locally. This creates a huge opening for the politicians to appoint a new state charter school authorizing board. The new board’s only reason for existing would be to authorize new charter schools in school districts all over the state.
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Then, further insulting voters by adding another trick, the CRC bundled this statewide charter school authorizer with two proposed amendments it thinks will be more popular — requiring civics education and establishing term limits for school board members. So, when voters see the amendment on their ballots, they will have to read to the middle of a 75-word paragraph to see that the word “within” has been changed to “established by.” Of course, out of context, this change will mean little or nothing to most voters.
The cagey commissioners, who came up with this scheme and were appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, and other Tallahassee politicians are using cynical flimflam with the future of our local public education in the balance. Each county would have a second system of public education — one operated by the elected school board and the other operated by unaccountable political appointees in Tallahassee. This is a sure recipe for chaos.
Who would benefit from such a radical change? Corporate charter school profiteers, who stuff their pockets with tax dollars and Tallahassee politicians who support these schools getting hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions. Some of them even hold positions in charter schools.
If this revision passes, any charter school company could pay a lobbyist or use its connections in Tallahassee to gain approval for a new school, anywhere and anytime they want. New schools run by big business could pop up all over, whether they’re needed or not, without local input from people who know their communities best. This would be done without prudent consideration of essential elements of operating a county-wide school district –– planning for enrollment, hiring teachers and other education staff, school attendance zones, transportation and the district’s master plan.
All that damage would be done for the benefit of self-serving, for-profit charter school management companies and their political supporters. And it would be paid for with tax dollars badly needed by neighborhood public schools.
Fortunately, this con’s supporters have a high hill to climb — even if they succeed in getting their fellow commissioners to put the deceptive language on the ballot. In a poll conducted this week, the charter proposal only secured 29 percent support — less than half of the 60 percent needed to pass.
Florida voters are not so easily fooled. Tell CRC members to protect our local schools and stop wasting our time with deceptive proposals that are destined to fail.
Janet McAliley is a former member of the Miami-Dade School Board.