What are Education groups looking for in the 2013 session?

by Kathleen Oropeza

Florida Voices/January 7, 2013

Everyone knows that necessity is the mother of invention. Fund Education Now was founded in 2009 by three Florida moms who saw an urgent need for parents to take action and hold the Florida Legislature accountable for aggressive funding cuts to public education. As mothers, we vowed that Florida’s children would never be left unprotected in the halls of Tallahassee again.

Since then, we have been joined by remarkable parent leaders and a broad alliance of hundreds of thousands of concerned voters who value high-quality public education for every child. Fund Education Now is determined to help citizens use their power as constituents to disrupt the Florida Legislature’s plan to starve public education, disrespect professional educators and cause deep and lasting harm to the state’s 2.7 million school children.

There’s a profound disconnect between politicians determined to defund neighborhood schools and parents whose children attend and love these schools. Article IX, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution instructs legislators that their one paramount duty is to finance a high-quality public education for every child. Instead, Florida politicians waste billions on unproven reforms while slashing school budgets and intentionally bringing districts to the brink of catastrophe.

More than a decade of passing radical education reform has reduced Florida lawmaking to a checklist of pre-negotiated legislation that is pushed and passed, no debates. With few exceptions, these expensive and unfunded “reforms” are implemented statewide devoid of pilot programs, discussion or proof of concept. Why?

The education “reform” agenda benefits adults. It’s all about profit and privatization not what’s best for students. It means a narrowed curriculum, high stakes testing, mandated online classes, teaching to the test, moving cut scores to manipulate test outcomes, micromanaging classrooms and devaluing teachers. It also means telling 8-year-old children that they are failures based on one test/one day.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For starters, children should never, ever be monetized. Instead of bargaining votes for consideration from vendors and lobbyists, legislators should listen to parents, the end-users of public education.

Last session a half a million Florida voices rose up from a broad alliance of parent groups, including the Florida PTA and FundEducationNow. We stood together with many brave senators, led by Paula Dockery and Nan Rich to demand that politicians start listening. We defeated the Parent Trigger. We stopped the push to hand over property taxes to for-profit charter developers to buy property and facilities at our expense. The November 2012 election should put Florida politicians on notice. The smart ones will do what’s right for our children. It’s a choice.

The 2013 Florida Legislature should place every resource and effort into funding high-quality public education. That means a freeze on funding separate for-profit school systems and other unproven reforms. Here are some of our priorities for the 2013 Florida Legislative session:

Parent Trigger

Legislators should drop this one. Florida parents do not support this divisive trick which uses them to “pull the trigger” and pass a public asset into the hands of a for-profit operator. Millions have been spent on lobbyists, fake parent groups, even a movie to sell this concept. Clearly big business sees big profits in the Parent Trigger. How is that good for children?

Level the playing field

Legislators should listen to Gov. Scott and pass legislation that applies uniform standards to all charters, voucher schools and traditional public schools, no excuses.

Charter access to district capital funds: Legislators should deny for-profit charter developers access to the 1.5 mill in taxpayer dollars designated for district capital improvements. Public funds should not be used by for-profit charter school developers to improve/buy/invest in facilities the public will never own.

Loss of Local School Board Control

Legislators should reject the for-profit charter lobby’s plan to create a Governor-appointed Charter Review Board to bypass elected school boards, transferring the approval process to a rubber-stamp entity.

For-profit Charter Expansion and unfair Regulatory Relief: It is fiscally irresponsible to allow charters to replicate, regardless of need, using property tax dollars that have been “cut” from our neighborhood public schools.

Digital Learning expansion

Requires 3 classes instead of the 1 currently required for graduation. Online classes should be optional — they are not effective for every student. This bill triples the ready-market for vendors. Who is profiting?