(Update: I am happy to report that this morning, a judge threw Amendment 8 off the ballot. For the moment, public education has won one. However, that decision has been appealed, with the court to take it up on September 5th-- so stay vigilant.)
Amendment 8 was produced by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which voted to put it on the ballot as an amalgam of three amendments to the state constitution.
|We're well past the point of using lipstick.|
Guess how the legislators have been publicizing the bill.
The amendment's official title is “School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools” and official summary is:
Creates a term limit of eight consecutive years for school board members and requires the legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools. Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.
The League of Women Voters considers that misleading enough to file a lawsuit about it. Said Patricia M. Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida,“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 their county."
Backers of the measure say the League just doesn't like the bill. But hey-- who are the backers of this proposed amendment sandwich, anyway?
The FLCRC board includes Erika Donalds. Donalds is a partner in a New York investment group. She founded Parents' Rights of Choice for Kids (Parents ROCK). Then she got herself elected to a school board, and founded the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, a group with only six founding members and which seems devoted to austerity and school choice. The group appears to be tiny, but in tune with the priorities of Florida's reform legislature. Amendment 8 is Donalds' baby. Also on the FLCRC board is Patricia Levesque, a well-known name in the reformster world. Levesque has been Jeb Bush's right hand at the various incarnations of his reformy groups. And FCSBM has been plenty cozy with Bush/Levesque's group.
Donalds has a PAC devoted to selling Amendment 8, and it has been collecting money from all manner of charter school supporters and profiteers. And her husband Byron is a GOP member of the legislature and helps run a charter school of his own (Mason Classical Academy). Byron is the guy who gave Florida the law that says textbooks must be "balanced" and that any taxpayer can challenge anything in any text-- a law that mirrored policies adopted by Erika's school board.
Amendment 8 is a classic poop sandwich-- take something radically unpalatable and hide it between two delicious slices of bread. Civics education and term limits-- don't those sound great (the FLCRC has apparently been making lots of poop sandwiches for all the sectors).
But it is also part of a larger long game that Florida has been playing to dismantle public education. Last year the legislature created a powerful means of draining public education tax dollars into charter coffers, giving the charter crew to separate a mountain of money from the public system. Amendment 8 lets them do the same for governance. Under the proposed amendment, Florida's legislators will be empowered to create an entire parallel school system controlled by their own designated school czar. The charters will no longer be accountable in any way to local elected authorities. All charters will answer only to some charter-loving bureaucrat in Tallahassee. From local taxpayers and voters they will not take any direction, any rebuke, any protest, any complaint, or any oversight. Just money.
And of course once all that money has been diverted to private charter schools over which taxpayers have no say, and maintaining public schools will require either higher taxes or fewer services and programs-- well, that will simply accelerate the systemic gutting of Florida's public schools.
I hope Florida's voters fight hard. I hope that folks are going door to door explaining, "If Amendment 8 passes, some person you will never see can start a school next door that would reject your own child, and you will pay the bill. They might open a school even if nobody wants it, and you will pay the bill." This really is taxation without representation. And because FLCRC has unleashed a bunch of these poop sandwiches, cutting through the noise so that people remember No on Amendment 8 will not be easy. But if this amendment passes, the Florida legislature will have nearly finished the business of butchering public education and feasting on the pieces.
Don't live in Florida? Then you just have to remember one thing-- Betsy DeVos thinks Florida is a great example of how education should be managed.
Hat tip to Sandy Stenoff, who directed me to some useful sources for this convoluted mess of a story.