Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Florida Really Is The Worst

There are plenty of states in the country that are not very friendly to public education, but Florida under its new governor has established itself as the very worst state for public education. The worst. Its hatred of public school teachers and its absolute determination to dismantle public education so that it can sell off the pieces to privatizers and profiteers puts the sunshine state in the front of the pack.

The Newest Baloney

The latest nail in the coffin is Senate Bill 7070, a bill that adds yet another school choice program to the Florida portfolio of choiceness. That bill was passed today and now needs only Governor DeSantis's signature, which it will get quickly. The bill offers up vouchers that can be used for private schools, including the religion-based ones, like the ones that teach dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth together and the ones that maintain their right to discriminate against, well, whoever. The vouchers will be one more drain on the public tax dollars intended to fund public education, but then, a key feature of the Florida approach has been to keep underfunding public schools so that charter and private schools can look better by comparison.

No signs of help for education anywhere on the horizon
One Democratic representative during the discussion of this bill pointed out that Florida has been proud of its accountability system (the stupid test-score based awarding of letter grades to schools) and these vouchers will completely circumvent that system.

"What are we doing?" Montford said. "We're allowing them to take public funds to go to schools where the standards are not as high, or maybe don't have any standards. And worse than that, we don't even know what those standards are. Why are we supporting allowing parents to take their children to schools that don't fit the accountability system that we all are so proud of? Why are we doing that?"

Just spitballing here, but I'm betting the answer is "The accountability system was just a tool for dismantling public education, and once we've cracked open that piggy bank, we don't much care how good or bad the schools are."

The bill was "delivered" by one member of the DeSantis all-star team, Jennifer Sullivan, the 27-year-old homeschooled college drop out (and we're talking Liberty University here) who heads the House education committee. DeSantis also banks on . There's the longtime grifter and profiteer Richard Corcoran, who, after being term-limited out of the legislature landed a new job as state education chief (here's another take on just how bad Corcoran is). The legislature itself is loaded with reps with a family stake in the charter biz (which is not a new thing in Florida). 

But the most important team members for this play are the three new state supreme court justices that DeSantis installed. In 2006, Jeb Bush tried a similar move, and the court recognized the obvious-- that the law violated the state constitution (they didn't even get to the problem with public money for religious education). DeSantis is expecting friendlier judges to see things his way. 

About That Teacher Pay

Meanwhile, Florida has fallen to 46th place in rankings for teacher pay. The legislature wanted to-- oh, I don't know what they wanted to do. Look like they're addressing Florida's problem in recruiting people to work under their lousy job conditions? At any rate, the same bill that added vouchers also tweaked Florida's boneheaded teacher bonus program. Now a Florida teacher's bonus is not based on her SAT scores, but instead we're back to the old student test score baloney

What's key remains the same-- it's a bonus. It doesn't help you build a pension or buy a house, and you can't count on it to feed your family in the future. It's almost as if the legislature doesn't actually want to attract people to come teach in public school.

Killing Competition

Local school districts had, in fact, decided to address the teacher problem on their own, with voters in several counties giving themselves a tax increase in order to attract more teachers.

One would think that free market competition-is-good legislators would applaud this move. It is, after all, exactly what they've said all along-- charters and choice would spur competition and make public schools better. 

But rather than applaud, the legislature is in the process of stifling that competition in a piece of brazen thievery. HB 7123 has passed in the house, and it requires public schools to share any increased tax levy money with charters. This tweet thread of the discussion shows just how ballsy and cynical the charter thieves have been. Charter supporter Rep. Bryan Avila argued that the voters didn't know why they voted for increased taxes, so maybe they did mean to give charters some of the money (they didn't). Avila is asked repeatedly what mechanism will be used to hold charters accountable for using the money for its intended purposes; he has no answer for that, because the answer is that charters will be free to use the windfall for whatever they wish.  An amendment to require accountability from charters is called "unfriendly" and denied. And in perhaps his most ballsy comment on the purpose of the bill, Avila says, "We don't want school districts acting on their own." 

Oh, and the tax grab would be retroactive.

And The List Just Goes On

The legislature seems likely to pass a bill arming teachers with minimal training. Because irony is still legal in Florida, yesterday a school resource officer accidentally fired his gun while it was still in the holster.

Meanwhile, DeSantis has some ideas about how to significantly ramp up Schools of Hope. Schools of Hope is a cynically designed program for bypassing local elected school districts by using state authority to plunk new charters directly across the street from struggling public schools. Too bad, voters. 

But that doesn't stomp on locally elected school boards hard enough, so there's also a bill to impose term limits on school board members. School boards are a problem because they don't always approve charters. You see the repeating theme-- the Florida legislature just finds the democratic process to be a big problem.

A bill that will make it a felony to provide students with banned books. It also gives any citizen the right to challenge any material, as well as forbidding any pictures of naked folks (good luck in your Florida physiology classes). And the book banners behind this bill already have a list ready to challenge, including Angela's Ashes and The Awakening. Banning the latter is-- well, something. I've taught The Awakening for decades, and it doesn't have anything remotely graphic in it (generally I have to explain to most of my students "Between the end of this chapter and the beginning of the next one, sex probably happens"), but it does have a married woman who has an affair.

And That's On Top Of

The American Federation for Children School Guidebook reminds us that Florida is already awash in school choice. Florida has every flavor of choice we know of-- ESAs, vouchers, tax credit scholarships-- and leads the rest of the country by a wide margin. By AFC's figuring, Florida spent 39% of all the voucher money in the US in 2018-- that's $956 million out of $2.4 billion.

Florida teachers were stripped of job protections (what folks sometimes call tenure) years ago.

Florida has one of those stupid third grade test failure rules-- third graders must pass the Big Standardized Test in reading to be promoted to fourth grade. Never mind that this is a bad rule; they have adhered to this rule with stunning determination, and justified it by arguing in court that teacher-given grades are meaningless.

Florida consistently ranks close to the bottom in spending-per-pupil.

Peak Cynicism

There's so much more, but these lowlights give you the idea. Talk to some charteristas on line and get a feel for just how deeply some of these folks hate teachers and teacher unions and public education. But nothing captures the cynicism driving the privatization of Florida education like the moment DeSantis explained "If the taxpayer is paying for education, it's public education."

Sure. The best way to steal something is to gaslight your audience and tell them, "What? I didn't steal it. It's still right there." Don't tell the public you're ending public education; just redefine public education as a private business with no meaningful transparency, oversight, or democratic local control, and which the public does not own or operate.

There are lots of places in this country where public education is under assault, hampered by privatizers and profiteers, and in the past, I wouldn't have tried to pick a Worst, but I'm ready now. I have no doubt that there are many good teachers, many good schools still hanging on and doing their best in spite of it all. But I wouldn't send my worst enemy to raise children in Florida, and I wouldn't send my worst enemy to get a teaching job there. Openly hostile to public education and systematically trying to break it down and replace it with privatized businesses while degrading and attacking the people who do the actual work, who actually care about education. Florida really is the worst.



  1. Peter,
    Any chance of getting this published as an op ed piece in one of FL leading newspapers? Miami Sun Sentinel or Miami Herald? Or one in Tallahassee?

  2. Same chicken little "we're all going to die!" story for 20 years, ever more detached from reality

  3. Florida sucks. Teachers get no respect. Everyone is a pretentious SOB, people are rude as hell, and no one cares. We moved out of here as fast as we could.