Sunday, April 21, 2024

FL: Book Bans, Classical Schools, Charter Turnaround, And More

The "update" of Florida's book ban has arrived--and brought a whole lot more with it.

By the time he had slunk back from the Presidential campaign trail, Ron DeSantis had figured out that book bans had a branding problem. 

What was the problem? Overzealous banners making the policy look ridiculous and excessive. Opponents treating the law as if it actually meant what it said, and not something else entirely.

In a press conference back in February, DeSantis announced his intention to fix this law (yes, governors can't technically legislate, but if you've got a majority of compliant and cooperative legislators, you can order up laws). Yes, he said that non-parents challenging 100 books was not "appropriate." But he also made it clear that the idea of banning naughty books from school is a sound one, but not when you ban the Wrong Ones. 

For instance, people who "banned" perfectly good classics and other things that "are not in any way a violation of any type of Florida law." Like that Roberto Clemente book that got pulled? Totally not a violation, says DeSantis. The Bible. Dictionaries! The teacher who covered up all her books.! Crazy stuff, says Ron.
DeSantis's concern was people "hijacking this process," not that the process was in some way inherently flawed. Not that it was excessively vague, or that it somehow distinguished between books with sex stuff that DeSantis objects to and books with sex stuff that he does not object to. The fact that, under that law, folks could object to the Bible is an indictment of those people, and not a sign that it was poorly-written bad idea of a law.

“You have some people who are taking the curriculum transparency, and they are trying to weaponize that for political purposes,” he said at an event in Jacksonville, Florida. “That involves objecting to normal books, like some of the books that I saw in the teacher’s lounge, these classic books.”
As if the entire set of policies were not created to be weapons for political purposes.

Now the rewrite has arrived, so we can ask what legislators actually fixed. For book bans? Not a lot. But there are other goodies tucked away in this bill.

Here's the book ban fix. Now a resident of the county who is not a parent or guardian may object to one item per month. 

That's it. All other shenanigans may continue unabated. 

But what other goodies are included in this bill?

The state Board of Education will issue a "classical education teaching certificate," which will valid only at a classical school. 

New wrinkles for school takeover. One of the penalties for a repeatedly low-scoring school was to be closed and re-opened as a charter. Now when the school is re-opened as a charter, the school district will continue to operate the school, while implementing a turnaround contract (in October) with the charter school which will give the charter school an opportunity to evaluate how well the public school is doing. Sop, "We'll take a look and decide how and if we want to take you over." The charter must give priority to students already in the school, and must keep the existing grade levels (though it may add more). The district may not charge leasing or rental fees. 

Also, while the school could get out of turnaround in the past by raising their grade to a C, that no longer works if they've already executed a turnaround contract.

The executive director for the Education Practices Commission will no longer be elected by the commission itself, but will be appointed by the Commissioner of Education. 

Folks who own charter school property no longer have to apply every year for tax exemption. 

The Office of Ocean Economy will hereby become a thing. Within the university system and housed at Florida Atlantic University, it will exist to "connect the state's ocean and coastal resources to economic development strategies that grow, enhance, or contribute to the ocean economy."

Preferred enrollment status student will include students who want to transfer from a private classical school to a charter classical school. Also, students whose parents work in a development that sets up a charter school. Or any students whose parents are "employed with a reasonable distance of the charter school."

A private school can be set up in facilities owned or leased by a library, community service organization, museum, theater, or church without any rezoning needed. Ditto for any land or facilities owned by Florida College system or university.

Postsecondary schools may not block students from being employed. Unless they are being employed by some organization "associated with a foreign country of concern."

International Baccalaureate teachers get a $50 bonus for every one of their students who scores C or higher on the IB Theory of Knowledge subject exam. 

Plus other little things. But it's the book ban change that will get the attention, even though it changes almost nothing. It's still vague, still punitive, and people can still challenge absurd numbers of books for absurd reasons, as long as they have a child in school. And people can still take it at its poorly-written word and challenge works that Harvard-educated Ron DeSantis thinks should be off-limits. 

Like his elimination of Common Core and his call to reduce testing, this is one more example of DeSantis pitching Floridians a mountain and delivering a tiny swamp-soaked mole. 

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