What's in store for Florida's 2013 legislative session
Legislators prepare to duke it out over more of the same: abortion, workers' rights, education, voting issues and campaign finance reform
Published: March 6, 2013
"Nothing is changing, other than Gov. Rick Scott and the legislators [being] scared of their public perception," says Amy Ritter, the executive director of Florida Watch Action, the group behind the anti-Scott Pink Slip Rick campaign. "Floridians are starting to realize that, wait a minute, these are the guys creating eight-hour lines to vote; these are the guys that are cutting our education and then using it as a political prop to win re-election. Floridians are starting to wake up. [Gov. Scott's] PR stunt is just a dance around a fire that doesn't really equate to anything other than a governor with low approval ratings desperately needing to win over middle-class Floridians, and it's not going to happen."
When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – founder and chairman of the national Foundation for Excellence in Education – showed up in Tallahassee Feb. 14 to speak with legislators, it was his latest attempt to mold the state's public-education system into the privatized model he has long envisioned. Bush's effects on Florida's teachers and students – including FCAT woes and charter school expansion – were subsequently maligned by a Feb. 24 editorial in the Palm Beach Post.
"[Bush's] Foundation for Excellence in Education accepts donations from private companies that would profit from lax new laws that Florida and other states are rushing to enact," the Post opined. "The sort of careless 'reform' Jeb Bush advocates will end up with taxpayers fleeced and students and parents cheated. He has a reputation for reform. He has a record of making messes."
Since 1996, the number of for-profit charter-school operations in Florida has risen from zero to 579, and 150 have closed during that period. This year, several bills seek to expand the operations of charters in the state – including virtual and homeschooling options – and they're putting Democrats and educators on edge. One bill (PCB-CIS 1301) would reduce local school-board oversight of charter schools while simultaneously forcing those districts to offer up excess district properties for free to the private operations. Another bill (PCB-CIS 1303) would expand state funding for online courses to students who are registered as homeschoolers in their districts. The most concerning, though, has been the re-emergence of the Parent Empowerment in Education bill (SB 862), the so-called "parent-trigger bill," that would allow parents to vote on the fate of consistently low-performing schools, likely turning them into charters. These, among other corporate education initiatives, are opening the floodgates for bad education all around, according to Florida Education Association public policy advocacy director Jeff Wright.
"Each time you're taking something either away from the K-12 program or the university program, you don't have a way to control any of the outcomes," Wright says. "And there are just big companies behind all of it."
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