Discussions about the efficacy and needs of the public schools in Florida tend to become rancorous.
Those who see them as the great bulwark of democracy believe that spending ever-increasing amounts of money will solve whatever problems they may have.
Others believe the public schools do too little for too many and that money is not the solution.
Put me in the latter group.
Those who support reform efforts cannot allow themselves to be bullied by those in the first group, or by the media.
Reformers have much better arguments. The correct tactic is to first ask what evidence proponents have that spending more money on schools improves educational outcomes.
This is constantly asserted but in my experience no evidence is presented to support the argument. The fact that some other states spend more on schools is irrelevant unless it is used in that context.
Evidence against it is that spending, both state and national, grew by leaps and bound for some three decades, while educational achievement was stagnant. There was slight improvement but not in relation to students in other nations who will be competing with Americans in the global economy.
The stagnation, incidentally, coincided with the ascendancy of teacher unions, which in some states virtually control the schools and school policy.
Nevertheless, hard-won reforms in Florida over the past decade have resulted in improvement in educational outcomes. These reforms include standards, accountability and increased school choice -- all strenuously opposed by special interests.
Opposing choice is a particularly strange position.
It is important to understand that most Florida families have school choice. They can afford to send their children to private schools when they believe it is warranted because the education in the public school their children would attend is ineffective, or conditions are not safe. More do so every day.
Poor families are a captive audience. By law, they must send their children to school and if they can’t afford a private school, they usually have no choice but to attend the public school the local government designates, no matter how badly it performs.
How can you morally defend keeping poor children in such schools by force, denying them the choices others have, when education is their best – perhaps only -- opportunity to escape from poverty?
That is the question public school “advocates” should answer. Instead, they change the subject, back and fill, duck and dodge, but won’t attempt to justify denying these children an education.
The weak response usually proffered is “fix the schools.” OK, fine. How? When?
Usually, this takes you back to the argument that just a few billion dollars more will do the job -- the same argument heard constantly for 40 years.
If public school supporters have viable solutions, let’s hear and debate them.
Meanwhile, school choice offers children a chance at an education, saves taxpayers’ money and improves the public schools via competition, as studies have shown.
Let’s fix the public schools -- after we help poor students.
Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.
© Florida Voices