The Florida Legislature has finally figured out how to destroy public education -- under the guise of “school choice.” After all, everybody likes choice, unless it involves abortion, contraception or gay marriage.
The so-called “parent trigger” bill is the crowning blow to a decade-long effort to take “public” out of education and unload struggling schools, especially those that serve poor, black, Hispanic and special-needs students.
The proposed legislation supposedly gives parents more ability to direct what happens at their failing schools. But the options are limited to transferring their child out of the school, hiring a private corporation to run the school or closing the school and reopening it as a charter school. Nowhere is there an option to force school districts to reallocate funds to recruit better teachers or use innovative strategies.
Parent trigger laws are relatively new. California was the first to adopt one in 2010. Mississippi, Texas and Connecticut have since passed similar laws. Now Florida legislators are following suit. After all, everybody wants to be like Mississippi, right?
In February, the Florida House passed its version of the parent trigger bill, HB 1191, on an 80-34 vote. And last week, the Senate Budget Committee approved its version, SB 1718. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.
Last year, our lawmakers told us that teachers should be paid based on students’ test scores. The premise being good teachers get the best tests results. So if good teachers are the key, why isn’t the legislature passing a bill mandating higher pay for teachers in the failing schools? That way, we’d recruit the “best” teachers for students struggling the most.
Instead, lawmakers want for-profit corporations, who don’t have to hire union teachers or pay middle-class wages, to take over struggling schools and make money off our most challenged students.
If the parent trigger bill becomes law, Florida’s education system will divide into “haves” and “have nots.” Forty years ago, the civil rights movement ended “separate-but-equal” public education. Now Florida lawmakers are plotting its return.
Pure public education will only be for white and minority children who attend high-performing schools. If your parents are poor or you live in the wrong school zone, you’ll be out of luck. You will be enrolled in “Big Mac” elementary schools, where costs are cut to improve the bottom line.
Poor parents who feel powerless under the current system will have even less of a voice before high-priced corporate attorneys representing education corporations that never face the electorate.
The Florida Legislature should instead pass a five-year moratorium on new education legislation. The tinkering needs to stop and the focus needs to return to the children and the classrooms. Instead of dividing our school systems, we should initiate programs that help all of our children excel, regardless of race, gender or neighborhood.
Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola's Independent News.
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