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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rick Scott the Enemy of Public Schools


By Alan Mathison

The new governor and his advisory team on education don't seem to care what respected studies or the law say about poverty, merit pay or vouchers, but they seem destined to try the opposite of what sound research says should work. This plan is not about school choice; it's about putting profit before education.

His first step is "Education Savings Accounts," which are the new rebranding of vouchers. Gov. Rick Scott's goal is to give $5,500 to parents directly so they can choose where to send the student, public or private. The Florida Supreme Court ruled this type of voucher system unconstitutional (Bush vs. Holmes); violating among other components the requirement of providing a system of uniform, free public schools. Why would Scott going to waste dwindling tax money on fighting for something that is unconstitutional?

Will this money allow a disadvantaged student to afford a swanky private school? No. Private schools will raise their prices and pocket extra public tax dollars for their own purposes. Charter schools will quickly switch to private schools, preventing any public oversight or accountability. Restructured as private schools, they will open up without county approval and try to crowd out public schools. Unlike public schools, private schools are not be required to provide transportation, give the FCAT, have state-certified teachers, follow Florida's course guidelines or meet class-size restrictions, along with insufficiencies in many other areas. Most important, they can kick students out their school for any reason and selectively recruit the best students from the public school system.

Will this plan work financially? No. On top of Florida's $3.5 billion revenue shortfall, Scott wants to cut the taxes that go to schools by 19 percent and eliminate corporate taxes, which currently can be written off when donated to schools. He wants to cut funding to $5,500 per student, which would put the state last in per-pupil funding, to match our last place in per-capita funding. But $5,500 also would be given to students already attending private schools, to the tune of $1.7 billion. Additionally, if students have the pick of any public school, the districts would be saddled with the cost of busing students all over the county. The numbers simply don't add up.

Who stands to profit from this plan? Corporations that get their taxes eliminated are a good place to start. Second would be the people who already can afford to send their child to private school. Lastly, private schools, online schools and conservative think tanks will profit the most at the expense of your child's education. This is why Scott's education team had representatives from Charter Schools USA, Imagine Schools, KIPP Schools, Florida Virtual School, The Foundation for Florida's Future and Not a single public school teacher or PTA representative was among his consultants.

Will this plan fix our struggling public schools? No. Most studies show little to no difference in scores between students who use vouchers from the peers they left behind. This plan does nothing to help the students who need it the most; minorities and low-income students. This plan is about allowing private profit off of public students, not school improvement. Gov. Scott should not use our state as a guinea pig for think tanks and special interests. We need to improve our public schools, not destroy them

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