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Monday, May 23, 2011

Ron Littlepage gets it right about education

I am often a critic of his, so when he gets it right I feel I should acknowledge it. -cpg

From the Florida Times Union

by Ron Littlepage

You may recall that when he campaigned, Rick Scott promised that his budget cutting ways wouldn’t affect spending for public schools.

These were Scott’s words last September when he was asked about education funding:

“We’re not slashing the budget,” Scott said, responding to a charge by his opponent, Alex Sink, that Scott would hurt education. “Our focus is to spend the dollars well.”

Promises must mean little to Scott. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised considering his past.

Upon becoming governor, Scott immediately proposed cutting education funding by $3.3 billion.

He didn’t get that big of a bite, but the Legislature did pass a budget that cut spending on public schools by $1.3 billion (or $542 per student, an 8 percent reduction), and Scott happily signed the bill.

Now school districts across the state, Florida’s students and the state’s teachers are facing the consequences of Scott’s broken promise, and they aren’t pretty.

For instance, in Broward County, 1,400 teachers are being laid off to help close a $144 million shortfall in that district’s budget.

For Broward, the cutting won’t stop there: Programs will be eliminated, remaining employees likely will have to take furloughs and some schools will be closed.

In Pinellas County, the school district is facing a $60 million shortfall and is looking at laying off guidance counselors, media specialists and teacher assistants.

Polk County will have to fill a $27 million deficit and is looking at eliminating more than 250 positions, including media specialists, paraprofessionals and guidance counselors.

And here, in Duval County, we are all too familiar with the impact of Scott reneging on his campaign pledge.

Our school district is having to deal with a $91 million budget hole.

Here are some of the things that could be on the chopping block: 10 high school varsity sports programs, including cross country, lacrosse, tennis, golf and wrestling, other after-school activities and magnet school transportation.

Furloughs for employees are still on the table, and 163 district-level positions could be cut.

To save money, art, music and physical education classes will be bigger.

And our already underpaid teachers, who just got hit with a 3 percent pay cut from the state, likely will have to pay more for health insurance.

This is what happens when the governor and the Legislature fail to meet the constitutional requirement that they provide enough money to give every student in Florida’s public schools a high quality education.

In the meantime, Florida’s school reforms are being held up as a model for the nation.

High dropout rates. Embarrassingly poor test scores. Near the bottom among states in spending on schools.

Teachers treated like dirt.

A model for the nation.

What a joke.

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