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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Another alarmingly bad bill from the Florida legislature. This time high school sports in the crosshairs

From the Miami Herald

By Linda Robertson,

If you think recruiting in high school sports is rampant now, wait and see what happens if two bills snaking their way through the Florida House and Senate become law.

There will be a whole new game in town — that of student-athletes criss-crossing attendance boundaries and switching schools with dizzying frequency. Inducements and flattery will teach the most talented players cynical lessons rather than values about fair play, teamwork, determination — all those quaint character traits that competition is supposed to build. Watch the gap widen between the haves and have-nots.

An alarmingly bad athletics bill passed through the House Education Committee on Monday. Another one has received approval from the Senate Education Committee. The proposals, mainly supported by Republican lawmakers, would allow private, charter and virtual schools to form their own athletic league and would reduce the power of the Florida High School Athletic Association, which has regulated sports for 92 years.

“The bills would benefit those with a predisposition to cheat,” said Roger Dearing, FHSAA executive director. “Many schools think this legislation would produce bedlam in interscholastic sports.”

The FHSAA represents 300,000 athletes at 690 member schools, of which 230 are private. Athletic directors and coaches are blasting the legislation, saying it would lower eligibility standards, open the floodgates for transfers and damage a system that has been a model of success for other states.

Bill supporter Sen. Ellyn Bodganoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said she doesn’t see much wrong with athletic recruiting since magnet schools recruit top students. She must not be aware of how recruiting has ravaged public school teams.

The proposals are part of the effort to privatize education. For the past decade, lawmakers have been giving education steroids to charter and private schools — which are privately owned — while weakening public schools. Jeb Bush has been busy pushing this corporate agenda. Turn everything over to private enterprise — prisons, hospitals, schools — and let competition drive quality. If the privileged win the economic spoils and the underprivileged suffer, well, that’s survival of the fittest.

Other bills would shunt construction and maintenance money from public to charter schools and toughen state school grading guidelines, thus rendering dozens of additional schools — especially those with a higher proportion of special-needs or foreign-language-speaking students — failures with a capital F. Of course that dovetails nicely with a proposal to enable parents to take over an F school and turn it into a charter school.

All in the name of choice for parents who are angered by poor performance at their neighborhood public school.

So why not invest tax dollars into improving public schools? Paying teachers higher salaries, refurbishing crumbling old facilities instead of diverting money to charter schools and private school vouchers?
Despite noble talk about the importance of education to Florida’s future, funding for our schools is always low on the list with the dregs of the nation.

Parents, students, principals, teachers and coaches are fed up. At two recent PTSA meetings at Coral Gables High and Ponce de Leon Middle, you could hear the frustration and despair in people’s voices. Not enough chemistry lab equipment, a lack of math textbooks, no uniforms for the track team. Sports are cut. Arts are cut. What can we do to save once-proud schools that are skeletons of their former selves?

The athletics bills reek of sour grapes. A group of 11 small, independent schools — most of them ruled guilty of cheating by the FHSAA — formed the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association in 2008. The group includes Orlando West Oaks Academy, fined $26,500 by the FHSAA, and The Rock of Gainesville, known for its array of tall international basketball players, which left the FHSAA in 2010. At Lakeland High, three athletes were ruled ineligible for submitting fake addresses. Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, submitted the House bill.

Arlington Country Day of Jacksonville, has a curious history. Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, who filed the Senate bill, and Jim Horne, a charter school lobbyist who was state education commissioner under Bush, used to be partial owners of Arlington. Horne’s brother David was administrator of the school. Arlington left the FHSAA when it was under investigation for having overage players on its powerhouse basketball team. Three players had no record of actual grades.

David Horne, head of the SIAA, would be its commissioner and plans to have 100 members within two years.

Let’s hope legislators listen to their constituents instead of their campaign donors. Let students compete on an even playing field for the right reasons and not for profit.

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