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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jax Chamber of Commerce wants to get rid of the elected school board, make it appointed instead

In the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce most recent education agenda they stated they wanted to, “Advocate for reform of the current Duval County School Board governance structure to ensure, Jacksonville has the foundation to build a world class educational system” This in short means they think the school board has done a poor job and they want the city to go from an elected school board to an appointed one, flowery language aside. I wonder if they would have felt the same way had more of their candidates won election to the board over the last few years? Think about that, they want to take away the citizens ability to pick their representatives. That is the lead but before I continue we have to agree on a set of facts.

No matter how you feel DCPS is doing, we must agree that they spend their money locally. Their budget, around 1.7 billion dollars annually is almost entirely spent in the city. DCPS also pays their teachers, on average more than charter schools and private schools pay theirs, which means DCPS teachers have more buying power. Furthermore a lot of those charter schools that pay their teachers less are managed by for profit management companies that are not based in Jacksonville and this means a large percent of the money sent to those schools is funneled out of the city. DCPS is also the second largest employer in the county after the navy and controls a massive amount of real estate.

Since these are all facts that I hope we can agree upon, I ask, then why does the Chamber, or should I say Chamber leadership consistently tries to undermine Duval County Public Schools, and public schools in general? For years they have pushed for the expansion of charter schools and now they are calling for the dissolution of the board.

Are rank and file members of the chamber saying, what we need is less money coming into the city and that they want the people here to have less money to spend? It always boggles my mind when organizations like the Chamber rail against public schools, because at the same time they are fighting against their members ability to make more money. They are fighting for fewer goods and services being exchanged for cash and against fewer houses to be built and sold as well. I may just be a teacher but that doesn't sound like smart business to me.

I don’t believe for a second that is what the rank and file members of the Chamber of Commerce  want but that is what their leadership, many of whom are charter schools supporters, are fighting for and I think it is past time their membership asked why.

Now some of you might be saying, but elections have consequences, and if the people voted for a mayor, they would most likely want that person to be in control of education too. Well fortunately for this thought experiment Tallahassee has shown us how that would look. Ron DeSantis won the governor's race by a mere 33,000 votes. About a quarter of one percent. Then despite the fact the vast majority of Florida’s students attend its public schools, we are routinely at the bottom when it comes to funding and their is a critical teacher shortage, in his first education speech he said he wanted to expand Florida’s school voucher programs.

DeSantis then appointed lawyer and public education foe, Richard Corcoran, whose wife operates charter schools and who while speaker of the house pushed through legislation often in the dead of the night, that would benefit her, to be commissioner of education.

Let’s keep going. Newly elected senator Manny Diaz was appointed chair of the senate education committee. He  is also paid six figures to be the chief operating officer of Doral College in Miami which runs a charter school that funnels its students to the college and yes that sounds convoluted but this is Florida where we bend over backwards to charters or the legislators and their family members that run them.

The house is not any better as they appointed Tea Party darling Jennifer Sullivan to the chair of the powerful house education committee. It’s not her being part of the Tea Party that has me down, it’s the fact she is completely unqualified for the position.

Sullivan is a 27-year-old homeschooled high school graduate who worked in a Tea room before being elected, while taking classes here and there from a Christian college. In effect she will be in charge of making policy for schools she would not be qualified to work in. Though since private schools that take vouchers don’t require degrees let alone certification, she could probably find employment at one of them.

She has even said her lack of knowledge is a strength, “There is something to be said, in my opinion, for someone who has not been subjected to good teachers or bad teachers, good schools and bad schools, or unions vs charters. My perspective is a unique one and one that lends itself to being more concerned with what works than with who benefits.”

The state board of education likewise isn’t even better as it hasn’t had a true educator in years and instead has been made up of powerful donors like local grocer Gary Chartrand, also a member of the chamber, who has no business being anywhere near education.

So is that who you want making up the school board and setting policy? Zealots, mercenaries and check writers to a mayor you may or may not agree with? Well if the Chamber gets its way that is who will make up the board.

I have been a frequent critic of many of our school board members over the years, some have definitely been much better than others but I believe fervently that having a board accountable to the people is better than having a board that is not.

Now not all of the chambers education proposals are bad though once again they attack the class size amendment, calling for fewer teachers, which would translate into fewer people contributing to the local economy. No for the most part they just call for more and more accountability to a be added to a system which is already cracking under the burden while ignoring that charters have little and schools that take vouchers have practically none. 

Don’t we deserve a chamber that works with our public schools and board rather than constantly trying to undermine it while supporting inferior competition that brings less money into the city and speaking purely economicaly don’t it’s members deserve leadership that pushes for them to make more money as well? I certainly do.

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