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A lesson to be learned

June 7, 2017
Pine Island Eagle

Florida's $82.4 billion budget finally landed on Gov. Rick Scott's desk last Wednesday where it was promptly subject to partial veto.

Gov. Scott vetoed $410 million in projects but also hammered out a deal that, among other things, would increase per-student funding for public schools. As a result of the veto, a special legislative session has been called, forcing the House and the Senate to take another whack at the state budget.

But before educators hail the effort that could add $100 more for each public school student - a significant bump over the much decried $24 per student increase in the budget sent to the governor - they still need to step back a bit and review this year's controversial regular session which included a 451-page appropriations measure tagged with a highly controversial omnibus bill for education funding.

HB 7069 drew extensive criticism from a plethora of sources, from virtually all of the state's public school associations representing teachers, superintendents and school board members - who said the measure would fiscally devastate public education - to Sunshine Law proponents such as the First Amendment Foundation, who took strong issue in how the 274-page amalgamation of a variety of education proposals was hammered out behind closed doors in the waning hours of the legislative session.

HB 7069 also drew fervent support from organizations representing parent and charter school organizations that long have promoted school choice and what they say is parity funding for alternative public schools.

As the special legislative session begins today, we strongly urge those on the opposition side of HB 7069 to move beyond their complaints to examine why a measure they consider so onerous garnered the support to pass in the first place.

For that is key to not only this battle but for all the subsequent ones to come in the future.

In passing HB 7069, our state representatives were listening to constituents, who, for a variety of reasons are demanding options to traditional public schools.

Among those who urged Gov. Scott to sign the K-12 education budget bill were not only the anti-Common Core contingent and charter school lobbyists, but parents who want the ability to choose their child's educational environment and who reject what is being offered by public school systems that for generations faced little competition - or opposition.


While still a small percentage of students, homeschooling numbers have increased throughout the state, growing from 72,408 students in 2011-12 to 83,359 in 2015-16, according to figures from the Florida Department of Education. In Lee County, the families of 2,010 students chose to homeschool in 2015-16.

The numbers are more dramatic for families choosing charter schools. Of Lee's 92,263 school students for 2016-17, 12,244 opted for charter schools. Still others went the private school route.

Statewide, charter school enrollment is growing rapidly, rising from 98,755 students in 2006-07 to 270,301 in 2015-16.


There is a perception, particularly among middle-class parents, that charters offer a "private school" environment with more course-of-study choices. Lower-income parents simply want an alternative to lower-performing district-run schools.

HB 7069 promised money for both -money that currently is directed toward public schools whose officials maintain it's a much more complicated issue than simply having "funding follow students."

We agree; charter schools are no panacea.

Like district schools, they range, in terms of student performance numbers, from top-tier to near bottom.

They do not have to accept children with special needs.

They can limit enrollment to a select demographic, steered by transportation provided - or not - and parental volunteer requirements.

Unlike district schools, they can close, as seven have here in Lee County.

But all that does not change the fact that what parents want - indeed, what parents demand - is an alternative to a public school system that statewide had 42 percent of its third graders unable to achieve the minimum reading scores for fourth grade promotion this year.

Here in Lee that number was 43 percent with another 29 percent who "may need additional support for the next grade/course."

The bulk of the anti-HB 7069 rhetoric centered around the need to keep the dollars. To do that, districts need to keep students - i.e. demonstrate to parents that the best education for THEIR child is that provided by traditional public schools.

For make no mistake - even if the budget is re-configured in a manner less fiscally stressful to the educator-driven organizations who screamed for rejection - the issue of giving parents the choice they demand is not going away nor is the "funding follows students" argument.

Learn this lesson well.

Or expect to fight this sharing-of-dollars battle for things like construction and maintenance with charter schools again.

Perhaps with a school vouchers initiative as an added battle front.

- Eagle editorial



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