Today’s education reforms are all about follow the money, or the lack of it

From the Chicago Sun Times

by David Sirota

As 2011 draws to a close, we can confidently declare that one of the biggest debates over education is — mercifully — resolved. We haven’t addressed all the huge challenges facing our schools, but we finally have empirical data ruling out apocryphal theories and exposing the fundamental problems.

We’ve learned that our entire education system is not “in crisis,” as so many executives in the for-profit education industry insist when pushing to privatize public schools. On the contrary, results from Program for International Student Assessment exams show that Americans in low-poverty schools are among the highest achieving students in the world.

We’ve also learned that no matter how much self-styled education “reformers” claim otherwise, the always-demonized teachers unions are not holding our education system back. As the New York Times recently noted: “If unions are the primary cause of bad schools, why isn’t labor’s pernicious effect” felt in the very unionized schools that so consistently graduate top students?

Now, at year’s end, we’ve learned from two studies just how powerful economics are in education outcomes — and how disadvantaged kids are being unduly punished by government policy.

The first report, from Stanford University, showed that with a rising “income achievement gap,” a family’s economic situation is a bigger determinative force in a child’s performance than any other major demographic factor. For poor kids, that means the intensifying hardships of poverty are now creating massive obstacles to academic progress.

Because of this reality, schools in destitute areas naturally require more resources than those in rich ones. Yet, according to the second report from the U.S. Department of Education, “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding.” This financing scheme “leav(es) students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.” In practice, that equals less funding to recruit teachers, upgrade classrooms, reduce class sizes.

Put all this together and behold the crux of America’s education problems in bumper-sticker terms: It’s poverty and punitive funding formulas, stupid.

Thus, we arrive at the factor that decides so many things in American society: money.

As the revelations of 2011 prove, students aren’t helped by billionaire-executives-turned-education-dilettantes who leverage their riches to force their faith-based theories into schools. Likewise, they aren’t aided by millionaire pundits sententiously claiming that we just “need better parents.” And kids most certainly don’t benefit from politicians pretending that incessant union-busting, teacher-bashing and standardized testing represent successful school “reforms.”

Instead, America’s youth need the painfully obvious: a national commitment to combatting poverty and more funds spent on schools in the poorest areas than on schools in the richest areas — not the other way around.

Within education, achieving those objectives requires efforts to stop financing schools via property tax systems (i.e., systems that by design direct more resources to wealthy areas). It also requires initiatives that better target public education appropriations at schools in low-income neighborhoods — and changing those existing funding formulas that actively exacerbate inequality.

Policy-wise, it’s a straightforward proposition. The only thing complex is making it happen. Doing that asks us to change resource-hoarding attitudes that encourage us to care only about our own schools, everyone else’s be damned.

In America’s greed-is-good culture, achieving such a shift in mass psychology is about the toughest task imaginable — but it’s the real education reform that’s most needed.

David Sirota writes for Salon.com, where this essay was posted.

http://www.suntimes.com/news/9708171-418/in-education-its-all-about-dollars-and-cents.html#.Tv3mUDUNNbA.facebook

Why don’t Florida’s charter schools have transparency?

from Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

The editors of the Miami Herald have a wish list of goals for south Florida’s recovery. Here’s what they say about education:

Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed K-12 education budget, which invests almost $1 billion in public schools, is welcome, but it still leaves the system years behind in needed funding to repair old schools. Funding for the state’s universities and colleges, particularly Miami Dade College, remains a shell game that’s shortchanging students. At the federal level, we will continue to push for Congress to invest in Pell Grants for smart students who can’t afford college — an investment in growing the middle class. We will also be monitoring more-rigorous FCAT rules and pushing legislators to bring transparency to the finances of charter schools. We’ll also be looking at how the Broward school district’s new leadership cleans up an ailing, ethically challenged system

I’m not aware of editorial board in the state who’s not been critical of Rick Scott’s leadership on education. Especially so when it comes to charter schools. The Herald will be watching charter school legislation closely as it was their paper who published a comprehensive look at south Florida’s often shaky charter school finances.

Charter school transparency will be interesting legislative initiative to follow during this session as it is a democrat, Miami Sen. Larcenia Bullard who is proposing it. Can Bullard overcome the might of two state charter school lobbies and the influence of five republican legislators who have financial interests in charter schools? Would a Rick Scott – who couldn’t be closer to charter school interests – even sign such a bill?

There are a few subtleties in Tallahassee landscape next month to consider. First is the skepticism that comes from republican Sen. David Simmons from Maitland who during an October senate committee meeting expressed concern for charter schools’ academic record and financials. Simmons is likely to not be the only republican who feels this way. There’s also local school board push-back and lobbying from the state school board association to give final charter school purview back to them. Nevermind charter schools’ considerable bad press.

And then there are the editorial boards of state newspapers like the Miami Herald.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/pushing-legislators-to-bring-transparency-to-the-finances-of-charter-schools/

Standardized tests have lost their way. They harm not help education.

Standardized tests have lost their way. They have become punitive in nature punishing schools, children and teachers alike. Kids fail grades, schools are closed and teachers are held responsible for things beyond their control. How is this good for education?

I understand the idea behind the FCAT as twisted and perverted as it has become and it wouldn’t take a lot to make it relevant and helpful again. If the FCAT was administered the first week of school, the schools could know what the kids needed to learn and then get them the help they needed, teach them the skills they lacked. Then if you wanted to see how the teacher did and if the kids were ready to move on give the test again the last week of school.

I believe even this way there would still be a lot of teaching to the test, which is handicapping our education system, but this is a much way to do things than the purely punitive system we have now.

The Florida legislature denies parents an important choice about their child’s education

There is one choice the Florida legislature does not want your child have and that’s to opt out of the FCAT. Many localities and states throughout the nation allow parents to opt out of their standardized tests. Many experts in the education community by the way believe standardized have hurt not helped education and that’s because they are punitive in nature. Furthermore more and more are coming to believe that the test does not measure skills students’ need for life. If your child doesn’t do well enough they fail their grade, if the school doesn’t do well enough they are in danger of being closed. How does the FCAT help again?

The Florida legislature beats the word choice like a drum and then refuses to let parents have the one choice that might make a difference in their child’s lives. It is time the Florida Legislature put their money where their mouth was and gave parents the choice to opt out of the FCAT.

Either that or it is time Florida opted out of the FCAT all together.

What’s happeneing with education in Florida

From the Tampa Bay Times

by Jeff Solochek

Some Florida lawmakers have said they want to give the schools a breather in 2012 so they can implement all the new rules put in place during 2011. Many superintendents have made it their legislative priority, in fact, to request a moratorium on new mandates. Will it happen? Looking ahead to the 2012 session, we see several proposals that make you wonder. What’s coming up in the new year?

Higher ed in the spotlight – Having tackled teacher contracts in 2011, lawmakers have indicated a desire to target professor tenure in 2012. Gov. Rick Scott has talked about focusing on getting more STEM degree programs in place, with less emphasis on the liberal arts – a proposal that has caused backlash at the universities. Tuition keeps rising, while the days of the Bright Futures scholarship look numbered. Will professors and students stick around? Or will they head out of state, where the scenario isn’t so bleak?

Choice, choice, choice – Florida already leads the nation in charter schools, voucher-type programs and related choice options. It doesn’t look likely to stop anytime soon. Lawmakers have proposed expanding the caps on corporate tax credit scholarships to low-income students. They have filed bills that would give more money and further flexibility to charter schools. Some critics have suggested a move to increase FCAT cut scores will help by making parents think their public schools are performing poorly, an incentive to look elsewhere for education. The courts might offer the only respite for critics, as they consider challenges to the state’s new law expanding charter school operations. Does school choice hit new levels this year?

How much money do schools really need? – Gov. Rick Scott has recommended putting $1 billion back into the state’s K-12 system, saying he won’t sign a budget that does not significantly increase education funding. But $1 billion is less than what the state took away in 2011. Districts also face the loss of federal EduJobs money they used in 2011, plus any other one-time revenue sources they relied on such as transfers of cash from capital to operating budgets. And let’s not forget, state forecasters have predicted an enrollment increase that would place further demands on already tight resources. Many superintendents have already announced they expect layoffs and cuts even with another $1 billion in the pot.

Get out and vote – It’s time for many elected representatives, including state lawmakers, local school board members and non-appointed superintendents, to stand for their jobs again. Some have taken the heat for being anti-teacher and anti-public school. Some have been criticized as being in the pocket of teacher unions. Will any face opposition? They haven’t always in the past. With education remaining a hot-ticket item, expect the debate to heat up.

Curriculum matters – Kids do go to school for a reason, and it’s not just about governance and organizational structure. They’re supposed to be learning, and the state continues to push toward more technology-based instruction, with deeper standards and more attention to science, technology, math and engineering. The common core is coming, with Florida playing a role in developing the tests to see if the kids are there yet. But some school leaders say it’s not likely unless Florida extends the school day or year, and that’s not viable without more money to put into the system. Vicious circle?

What are your predictions? Share them so we can keep track for next year.

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/whats-coming-florida-education

The best and worse education stories of 2011

From NYC Public School Parents

by Leonie Haimson

Worst education news of 2011:

Schools suffer huge budget cuts across the nation & class sizes increases, with the support of billionaires like Bill Gates, Bloomberg and other members of the .0001%, who send their own kids to expensive private schools and who claim that resources and class sizes don’t matter.

The child poverty rate grows even higher, with 11 states added to the list of those with rates of twenty percent or more.

Cheating scandals from Atlanta to DC to Philadelphia reveal the pressures of high-stakes testing.

The Gates Foundation continues its hegemony over education policy, providing funding to shady right-wing organization ALEC, responsible for much of the worst anti-union, anti-equity, and anti-kids legislation being passed all over the country.

Hundreds of millions of dollars from the Billionaire Boys Club of Gates, Broad, the Walton family, and the Koch brothers are funneled into creating and expanding numerous Astroturf organizations like Stand for Children, Students First, Teach Plus, 50Can, etc. all devoted towards spreading their tentacles into both political parties, to choke off democracy, demonize teachers, mandate more high-stakes testing, and privatize our public schools.

States rush to pass multiple laws in response to Race to the Top bribery, mandating unreliable teacher evaluation systems tied to test scores, alignment with the experimental (and controversial) Common Core standards, and the spread of charter schools; while the Obama administration holds out the promise of NCLB waivers based on the same damaging pre-conditions.

More districts follow the corporate model of Bloomberg & Co., by awarding useless merit pay schemes, divisive charter co-locations, heart-breaking school closings, and wasteful payments to consultants and private managers, rather than hiring teachers, expanding programs, or investing in the classroom.

The Gates Foundation, along with Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation, creates a new limited corporation, euphemistically called The Learning Collaborative, to collect and crunch confidential teacher & student data, that states have voluntarily (and probably illegally) provided to them without parental consent.

Charters continue to expand rapidly, with over two million students enrolled, with hedge fund operators buying off politicians, while billionaires like Bloomberg donates big bucks to the campaigns of pro-charter school board members in Louisiana, to ensure their continued spread statewide – even after 70% of New Orleans schools have already been privatized.

The growth of online learning also continues apace, despite the lack of evidence of its efficacy, impelled not by the priorities of parents or what’s good for kids but by the greed of edu-entrepreneurs and profiteers.

Best education news of 2011

The popular uprisings in Wisconsin spark a national wakeup call about the heinous attempts to undermine the rights of public sector workers, galvanizing resistance throughout the country and leading to the repeal of Ohio’s anti-union and anti-teacher legislation, SB 5.

The emergence of Occupy Wall St sparks protests nationwide and impels a sharp awareness about the widening income gap, and the way in which the 1% has perverted our politics and educational policies, with mic checks taking over school board meetings from NYC to Rochester to Chicago and elsewhere.

The gathering and amplification of opposition voices at the SOS March in DC, and the appearance of Matt Damon as the first bonafide celebrity to help us push back against the big money and power of corporate education reform

The parent voice grows in influence, with the emergence of Parents Across America and its affiliates, speaking out about how the current policies are undermining our schools, and propounding an alternative vision of progressive education reform.

Diane Ravitch’s star grows ever brighter, as the inspirational and intellectual leader of the anti-corporate reform movement, as she travels the country, headlines at the SOS march, appears on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, while her bestselling book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, comes out in paperback.

The National Academy of Sciences and academic experts release multiple reports, attesting to the invalid, reductionist, and intellectually vapid nature of test based accountability systems, value –added teacher evaluation, and merit pay.

The revulsion against high stakes testing grows, and a national opt –out movement emerges, energized by the movie Race to Nowhere and brilliant thinkers like Yong Zhao.

Mayoral control is unmasked as a failure at improving schools or student outcomes in either NYC or Chicago, and most recently, the mayor of Rochester NY gives up his attempt to take over the city’s schools.

Cathie Black is fired as NYC chancellor, putting to rest the notion that a successful business career is good preparation for running a large school system, while Broad-trained superintendents are ousted from their positions due to popular opposition, including Maria Goodloe-Johnson in Seattle, Arlene Ackerman in Philadelphia, and Lavonne Sheffield in Rockford, Illinois, (though other Broadies, like Jean Claude Brizard and John Covington , merely move from one district to another, in a dance of the lemons.)

Independent and progressive school board members are elected in Seattle WA, Wake County NC and elsewhere.

Jonah Edelman and Stand for Children are self-outed as corporate reform toadies.

After sleeping through much of the Bloomberg administration, the NY Times finally begins publishing actual investigative education reporting locally, by Fernanda Santos and Anna Phillips, publishes trenchant opinion pieces critiquing school “choice” like this and this; features a pivotal piece by Sam Dillon on the overweening influence of the Gates Foundation, runs a terrific series on online learning and gives a platform to the invaluable Michael Winerip, who returns to the scene just in time to rake clueless educrats, charter operators, and oligarchs over the coals.

NY principals join the battle vs. inane and unworkable teacher evaluation systems.

The real reformers take center stage in the movie “The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman” a documentary made for pennies by NYC teachers, now distributed in all continents and shown in every state, without any promotional budget.

Finally, despite the big bucks and political muscle of the Billionaire Boys Club, the hedge funders, the privatisers, and the other edu-entrepreneurs, real stakeholders, including parents and teachers dominate the online debate through tweeting and blogging – and use social media tools (which are free, after all) to spread the truth about #corpreform and #realreform.

I will end with a quote from my mentor and hero, Diane Ravitch:

“”We need to say, again and again, that they may have money and hold the reins of power (for now), but their ideas are failing. And now the public is getting it. And the louder we are, in whatever forums open to us, the more the mask will fall away, and the public will understand that the corporate reformers have hijacked the language of reform to protect the privileges and power of the 1% and we are reaching the public because we are many and they are few.”

Thanks to my friends and compadres at Parents Across America for many of these suggestions, and apologies if the list is too NY-centric. And let’s all hope for a better 2012 for parents, our children and public schools everywhere.

http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2011/12/worst-and-best-education-events-of-2011.html

Frank Biden’s break from reality

From the Broward Palm Beach News Times

by Lisa Rabb

Responding to this week’s cover story about the charter school chain he runs, Frank Biden continues to insist Mavericks in Education Florida is not profiting from its schools. He says it’s just the school buildings that bring in the dough.

“We’re not profiting from our schools. Anybody with half a brain can figure that out,” he says. “We remain sustainable as a result of our accurate and predictable location and our buildings.”

Mavericks opens schools in poor neighborhoods, where property values are cheap. Then it charges the schools rent of $350,000 per year for five years, regardless of the price of the building. (Read more about the real estate deals here). But don’t call it profiting!

Meanwhile, the vice president’s brother also cleared up a mystery about a federal tax lien filed against him in Kentucky. The $32,500 in unpaid income taxes are from 2003 to 2005, a time when Biden says he was still struggling with alcohol addiction. Now, he says, he pays off the debt in monthly installments. “That will be paid within a year,” he says.

As for the academics at Mavericks charter high schools, Biden says students are not just sitting in front of computers all day. They also receive some traditional classroom instruction — for roughly an hour a day, according to Liz Downey, the school secretary at Mavericks High in Palm Springs. For the next three hours, students sit at computers taking online courses, while their teachers are on hand to answer questions. Students can also receive some one-on-one tutoring.

“[We’re] trying to get these kids across the finish line,” Biden says. “We’re not perfect, but we’re pretty good. We hope to get better.”

Finally, Biden insists Mavericks’ legal fight with former CEO Mark Thimmig was recently settled. However, Broward court records indicate the case is still pending. The last docket entry says the case was referred to mediation in late November.

http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2011/12/frank_biden_says_not_profiting_from_mavericks_high_schools.php

Florida’s unfunded education mandates are strangling education

From the News Herald’s editorial board

The state of Florida has 573 pages (single-spaced) of public education rules and regulations that local school districts must follow. It covers topics both large (curriculum) and small (minimum sizes for American flags).

While the thicket of mandates has grown over the years, state funding to local schools recently has declined, making compliance even more costly and difficult. It’s hard for many districts to prioritize spending and make trade-offs when the state gives them so little wiggle room to decide.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed restoring $1 billion in state education funding for 2012. Tallahassee would do well to have a concurrent reduction in the amount of strings it attaches to that money.

Take, for instance, Rep. Larry Metz’s bill (HB 4057) that eliminates the mandate that middle schools provide physical education classes for all students. Metz, a Republican from Yalaha and a former Lake County School Board member, argues that that the current requirement for P.E. comes without funding and that schools should have the choice whether to provide such classes.

That has sparked stiff opposition from those who argue that children are suffering from an “obesity epidemic” and need the exercise to slim down. Overweight kids, though, pick up most of their bad habits — unhealthy eating, sedentary lifestyles — at home, where they spend most of their time. It’s hard to see how 150 minutes a week in P.E. classes over a 180-day school year can compete with that, let alone reverse it.

Others point to studies that indicate that students who had increased physical activity before, during and after school hours improved their academic performance, test scores and classroom behavior. There’s little doubt that some mid-day exercise would help rejuvenate many young minds and bodies (and some older ones, too). But again, the key is that “before” and “after” time — home life has a much greater impact on the student.

Indeed, it is inarguable that students who come from homes where reading and studying are encouraged by parents who take an active role in their children’s education are much more likely to succeed academically than those who come from families where learning is neglected. And that’s when students spend far more hours in classrooms than they do in gyms and playing fields.

Schools’ primary responsibility is to educate students. The state already ties districts’ hands on the amount of time they can spend teaching, what they can teach, how and when they should test. The FCAT alone has forced officials to construct school calendars solely around testing days. There simply is little room left to maneuver.

Pruning one twig from Tallahassee’s tree of education regulations, as Metz’s bill does, would give districts a little more freedom to concentrate on meeting state and federal academic standards. But Florida should go further and cull more mandates from the education codebook.

Read more: http://www.newsherald.com/articles/state-99352-local-costly.html#ixzz1i7j1OnZ9

Florida gambles with our children’s futures

From the Ledger’s editorial board

The state Board of Education has approved new passing scores for standardized tests, raising the ante in its already high-stakes student assessments.

Part of the resulting costs could be paid through increased lottery ticket sales.

But the tests are not a game for the third-graders and high school students who have to pass them in order to advance. Failure means that a 10-year-old may be held back a grade while his or her classmates go forward. The teenager who fails can be denied a diploma.

Those are the harsh, disheartening consequences of failing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test at those grade levels.

The FCAT could be a useful tool for gauging the strengths or weaknesses of Florida’s students and schools, and developing the state’s response. Instead, the state treats the test like high-stakes poker: You pass, you win; you fail, you lose — and big.

The long-term consequences can be even more severe. Research shows that repeating one grade more than doubles the odds of eventually dropping out of school. Failure to gain a high school diploma, even for those who stay in school, can have the same effects as dropping out: lower lifetime earnings, more unemployment, more crime, more welfare and a litany of other social ills.

COSTS OF FAILURE

Unfortunately, as we said, the state has just raised the stakes for students. On Dec. 19, the Board of Education approved higher passing scores for all levels of the yearly reading-and-math tests. This follows Florida’s move last year to a more rigorous version of the FCAT.

As a result, The Associated Press reported, “the percentage of students not earning a high enough score to advance to the fourth grade or graduate from high school is likely to increase.”

The state estimates that the proportion of students not passing the third-grade reading exam — required for advancement — will increase from 16 percent to 18 percent. The percentage of high school students who pass the 10th-grade FCAT — required to graduate — is expected to drop from 60 percent to 52 percent. Almost half will fail.

For those third-graders and 10th-graders who do fail, there’s still hope: Summer and in-school remedial programs give those students a chance to prepare, retake and, they hope, pass the FCAT.

But remedial programs cost money and, on that score, the state itself has been a dismal failure.

Because of deep cuts in education funding in recent years, school districts across Florida have been forced to reduce or even erase funding for student-support services.

The Associated Press reported Dec. 21 that Scott, as a way to raise more money for schools, wants the Legislature to increase the number of retailers selling lottery tickets and the number of lottery-ticket vending machines.

http://www.theledger.com/article/20111229/EDIT01/111229284/1036/edit?p=2&tc=pg

Florida the state where education is an after thought, a nussance to Tallahassee

From the Palm Beach Post

by Jack Wilder Versteeg

‘This next year is going to be chaos. Absolute chaos. And to watch my party get up and say, if you had 10 bucks of spending cuts and one buck of tax increases, they wouldn’t take it – it looked like nine robot hands went up out of the mechanical morass.’

Former Republican Sen. ALAN SIMPSON, co-chairman of the Simpson-Bowles commission, on the prospects of a debt-reduction deal in 2012.

‘The American people still don’t believe you need to make hard choices. They believe you should balance the budget. But when it comes down to doing the things that need to be done to accomplish that, they don’t support them. Until the American people believe we need to change some things, it’s unlikely we’re going to accomplish them here.’

Senate Budget Committee Chairman KENT CONRAD, D-N.D.

When it comes to public education, the Florida Constitution is a blunt instrument. As such, it is more suited to mayhem than nurturing.

Voters intended to nurture public education when, in 1998, they amended the constitution to declare that providing a “high quality” public education is “a paramount duty” of the state. A current lawsuit that relies on that provision asks the courts to order the Legislature to give public schools more money and quit harassing teachers with FCAT-based school grades and performance reviews. Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford has ruled that courts have that authority, if the plaintiffs were to prevail. The 1st District Court of Appeal sort of agreed, but mostly asked the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in.

Maybe the high court will allow courts to force lawmakers to cough up more money for schools, but I’d be stunned. Most likely, the “paramount duty” language will remain what it’s always been: a noble sentiment with no practical impact.

Of equal note, Judge Fulford’s colleague on the Leon County circuit bench, Judge Terry Lewis, has issued a ruling that, if it stands up, would stop the enemies of public education from wielding a new constitutional bludgeon. This spring the Legislature endorsed a constitutional amendment for the November 2012 ballot that, if approved, would kill off the current constitutional prohibition against giving state money to religious institutions. That prohibition is the only thing that has kept Tallahassee from giving vouchers to every parent who wants to send his or her child to a private religious school.

The Legislature called its proposed constitutional change the “Religious Freedom” amendment. Nobody would vote against “Religious Freedom,” right? But Judge Lewis correctly ruled that the Legislature’s language describing the amendment was deceptive. Leave it to our lawmakers to lie in the service of religion.

The lawmakers claim that Florida’s prohibition against giving state money directly to religious institutions amounts to discrimination against religion.

In fact, it is the purest way to keep from favoring one religion over another or from “establishing” a religion. In other words, a ban on direct aid to religious organizations is the best way to uphold the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Florida already has gone too far in finding clever ways to give money to religious schools. The state allows private groups to raise money to give vouchers to low-income students. Those voucher recipients then can choose private religious schools. The corporations that contribute to those private groups then get to take a dollar-for-dollar deduction from taxes owed to Florida.

That little dodge costs the state millions of dollars. And it probably produces a crop of poorly educated kids. But if those students aren’t doing as well as students in traditional public schools, Florida doesn’t want to know about it. Voucher students in those religious schools don’t take the FCAT.

Judge Lewis’ ruling isn’t final. Attorney General Pam Bondi made minor changes to the wording that probably pass legal muster but don’t make clear that the proposed amendment is about vouchers. The word vouchers still doesn’t appear. So, to me, it’s still deceptive.

Those who disagree with my premise that constitutional changes more easily harm than help education might point to the class-size amendment of 2002. It offers a string of lessons about Florida, not all of them good.

First, the Legislature refused to fully pay for the amendment. Then in the last session, legislators rewrote the rules to radically reduce the type and number of classes that had to comply with the enrollment caps. That end-around the constitution produced barely a ripple of public protest.

Meanwhile, the man who led the drive to put the class-size amendment into the constitution, Kendrick Meek, lost his 2010 bid to become a U.S. senator. Florida voters also rejected in that race Charlie Crist, who as governor in 2010 vetoed a bill that would have made it easier to fire teachers based on students’ FCAT scores.

Voters elected instead Marco Rubio, who as a legislative leader fully backed Jeb Bush’s FCAT follies. In the same election, Florida voters chose a governor who promptly signed a version of the bill Mr. Crist had vetoed.

Voters say they want good public education when it’s some vague thing in the Florida Constitution. But when it comes to electing people who will make it happen by, say, paying for it and not giving away resources to religious schools? The message could not be more blunt.

Jac Wilder VerSteeg is deputy editor of the editorial page of The Palm Beach Post. His e-mail address is jac_versteeg@pbpost.com. Randy Schultz’s column returns next week.

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/opinion/columnists/versteeg-public-education-a-priority-in-name-only-2069406.html?mid=568