TALLAHASSEE – Florida education interest-groups are waging a multi-front fight this fall over traditional public-school alternatives like charters and voucher programs.
Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2013 “college and career first” education agenda unveiled last week adds a few new bells and whistles to Republican classroom goals, but also reiterates what’s been an objective since Jeb Bush‘s administration: create more competition, and hope the quasi-market incentives prompt poorer-performing schools to shape up.
In reality, this competition doesn’t often work – possibly because it violates basic economic prerequisites for markets, like the simultaneous price adjustments between buyers and sellers that create more efficient allocations of resources.
Failing public schools aren’t truly allowed to fail. Charter school enrollments are capped. Scott wants to lift the cap and allow public schools to operate their own district charters.
“Let’s create as much choice as we can,” Scott said. “It’s not picking one way of doing it. It’s just saying with more options, we’ll have a better education system.”
Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, will push the governor’s goal of re-aligning higher-education funding to promote science- and math-related degree-programs. They will also likely try to expand voucher tax-credits and charter schools.
The disclosure last week that the principal of a failed Orlando charter was given a $519,000 golden parachute may be a stumbling block – or an opening, if charter-school expansion is married in the legislative process to more disclosure of administrative salaries.
But a closer look at this fall’s battles show that, in the decade-long conflict between unions and reformers, the players may change but not the game.
A battle over electing more school-choice friendly lawmakers played out in the primaries – with mixed results. Now, the general election is all about keepingGOP majorities big enough to push through their agenda without much Democratic interference.
Online learning firms, charters and for-profit colleges may wind up topping $2 million in total political giving.
Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA has doled out $207,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, GOP leaders like Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and a couple of Democratic primary losers who were charter supporters.
The Florida Federation for Children, an ad-buying group run by the founder of Florida’s corporate tax-credit scholarship program, has amassed more than $1.2 million – some of it from charter companies, but a lot from individuals who support the school-choice cause.
The group “does have a small number of donors that operate charter schools. However, most of our donors are individuals … who do not operate schools of any kind,” said Tampa businessmanJohn Kirtley, who has put $150,000 into the fund this year. “They stand to gain nothing if FFC succeeds in its mission. They only wish to see better educational outcomes for low-income children.”
Kirtley’s organizations in the past have routinely poured $1 million or more into Florida statewide and legislative races.
And overall, “school-choice” giving isn’t dramatically higher than in past elections. As usual, the Florida Education Association is pushing back.
The teachers’ union has raised $2.5 million alone in its Public Education Defense Fund to defeat Amendment 8, which it argues would open the door for more religious groups to take over public schools. It also has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars to mostly Democratic candidates.
So, in political cycles, everything old is new again.
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