The beginning of the end of public education in Florida

On December 5th long time Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart resigned, this was somewhat surprising as not two weeks ago she agreed to postpone her retirement and serve for another year. The motivation behind her sudden re-retirement is the inevitable appointment of outgoing speaker of the house Richard Corcoran to the Commissioner of Education position.  

What are his credentials to undertake such a huge and important position? … Oh did you think I was going to talk about his extensive back ground in education? I was actually asking you because Corcoran is an attorney by trade and doesn’t have any relevant education experience.

Now as speaker he did oversee some of the most controversial and draconian public education bills in Florida history. Under his watch Florida per pupil spending fell to 45th and its teachers continued to be some of the worst paid in the nation.  He expanded the best and brightest teacher bonus program that rewarded teachers that had high S.A.T. scores and yes that is as stupid as it sounds and he did so despite the fact the program isn’t evidenced base and disproportionately disadvantaged minority and veteran teachers.

Evidence based however has never been a requirement for Corcoran as he also expanded numerous school choice, privatization programs that would further drain public schools of resources without demonstrating a need. Private schools that take vouchers have been in the news a lot recently after the Orlando Sentinel did an expose which showed many of the schools hired teachers without degrees, the occasional felon and used curriculums that would be laughably bad, man existed with dinosaurs, slaves were free if they had Jesus in their heart, if they wouldn’t have been being taught to children.

He also did most of these as part of train bills, or large bills with nominally related topics passed at the end of sessions. Process, schmossess.

Corcoran’s house also attacked teachers’ unions making it easier to decertify them, made it harder for local districts to raise property taxes and thus fund their schools, and forced districts to share their already meager resources with for profit charter schools.

I am not sure if any of that is relevant education experience or not though his wife Anne Corcoran might have some as she founded the Classical Preparatory School a charter school, a school that benefited from legislation pushed by her husband.

You might think it was unethical to push legislation that benefited you or your family members but since this is Florida you would be wrong. This man who has done all he can to injure the public school system and the teaching profession, as well as champion legislation that personally benefited him and his family is now on the cusp of running the entire Florida Department of Education, and sadly this is just where we are getting started.

Newly elected senator Manny Diaz was appointed chair of the senate education committee. He  is also paid six figures to be the chief operator officer of Doral College 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 anyways.

Diaz, Corcoran and another legislator, Micheal Bileca whose day job is executive director of the foundation that funds True North Classical Academy which he also founded, helped pass massive and financially beneficial to their charter schools, legislation during the last session.

The Orlando Sentinel reported, these three legislators were chief architects in the passage of a $419 million education bill that takes away millions of dollars from public schools to expand the charter-school industry in Florida at taxpayer expense.
They crafted the most important parts of education bill HB 7069 in secret, acting in possible violation of the open government laws the Legislature is perennially seeking to weaken. There was no debate allowed and educators all across the state were left without a voice in the process.
Though since this is Florida, the hits, they keep coming as Tea Party darling Jennifer Sullivan was appointed 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 home schooled 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.
Sigh, deep sigh, so arguably the three most powerful people in Florida’s education landscape, are the husband of a charter school operator who has shown a disdain for public schools, and teachers and who has shown an even greater disdain for transparency and process, the chief financial operator of a private college that runs a charter school that funnels the students to that private college, both of whom aren’t against pushing legislation that openly benefits them and a millennial who thinks ignorance is bliss. Where after Andrew Gillum wasn’t elected I was depressed I am now downright suicidal about the future of education.   
Public education and the teaching profession have weathered blow after blow, attack after attack, but can it survive these three?
Now you might be saying well elections have consequences and if the people of Florida did not want to dismantle public education and tear down the teaching profession they would have voted differently.
Except you would be wrong.
Every time education itself has been on the ballot it has won. In 2002 the voters said having a high quality education system was the paramount duty of the state and twice the voters have backed the class size amendment, though sadly both ideas have been gutted by the legislature.
Then this year ultra conservative Clay County and Dade County passes resolutions for higher taxes to benefit education joining a half dozen other counties that have done so because they know Tallahassee has abdicated their responsibility to adequately fund education. Education wins over and over when it’s alone on the ballot.  
Though it’s not like the game isn’t rigged. The recent state wide elections were decided by razor thin margins, tenths on one percentage point. Since that is the case why is it 47-73 in the house 17-23 in the senate, with the republicans holding near super majorities? The answer is gerrymandering which is bad for democracy no matter which side of the aisle you sit on.
Then there was some fanfare that Jacksonville finally turned blue with fifty-two percent of the city voting democrat. However, that didn’t change the 4 republicans, 2 democrats’ makeup of the Duval delegation to the house and it turns out only one of those races was competitive.  Also if we are being honest Kimberly Daniels is really a republican in democrats clothing.
Finally, I would like to point out two things, for a state with a teacher shortage crisis, Tallahassee sure seems like it is doing everything they can to further injure the profession. Then ninety percent of Florida’s students attend public schools, and just ten percent attend charters or receive vouchers, yet charters and vouchers are like the obese owners of the orphanage feasting while public schools are the orphans barely subsisting on gruel.    
None of this is right, this is not how it is supposed to be.   

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