Friday, November 17, 2017
Education

Romano: Those in charge of public schools seem to hate public schools

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Imagine this:

A constitutional amendment that would allow communities in Florida to create alternative police departments that bypass a lot of the pesky regulations the state usually insists on.

As you may know, some neighborhoods have more crime than others. And instead of holding lawbreakers responsible, maybe we should be questioning the performance of police. After all, if they can’t eradicate crime, maybe taxpayers should demand a private group of cops.

That’s crazy, right?

And yet it’s the same sort of logic our leaders in Tallahassee apply to public schools. Politicians rightfully consider cops heroes for fighting crime in the most impoverished communities, and then turn around and blame teachers and principals when schools struggle in low-income neighborhoods.

It’s nonsense, and it needs to stop.

And we should begin with the education-shaming amendment being proposed by the chairwoman of the State Board of Education. Tampa Bay Times education expert Jeffrey Solochek reports that Marva Johnson, a Gov. Rick Scott appointee and member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, wants to change the constitution to allow students, and taxpayer money, to flow to private schools.

This concept is not new. A handful of Florida leaders have been pushing for the privatization of education for two decades. The state Supreme Court has mostly declared their efforts unconstitutional, and so now the reform cheerleaders want to actually change the constitution.

Now let’s be clear about a couple of things:

1. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of private schools. Most of them are a tremendous addition to their communities.

2. A limited school voucher system can be an asset. For instance, the Gardiner scholarship program allows parents with special needs children to choose a school that best fits their situation.

But there’s a large difference between a responsible scholarship program, and unfettered access to vouchers. And that type of change in the constitution would open the floodgates and potentially undermine the entire public education system in Florida.

Data suggests that Florida’s biggest problem with education is in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. If you’re reasonably intelligent, you might hope the state was working on a new strategy specifically tailored for those schools. If you’re a Florida politician, you probably just blame school boards and educators.

Those reformers like to say that children in low-income neighborhoods deserve the same opportunity for a quality education as a student in some well-to-do community down the road.

And they’re absolutely right.

It’s their solution that’s warped.

By out-sourcing education to private industries, the state is risking an even greater system of haves and have-nots.

Many private schools, as well as charters, require more parental involvement than traditional schools. That could mean volunteer hours or periodic parent-teacher sessions or purchasing certain supplies or mandatory school functions. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it can be a great idea.

Except it creates a problem for parents who are unable to meet those demands. Or for parents who simply can’t drive their children to campus, and depend on public school busses. Or for parents who just aren’t involved enough.

So their kids get left behind in a public school that has less money because of vouchers, and just saw its expectation level lowered because its best students are in a private school.

Instead of abdicating their responsibility — and chasing students away from public schools with a preposterously clunky accountability system — our leaders in Tallahassee should be figuring out how to make public schools work better for children in low-income neighborhoods.

They should be helping educators instead of attacking them. They should be listening when parents complain about standardized tests. They should be focusing more on early childhood education so students do not start kindergarten already behind.

They should be doing the job they were elected to do.

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