Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, on Thursday plans to sign a $419 million K-12 public education bill that has been labeled by critics as “scam” legislation — and he is holding the event at a private Catholic school.
The measure, popular among many but not all Republicans and pro-school choice forces, sparked a tsunami of opposition from parents, school boards, district superintendents and unions. They have argued that it will harm traditional public school districts, threaten services for students who live in poverty and curb local control of education while promoting charter schools and a state-funded voucher program.
When the legislation becomes law, more than 100 traditional public schools given low grades by the state will be converted into charters — even though the charter sector in Florida is deeply troubled; more than 300 have closed as a result of poor performance. Charter-friendly provisions are scattered throughout the bill, such as one that requires traditional public elementary schools to provide recess to students (without resources to expand the school day) but exempts charters from the same mandate.
Scott’s move is in line with the pro-school choice agenda of President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has frequently cited Florida as a model choice state. DeVos, who has a home in Florida and is a longtime ally of former governor Jeb Bush, has visited a number of schools in the state since becoming education secretary. Trump made his first trip as president, with DeVos accompanying him, to a Catholic school in Orlando, St. Andrew.
Scott, who joined Trump and DeVos on that school visit, had endorsed Trump in March 2016 during the Republican presidential primaries, and Trump has urged Scott to run for the U.S. Senate. Scott touts his “Florida first” budgets in the same way that Trump touts his “America first” agenda.
Now Scott is set to sign the legislation at Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando, a symbolic move that underscores his support for the DeVos/Trump principle that public money should be used for private and religious school education. The legislation, incidentally, includes $30 million in additional funding for a school voucher program for students with disabilities.
On Thursday, Scott also vetoed a sweeping higher education bill, saying it would “impede” the state’s nearly 30 public community colleges from providing low-cost education to students while giving priority to public university projects.
Critics of the K-12 education bill Scott is signing offered a long list of what they see as problems with it.
For example, they blasted a provision that provides $140 million in funding for a “Schools of Hope” program, which is mostly aimed at helping charter schools open in predominantly high-poverty neighborhoods where traditional public schools are troubled.
They also oppose a measure that will require traditional school districts to share millions of local dollars earmarked for education funding with charter schools, as well as one that cuts the power of local school districts to deny the replication or expansion of charter schools. And they have complained about the legislative process, saying it was conducted in secret, leading some to call it legislation by “scam.” This Orlando Sentinel piece said:
Imagine for a moment that you went to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread.
But when you got there, the store manager said the only way you could buy bread would be for you to also buy a gallon of milk, 10 packs of adult diapers, a box of Popsicles, some day-old pastries, a 5-pound pork butt, three gallons of orange juice, a tin of anchovies and a fistful of lottery tickets.
That would sound like a scam, right?
Well, welcome to the way the Florida Legislature handled public education this year — legislation by scam.
Here’s a letter to Scott sent by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents explaining what it sees as problems with the legislation as well as with other legislation funding public education. Scott has called for a special legislation session to work out funding differences.