Saturday, December 04, 2010

As governor, Rick Scott likely to push big changes for schools

This is a pretty troubling statement: "...much of Scott's education agenda focuses on doing away with what he calls an "outdated system" that relies too heavily on traditional schools. Technological advances mean students don't need to be in school buildings to take classes..."

While this may be the solution for certain privileged students, this approach is very problematic for poor, minority first-generation college students because it removes opportunities to gain the number one factor that leads to further opportunity: social capital (i.e., PEOPLE)!

The notion of offering parent choice is completely void of responding to many parent's choice to have equitable schools in their communities. Not all families and communities advocate for individualistic approaches to education reform.

Love thy neighbor, right?

You can check out Bush's "Foundation for Florida's Future" campaign, which includes their legislative agenda.


Republicans tell critics to stop worrying. But they also promise major reforms, including merit pay.

By Leslie Postal and Dave Weber, Orlando Sentinel
November 13, 2010

Former Gov. Jeb Bush shook up Florida's education establishment and sparked major reforms during his eight years in office.

Now, Gov.-elect Rick Scott is ready to take the baton and finish what Bush began.

While Republicans are energized, critics are worried that Florida's new governor is preparing to dismantle public education.

"Everyone has deep, deep concerns," said Gay Parker head of the Seminole Education Association. "He has made his education platform fairly clear, and it is privatizing education."

But GOP lawmakers insist that public schools won't be going away, just changing.

They agree that Scott — a former health care executive who won his first bid for elected office — will try to expand the Bush era reforms. But they also point out that similar reforms, such as merit pay for teachers, are happening across the country and are now embraced in large part by President Barack Obama.

'Outdated system'

Bush, first elected in 1998, ushered in what he called an education "renaissance" in his first year in office, passing laws to grade public schools, expand standardized testing such as the FCAT and offer private-school tuition vouchers to students. I

Scott pledges to embrace those goals. And it's no coincidence that the Foundation for Florida's Future, a group created by Bush, is involved in developing Scott's education policies.

"We are very excited about the incoming team as far as the commitment to education reform," said Jaryn Emhof, spokesman for the foundation. "You have an entire focus on education right now."

Although Scott has not announced specific proposals for his first legislative session, he advocates "the right learning environment for each student, not the bureaucracy."

That means more choices for students outside traditional schools. It also means new ways to evaluate and pay teachers that are based on student success, not years on the job. And it means continued focus on school performance and accountability and a continued push to make sure students leave high school ready for college or work.

But much of Scott's education agenda focuses on doing away with what he calls an "outdated system" that relies too heavily on traditional schools. Technological advances mean students don't need to be in school buildings to take classes, he said, and parents should have more choices about how their children are educated.

To that end, lawmakers and educators expect a push to expand charter schools, online learning through virtual schools and taxpayer-financed tuition vouchers for private schools.

All of which will chip away at the traditional public schools, which could end up with less money, fewer students and reduced program offerings, critics say.

"I am concerned about the dismantling of public education brick by brick," said Sen. Frederica Wilson, D- Miami Gardens, a staunch opponent of the direction Republicans have been taking Florida's schools.

Merit pay revisited

Other Democrats and plenty of educators share Wilson's fears. They are particularly nervous about a new push toward a merit-pay law for teachers.

The Legislature passed a controversial merit-pay bill last spring that was derided by many teachers and then vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist. Under that proposal, teacher pay and job-security were based in large part on student test scores.

A new version is expected to be debated when the next legislative session starts in March. Lawmakers feel confident they can get a law passed, but they also say they will look at tamer versions devised with more participation from educators.

"We found out in this past session that you can't push something through so quickly that has such an impact on the educational system and not bring everyone to the table and allow them a voice," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Fasano said in his district the bill passed by the Legislature was criticized even by members of his local Republican executive committee.

The Florida Education Association, which backed Scott's opponent, Alex Sink, welcomes a chance to help shape legislation, though the union isn't confident it will be included.

"If you are going to make a radical change in a profession, you certainly ought to talk to those in the profession and get their thoughts on it," said Mark Pudlow, the union's spokesman.

Central Florida school board members hope merit pay isn't taken up in Scott's first year in office, though they concede a delay isn't likely. They want a chance to work out their federal Race to the Top grant program proposals, which also includes merit-pay provisions, before details are muddied by a new state law.

"Race to the Top needs to be looked at as R & D, research and development," said Candace Lankford, chairman of the Volusia County School Board and the president of the Florida School Boards Association. "We need to be allowed to take the time to work through these complicated issues and not do it in one legislative session."

Despite campaign promises, Scott's education agenda could be slowed by Florida's still sputtering economy that next year is expected to mean a state budget shortfall of $2.5 billion or more. And although education is important, Scott has said job creation is his number one goal.

"We'll try to live within our means and at the same time try to assure education is given a top priority," said Senator–elect David Simmons, a Longwood Republican who previously served in the House of Representatives.

Scott wants to change how schools are funded, reducing school property taxes by up to 19 percent and filling the gap with other state funds.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, a former Volusia school administrator heavily involved in education issues during her stint in the Legislature, said that plan worries her.

"Certainly we want to reduce taxes, but we don't want to hurt education," Lynn said, adding that Scott may have to temper some of his camping promises once in office.

"He may change his thinking on some things when he sees how the process works."

Leslie Postal can be reached at or 407-420-5273. Dave Weber can be reached at or 407-883-7885.

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