Editorial: Senate needs to stand up to House bully on education bill


House Speaker Richard Corcoran is seeking to push through the Florida Legislature an omnibus education bill, and a key component is a voucher-like program for bullied students.

How apropos.

Corcoran is on a mission to fundamentally remake Florida’s public education system and he is acting every bit the bully to get his way. This time, the Florida Senate shouldn’t let him — especially not this way.

RELATED: Florida House passes sweeping schools and voucher bill

On Thursday, the House voted mostly along party lines to pass the 198-page HB 7055, a mega-bill that hits on so many different education policy issues that it arguably violates the constitutional mandate that bills be limited to “one subject.”

The bill would also make the state’s per-pupil spending on public school education, $21.1 billion, contingent on the passage of HB 7055 “or similar legislation.” This, too, may be unconstitutional. At the least, it’s dirty pool.

“When you do it that way you don’t send it through the normal process of the committees and have the debate, the testimony that you receive in the committee process,” Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Thursday. “You’ve made the stakes (about) are we going to get to go home and have a budget completed, rather than if this is a good idea or not for the people of the state of Florida.”

It’s a shrewd ploy. One you would expect from a bully.

Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican (and potential gubernatorial candidate) is pushing the boundaries of the legislative process — not to mention civility and decency — to continue his two-year assault on the state’s traditional public schools, and by proxy the teachers union.

The bill does contain some long-awaited promises toward accountability for publicly funded private-school scholarship programs, including the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. There’s an increased level of per-student funding.

But there’s also a $9.7 million program that would allow low-performing readers in second through fifth grades to obtain private services, like tutors, which would be better spent shoring up the schools’ extended reading programs.

There’s up to $40 million for “Hope Scholarships” that would allow students who are bullied in public schools to receive voucher-like scholarships to transfer to private schools — but does nothing to address the bully who remains at the public school.

And there’s a requirement that could force teachers’ unions to disband if their membership falls below half of the employees they represent — an attack on teachers’ clout at the bargaining table.

Rather than pony up the money for a strained public school system that has been increasingly starved for funds under years of Republican control, Corcoran and his allies want to transfer billions more dollars into the hands of charter and voucher school operators, despite no credible evidence that those schools perform better for our kids than traditional public schools.

All in the name of greater “school choice” for parents. Another good policy idea on the cusp of going awry.

RELATED: PBC school board calls for suing state over charter-friendly law HB 7069

The sad part is, state leaders don’t seem realize how much of a mess they could be making of a system that is responsible for educating 2.8 million of our kids, until it’s too late. (By contrast, charters enroll about 300,000; vouchers account for about 80,000 statewide, according to state Education Department records.)

It’s hard to believe that another education bill could rival last year’s odious HB 7069, which was rightly reviled by school boards, superintendents, classroom teachers and parents throughout the state. Among other things, that law set aside $140 million of public money to subsidize privately owned charter schools that can set up near struggling traditional public schools under the label “Schools of Hope.”

To date, the program has no takers. That’s $140 million that could have been used for an extra hour of reading at elementary schools, upgrading technology at middle schools or offering a half-credit financial literacy course at high schools.

No doubt, many in the Senate will agree with a number of the school choice measures in HB 7055, just as they did with some of HB 7069. But too many items in this bill are clearly detrimental to the cause of public education.

Last year, HB 7069 barely passed the Senate in a testy extended session. This time, Florida taxpayers, parents and students need senators to stand up for them and reject this mess of a bill.



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