With one stroke of his pen last week, Gov. Rick Scott set back progress for Florida’s public universities. And with another stroke, he did astounding damage to the state’s K-12 public schools.
Nice work, Governor.
In the first instance, Scott vetoed most of the policy initiatives sought by Senate President Joe Negron in hopes of catapulting Florida campuses into the nation’s top tier of public universities. That included expansions of the Bright Futures merit-scholarship program and funds to attract world-class professors and researchers and reward top-performing medical, business and law programs.
Some of the initiatives will be salvaged for a year because they’re included in the new $82 billion state budget, which takes effect July 1. But with Scott’s veto of the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act,” they won’t be permanent.
Scott did this because he thought the universities were benefiting at the expense of the 28 state colleges. Himself a product of a community college, he objected to the bill’s proposed cap on bachelor’s degrees for the usually two-year schools. He also fumed that the Legislature cut the state college system’s budget by $25 million for 2017-18.
It’s true that the state colleges fared badly in Tallahassee this spring. But the way to fix those shortcomings is to address them next year — not punish universities for the advances they managed to make. Since when it is wise to throw out the baby with the bathwater?
More galling is Scott’s embrace of House Bill 7069, which was rightly reviled by school boards, superintendents, classroom teachers and parents throughout the state. With Scott’s signature, $140 million of public money will be set aside to subsidize privately owned charter schools that can set up near struggling traditional public schools and call them “Schools of Hope.”
That’s just one of its insults to the state’s public school system.
The new law also allows charter schools to take a slice of the money that school districts raise for construction and maintenance through local property tax. In Palm Beach County, officials say that will chew an estimated $10 million, about 2 percent, out of the schools’ $400 million capital budget. Over 10 years, the loss to charter schools could reach $230 million, county officials say — public money going to buildings the public won’t own.
As Rep. Janet Cruz, the House Democratic leader, put it: “Not since the creation of the unconstitutional voucher system has there been an assault on our public schools as flagrant and hurtful as what’s contained in HB 7069.”
This naked payout to the for-profit charter school industry was a prime priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes. The bill that envelops it was cobbled together from a slate of education bills in closed-door negotiations at the end of the session, with no public input and little debate.
It easily passed the House but cleared the Senate by the barest of margins, 20-18. Negron, R-Stuart, voted for it, perhaps in exchange for Corcoran’s support of his higher education initiatives. Now that Scott has vetoed Negron’s higher-ed bill, the more moderate Republican should be looking long and hard at his missed opportunity to have thwarted the Corcoran-led kiss-up to private school corporations.
But in the end, it is the governor who, under the guise of offering more choices to students, has tightened the leash on universities trying to leap ahead and who bears responsibility for this ripoff of the public school system.
A ‘flagrant and hurtful’ assault on our public schools