Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine appears to have settled on a talking point in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor. Drawing on his experience in business, he argues Florida should “stop investing” in alternatives to district-run public schools.
The Tampa Bay Times caught the latest version.
“When I started in business they teach you this one golden rule. You know what that rule is? You don’t invest in your competition,” Levine said. “Right now we have a cottage industry of charter schools. We have all these folks in Tallahassee — this one’s a lawyer who represents a charter school, this one’s a consultant for charter schools, this one gets campaign cash from a charter school …
“What I plan to do …is to take money that we’re putting in someone else’s business and actually put it in our business, which is called the public school,” Levine said of charter schools, which are in fact public schools, but often run by private companies, including for-profit companies.
“Can you imagine if all of a sudden you woke up one day and you found out we’re investing taxpayer money in FedEx, DHL, and UPS, but we’re not putting it in the post office?”
School districts across Florida don’t see charter schools as “someone else’s business.” In Palm Beach County, charter schools are helping provide more vocational education, which Levine says should be a priority. In Osceola County, charter schools are helping the district absorb rapid student population growth. Levine’s home district of Miami-Dade has recruited a charter school to help revitalize the community of Liberty City. Some community colleges have set up their own charter schools to help more students get a jump start on higher education.
In Florida, for decades, public education has meant investing in diverse providers.
That isn’t limited to charter schools and the nearly 300,000 students who attend them. It also happens within districts, where nearly 300,000 students enroll in choice and magnet programs. Nearly as many choose public schools through open enrollment. Some 40,000 children with special needs choose private schools or custom-tailored educational programs funded with McKay and Gardiner Scholarships. More than 100,000 low-income and working-class students choose private schools using tax credit scholarships supported by donors.
People across the political spectrum seem to agree that, if anything, the Voluntary Pre-K program that sends more than 130,000 children to mostly private providers is worthy of more investment.
Some 1.7 million Florida children participate in this new definition of public education. It has helped provide one of the nation’s most diverse youth populations with an effective, steadily improving education system that people in other states continue to cite as a model.
The state’s next governor needs a plan to continue this progress for the next generation. There are still struggling rural communities, neglected low-income neighborhoods, frustrated parents of children with special needs, educators who feel underappreciated, and families of all stripes who need help finding better options for their children.
They’ll need solutions as diverse as Florida itself. We can’t afford to view them as somebody else’s business.
Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer Florida’s tax credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs.