Will Florida editorial boards always be at war with Florida families?

Matthew Ladner

When I was arrested, Oceania was at war with Eastasia. With Eastasia. Good. And Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, has it not?’

 Winston drew in his breath. He opened his mouth to speak and then did not speak. He could not take his eyes away from the dial.

 ‘The truth, please, Winston. YOUR truth. Tell me what you think you remember.’

 ‘I remember that until only a week before I was arrested, we were not at war with Eastasia at all. We were in alliance with them. The war was against Eurasia. That had lasted for four years. Before that——’

 O’Brien stopped him with a movement of the hand.

-George Orwell, 1984

Oceania’s totalitarian government in Orwell’s 1984 relied on a daily “Two Minutes Hate” to whip people into a frenzy against enemies of the state. As Wikipedia helpfully explains:

Within the book, the purpose of the Two Minutes Hate is said to satisfy the citizens’ subdued feelings of angst and hatred from leading such a wretched, controlled existence. By re-directing these subconscious feelings away from the Oceanian government and toward external enemies (which may not even exist), the Party minimizes subversive thought and behaviour.

 If you’ve read the newspaper recently you might think you were living in Oceania, but with the new Family Empowerment Scholarship program serving in the role of the hated enemy of the people instead of Emmanuel Goldstein. I could site any number of examples, but the Tampa Bay Times takes the cake for hyperbolic excess with Death Sentence for Florida Public Schools:

They approved the death sentence for public education in Florida at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday. Then they cheered and hugged each other. The legislation approved by the Florida House and sent to the governor will steal $130 million in tax money that could be spent improving public schools next year and spend it on tuition vouchers at private schools. Never mind the Florida Constitution. Never mind the 2.8 million students left in under-funded, overwhelmed public schools.

The Orlando Sentinel, however, reported the following on the 2020 Florida budget:

In the spending outline, K-12 schools funding landed at $21.8 billion, a $782.9 million increase on the current year, or nearly 4 percent. 

Thus, Florida lawmakers signed a “death sentence” for Florida public schools by increasing their funding by almost $800 million. First world problem, anyone? According to my Excel spreadsheet, if the Florida Legislature had diverted the entire appropriation to the public school budget, it would have increased spending by 1 percent.

To the Times’ credit, they did provide former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush an opportunity to respond. Bush helpfully noted that Florida does not have a fixed student body but, rather, is rapidly growing:

The Times assumes that because a child chooses to attend a private school of their choice that public schools will somehow be harmed financially. But according to Florida’s Office of Economic Demographic and Research, over the next four years public school enrollment in Florida is projected to grow by an additional 94,000 students — one of the fastest growth rates in the nation.

 The Family Empowerment Scholarship program is capped at around 46,000 students during that same time frame. So where exactly is the harm?

Where indeed? The Florida Department of Education provides a spreadsheet that shows Florida school districts spent almost $863 million in 2017 and created spaces for 30,323 students in the process. Call me crazy (it’s been too long since anyone has been good enough to do so) but it appears to me that the new scholarship program will relieve the pressure on Florida districts, whose enrollment will continue to increase. Funds you don’t have to spend on debt service can be used for other purposes – such as paying teachers.

In addition to electronic surveillance, thought police and 2-minute hates, constantly being at war constituted another trick up Oceania’s totalitarian sleeve. Twenty years have passed since the first Florida private choice program passed; Florida’s academic outcomes have improved all the while.

Ignorance of these facts is not strength, and freedom is not slavery. Florida editorial boards are at war with the right of Florida families to exercise autonomy in education. Will Florida editorial boards always be at war with Florida families?

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teacher May 13, 2019 - 7:07 am

No. They just see the hypocrisy of handcuffing our public schools with bureaucratic regulations and ridiculous testing and paying for private school education on the public dime with not a single ounce of state accountability.

They also see that we have a state constitution which forbids creating parallel systems of public education.

Remember this. Your side will not always be in control in the legislature. I dream of the day when traditional public schools are treated as generously as voucher schools are now.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner May 13, 2019 - 9:21 am

So my mother taught me better than to argue with teachers but I will point out that FL district schools are funded on a higher per pupil basis than the private choice programs. On the “accountability” front I agree that rules and regulations are a deeply suboptimal form of accountability. The ability to walk away is a far more meaningful form of accountability and delightfully requires little in the way of central planning. District teachers would find allies in the choice camp for deregulation because choice is a necessary prerequisite.

teacher May 13, 2019 - 2:32 pm

So basically district schools face 2 forms of accountability: parents can walk away from them AND they are forced to deal with voluminous regulations and tests. That’s correct, isn’t it? Voucher schools don’t face that.

And I’m not sure why you are saying that district schools are funded on a higher per pupil basis than voucher schools. I didn’t even imply the opposite. However, since you raise the point, I’d counter that district schools have to provide busing and so many more services on limited money. How many voucher schools provide busing? And district schools offer an array of activities that are just expected by society – sports, drama, band, etc. All of those things cost money and district schools do it for not much more than voucher schools get for each voucher student.

As to your original point, maybe editorial boards are made up of people who also resent public dollars going to teach creationism and other religious doctrines.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner May 13, 2019 - 6:04 pm

That would be because you said “I dream of the day when traditional public schools are treated as generously as voucher schools are now.” Careful what you wish for as that would constitute a rather substantial reduction in per pupil funding.

As for the voluminous regulations and tests, I didn’t write any of them and as long as there are basic provisions made for academic transparency made and exit options for parents provided, I’m in favor of shrinking the volume substantially.

Teacher May 13, 2019 - 10:06 pm

Again, I wasn’t talking about funding. You brought it up. It makes perfect sense that district schools get more money. They offer far more arrived. But give it more time and voucher schools will come begging for more money like the charter schools which claimed to educate kids for less but now want equal funding as traditional (actual) public schools. Interesting!

Comments about transparency are rich coming from SUFS. Not all voucher schools even have websites with published testing data, curriculum, and any number of other metrics that district schools regularly publish. Let’s start by grading voucher schools using the FSA. What are they afraid of? They should be glad to use it as the metric by which they are judged.

Watch out what you wish for indeed.

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