Letter to Editor: Discussion on Senate Bill 6

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE TEACHERS!

Face it: any large public enterprise such as education is unavoidably political because of how much it costs and where the money comes from. “Who pays for what” is always politics, no matter what the subject is.

Now, with traditional revenue sources such as sales and property taxes in steep decline here in Florida and an expected $3 billion budget shortfall, it’s only natural to be concerned about funding essential services such as education. It’s understandable that the offer of $1 billion in “free” Federal stimulus money for education (obtained from other taxpayers, of course) could appear highly tempting. Unfortunately, by considering the pending Florida Senate Bill 6, our state legislators are seriously weighing that temptation.

It would be a mistake to pass that bill. Even though Florida is last in the country when it comes to funding education and our teachers have not had a raise in several years, using the current economic downturn to justify taking Federal money would be wrong. That money has a high price attached, one that would essentially reform our local schools by dictating the manner in which we compensate our teachers. It would seek to end teacher tenure, a valuable component to compensation, and it would dictate that the stimulus money be directed only to teachers favored by Washington, D.C. — teachers in high-poverty schools, in high-demand subjects such as math and science, and teachers whose students appear to be “making progress.” It would impose remote controls and we would lose our ability to make local judgment about teacher qualifications, assignments, and performance, and even our ability to remove nonperforming teachers.

State Senator Nancy Detert, R-Venice, chairwoman of the Senate PreK-12 Policy Committee, said she wasn’t willing to turn down that Federal money. In sharp contrast, Andy Ford, President of the Florida Education Association, opposed it, stating that in crafting the application for that money, the Florida Department of Education believed that it could just be a steamroller and that everybody would just have to accept the result.

That’s the essence of this controversy: to what extent can we citizens expect our government departments to be liaisons between those they represent — in this case, the teachers — and our state legislators? What we seem to have is state government that listens to its own agencies rather than those it is chartered to regulate. Instead of binding the state education system further by taking Federal money, Tallahassee would do better to develop solutions to its education problems right here within the state. One such solution should be obvious: take a close look at a school leader who has taken a county, like St. Johns, right to the number 1 ranking in the state. Figure out how he and the teachers in this county have done it, even underfunded, and then replicate those successful education techniques across the state as much as possible.

To the extent that Tallahassee can promote Florida education without crippling handouts from Washington, it will succeed in better serving our students and our taxpayers.

Alan Kelso
St. Augustine, FL

Alan Kelso is a candidate for State Representative District 20.

Photo credit: © 2009 Historic City News contributed photograph

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