by Eileen Roy, Chair Alachua County School Board
The Soul of Public Education
We all need to write more letters. Eileen presided when Khanh-Lien spoke before the Alachua County School Board last week about 5forChange. Eileen quietly cheered. Then she wrote a letter to the Gainesville Sun. Read this one and get inspired.
The Sun editorial (1/21/16) got it exactly right. The FL Legislature increasingly diverts funding away from public schools. The Corporate Tax Voucher Scholarship allows corporations a tax deductions if they donate an equal amount to private school scholarship vouchers. The state does not collect the tax revenue, reducing the amount of taxpayer money used to fund public schools. As public schools lose state funding, they are weakened—insidiously and inexorably.
These private schools are completely unregulated—no teacher evaluations, no state tests, no proscribed curriculum, no certified teachers, no mandates—all of which are required of public schools. Eighty-three percent of these private schools are religious. Should taxpayer money be used to fund private schools or religious education? If state testing is so important, why is it only required in public schools?
Here’s the scary part: the Corporate Tax Voucher funding increases each year by 25%. This is exponential growth. Initially capped at $50 million statewide, tax revenue diverted to vouchers has risen year by year to $558 million for school year 2016-17. By 2019-20 it will be over $1 billion– a billion dollars of taxpayer money diverted from public to private schools.
Initially, these scholarships were promoted for children in poverty, but the annual income level to participate has risen to $63,000 for a family of 4—allowing middle class families to enroll.
For- profit charter schools add to the draining of funding from public schools. Florida has lost $70 million over the last 15 years due to charters closing and taking public investment in their facilities with them. Seven schools in Alachua County have closed, costing taxpayers more than $1.2 million. This money, spent for rent, lease, or mortgage payments, cannot be recouped by the district after charters close.
The conclusion is inescapable. Florida legislators are steadily moving toward their ultimate goal–to privatize public education. The Southern Legal Council, a local non-profit law firm, is suing the state, challenging this injustice. Please consider coming to a meeting to hear about this lawsuit. The dates of several one-hour presentations at regional high schools are listed on the School Board’s website. Our public schools are in extreme danger.
As local parent and public school advocate Khanh-Lien Banko put it at the Jan. 19 School Board meeting, “We are in a dogfight for the soul of public education.”