Little things slip into legislation. The 2016 legislature is supporting a self described conservative group of school board members called the Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM). They do not want to pay their dues to the existing Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) that represents 65 of 67 county boards. The reason why is simple. Since majority rules in FSBA policy decisions, some want what one member called a ‘like minded association of their own’. It is the classic issue in a democracy. Majorities rule must protect the rights of minorities. How this is done is spelled out in law based on the constitution.
The FCSBM will have a legal right to redirect their dues if Governor Scott signs HB 7069, the School Choice bill. Rep. Kelli Stargel from Lakeland initially filed a bill that was later folded into the School Choice train bill. Rep. Erik Fresen requested a separate line item in the state budget that allocates $200,000 in training funds for the new group. Training already exists, but FCSB wants its own. Why the legislature should pay for this is subject to debate. The Florida constitution mandates that school boards be nonpartisan, but choice advocates argue that their policies are not political. They are, however, ideological.
Differences between the new FCSBM and the existing FSBA associations are clear. One supports school choice and the other supports choice within the traditional public school system. FCSBM opposed the lawsuit for Florida Tax Credit vouchers. The existing FSBA initially supported the lawsuit and then withdrew when Judge Reynolds dismissed the suit. FCSBM’s other 2016 legislative positions include supporting the use of test scores, value added model gain scores, and concordance scores. They also support raising Florida standards to NAEP proficiency levels and sharing capital outlay funds with charter schools.
Founding members include Rebecca Negron, the wife of incoming Senate President Joe Negron along with board members from Collier, Escambia, Indian River, Sarasota and Duval Counties. Fifty of the 356 locally elected school board members have now joined FSCBM. It appears the group has national aspirations. A web site called the American Coalition of School Board Members has been created. There is not much on it. They must be waiting for the funds from the 2016-17 budget to roll in.
The Florida Constitution requires the state to provide a “uniform, safe, efficient, and high quality system of free public schools”. Yet, there is a divide in the road ahead. We already know that what happens in schools mirrors what is happening in communities. Must our educational system splinter regardless of the cost? I hear echoes of the biblical phrase: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand’.
When President Lincoln used that phrase, he also said that he did not expect the house to fail, but he did expect the house to cease to be divided. What is the people’s choice? We have fought through differences through out our history. Once again we are putting our nation to the test. There has to be a better road than the one we are on. It goes in too many directions to be ‘uniform, safe, secure and high quality’.