A few days ago, the Florida Legislature passed the education bill called “Schools of Hope” (bill 7069 – still pending the Governor’s signature). In this bill are two items that are likely to have a cataclysmic effect on Duval County and its public schools. First, it calls for the sharing of local property tax dollars with privately run “charter schools” on a historic and unprecedented level. Next, it allows privately run charter schools to take over specific low performing public schools and pays, them millions of dollars in taxpayer funded incentives to do so. The result will be a massive shortfall in local funding to maintain public schools, and the probability that three inner city Jacksonville schools will be closed: Northwestern, Mathew Gilbert and Ribault. My personal view is this is not fiscally conservative and will needlessly put upward pressure on taxpayers. Notwithstanding, charter schools currently operate without the capital funding gift from taxpayers and they are currently profitable or financially solvent, in most cases (note some charters are philanthropic).
In Duval County, the immediate shifting of tax review appears to be somewhere between $8 to $30 Million – right off the top of our capital improvement budget that is already rolling over a $100 Million in unfunded maintenance from year to year. The results are clearly catastrophic and will leave local officials to clean up the damage and tax payers to fund the shortfall. What Duval County Schools Superintendent called a “Capital Crisis” last year is now becoming a cascading avalanche of financial shortfalls across the system.
I do not believe “Schools of Hope” is a pro-charter bill as much as it is anti-union. And, this is important to realize as we move forward in understanding the real changing dynamic in public education.
Charter schools are not unionized and have long been promoted as both choice and a tool to break politically powerful teachers’ unions around the United States. Unfortunately, it has been seen as one of the only tools in diluting the power of these politically powerful, left-aligned unions and it has put students in the cross-hairs. I believe we need reform in laws effecting teachers’ unions – many of the current practices are dated and do not support the strongest educators. While reforms are needed, using charter expansion as the primary methodology of union reform may be counterproductive to advancing academic achievement.
I conducted a study of Duval schools that may close under 7069 and found a clear and direct relationship between those schools and the highest concentration of union member teachers in the city of Jacksonville. The strategic advantage of converting union-heavy public schools to non-union charters would be a direct connect to eliminating union member jobs, and the finding speaks for itself.
I believe a better alternative includes liberal-oriented teachers’ unions, and conservative-minded legislators taking this fight someplace other than the school yard. New laws and reforms are needed – but disenfranchising students and putting more taxes on citizens is not the way to do it.
Both pro-choice and pro-union claim to be the true guardian of the student. In education, I am often reminded of the Old Testament story of the Judgement of Solomon (1 Kings 3:16–28). Two women come to King Solomon for judgement; both insisting they are the mother of a child. Solomon proposes settlement by splitting the child down the middle with a sword and giving half to each. Solomon knows the true mother will relinquish tenure to save the child – and she does.
Bill 7069 pulls from the left and from the right. Both seem to be willing the let the sword fall.
Scott Shine – Duval County School Board, Dist. 2