Commentary by LWVFL Education Chair Pat Drago in the Orlando Sentinel:
The Constitution Revision Commission is about to finalize the list of proposed constitutional changes that voters will find on their ballots in November. We’re into the real “shell game” part of the process, as the CRC packages the proposals into single up or down propositions. They’ll be finalized by vote of the full CRC when it meets next week.
As you can imagine, there is a lot of opportunity for subterfuge at this point in the process, and unless the CRC changes course in the next few weeks, voters could be tricked into giving away control over their local schools.
With the change of three words in the Florida Constitution, the proposal would allow a politically appointed, unaccountable board in Tallahassee — not local school boards — to decide when and where new charter schools will open. If such a radical change stood alone on the ballot, there’s little question voters would reject it. That’s why the politicians backing it have packaged it with two other proposed amendments they think will be more popular — a legislative mandate for civics education and term limits for school board members.
If you really want civics to be taught in school, you do not need a constitutional amendment to accomplish this. This is your first civics lesson. You might also want to get rid of a school board member who has served too long — vote out the board member. This is also basic civics.
What you probably never wanted was for the state to begin setting up schools in your neighborhood, raiding your local school budget to do it and having no one held accountable. Florida has handed out billions to private corporations to operate charter schools with minimal improvement in the overall education of our children.
If the constitution is changed with the approval of Revision 3, any charter applicant could pay a lobbyist or use his connections in Tallahassee to gain approval for a new school. New schools run by education profiteers could pop up anywhere, whether they’re needed or not, without local input from people who know their communities best. They would be created without prudent consideration of the essential elements of operating a county-wide school district — planning for enrollment, hiring teachers and other education staff, setting school attendance zones, transporting students and meeting the district’s master plan.
All that damage would be done for the benefit of self-serving, for-profit charter-school management companies. They already take too many tax dollars to pay their lucrative management fees and the high rent they charge the charter school for property the company owns.
Florida has spent another billion dollars on private and religious schools with no proof of benefit. Now, the CRC, mostly packed with gubernatorial and legislative appointees, wants to stop all pretense of accountability and ask you to amend the Florida Constitution. Let them open the floodgates.
Fortunately, backers of this scheme have an extremely high hill to climb — even if they succeed in getting their fellow commissioners to put the deceptive language on the ballot. In a poll conducted this month, the charter proposal secured only 29 percent support — less than half the 60 percent needed to pass.
Florida voters are not so easily fooled. Tell CRC members to protect our local schools, and stop wasting our time with deceptive proposals that are destined to fail.
Pat Drago is on the Executive Committee of the League of Women Voters of Florida.