As a long-time advocate for public education causes, I have never been as outraged by the Florida Legislature’s complete and utter disregard for our children as I am this year. Our lawmakers’ callousness is exceeded only by their post-session hypocrisy.
Governor Rick Scott, who originally wanted a ten percent cut to public education, now cries crocodile tears over the legislature’s failure to hold education harmless. Not to be upstaged, Speaker of the House Dean Cannon outs the governor for his “sudden emphasis on K-12 education.”
Cannon told the St. Petersburg Times, “The Governor communicated numerous priorities during session, and we did our best to accommodate him. It would have been helpful if the Governor had shared this new-found emphasis with us before the budget was finalized.”
With all due respect, Speaker Cannon, it would have been “helpful” if our elected lawmakers followed the law of the land as written in the Florida Constitution, specifically Article IX, Section 1. The key passage there tells you the peoples’ priority. “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” Lawmakers, your first priority is not playing footsie with the governor over what appears in the budget. The law says you’re to fund education first. Period!
You didn’t, and that hurts our children. Locally, our Duval County School Board is deliberating over whether to cut off its arms or its legs. Elementary art and music? Transportation? Varsity sports? Mondays? Or will they go with furloughs? Voters should remember that these cuts come on top of three years of previous cuts, and that Florida is still 50th in the nation when it comes to per capita funding for public schools. As for the ubiquitous excuse—recessionary times—they’re good times for priority setting. Indeed, Speaker Cannon implies in his statement that his budget priorities might have looked different if only he’d known how badly education cuts were bound to be received by the body politic. In Jacksonville, exit pollsters say that the number one issue for voters in the mayoral race was education, an issue gaining municipal attention as the state continues to ignore its paramount duty.
Two local school board members have seized on the miniscule crumb that Governor Scott threw out in his budget speech—a 0.6% “savings” that could be re-allocated to education.
Voters should absolutely be encouraged to shame their lawmakers into restoring that measly six-tenths of one percent to the education budget. But more important than begging for crumbs on the ground will be scrutinizing the upcoming redistricting process that begins in January. If we want to elect different people with different priorities to represent us in Tallahassee, we’re going to have to watch that those in power don’t keep gerrymandering the districts to their continued advantage. The foxes are guarding the henhouse, voters, and the crumbs they’re throwing us now are nothing but bait.
Julie Delegal is an education advocate and contributing writer for Folio Weekly and The Jacksonville Ledger online.
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