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A Place of Bad Ideas

The Florida Legislature is in session—unfortunately

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Will Rogers once said, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” The current session of the Florida Legislature is doing its best to prove the truth of these words. Let us consider several disastrous pieces of legislation our representatives are considering.

First, there is Mandarin-based Rep. Jason Fischer’s HB 1079, which aims to make our school superintendent an elected position. This is an awful idea. The majority of school superintendents across the country are appointed rather than elected. The counties that elect their school superintendents tend to be small, rural counties that cannot afford to hire world-class candidates. But large counties and cities hire school superintendents with a great deal of knowledge and experience. More significant is the fact that Jacksonville has been trying to shake its image as a hick town. Having an elected superintendent will just reinforce that image. The move would deter businesses thinking of relocating to or opening up an office in Jacksonville. Businesses always check out a new city’s school system. What will they think when they discover that Jacksonville has an elected superintendent rather than an educated, experienced superintendent like every other location they will be considering? Simply put, they will locate elsewhere.

Second, there are two bills (HB 7079 and SB 1498) that seek to remove the control of local schools from local school boards, empowering Tallahassee. Significantly, both bills change the definition of a “deficient and failing school” to any school earning a single grade below a “C”—and if that school does not turn around from a single “D” grade in a year (rather than the current two-year grace period), the school district must choose from three options: “repurpose” the school as one or more charter schools; enter into a performance contract with an external operator; or close the school and reassign students to another school with a “C” grade or higher.

However, the last option requires the specific approval of the commissioner of education, giving the state office authority over local schools. Remember, charter schools were sold as a choice. Parents could choose to send their kids to a public school or a charter school. But here it’s clear that Tallahassee wants to force our students to attend charter schools.

Third, there is SB 62, which changes the way that capital surtax money is shared with charter schools. At present, our school boards can request the voters approve a sales tax in a referendum to raise capital surtax money to address the maintenance needs of a school district. However, SB 62 would require that any capital surtax fund be shared with charter schools on a per-pupil basis. That is unfair, as most charter schools are brand-new, while public schools often are very old, especially those in underserved neighborhoods. Thus, a per-pupil allocation would lead to charter schools getting money they do not need at the expense of public schools that have unmet maintenance needs.

Fourth, there is the effort to increase teacher pay. The Republicans want to increase the minimum salary for teachers to $47,500. However, the bill does not increase the salaries of teachers who have been teaching for years. Quite simply, if you want to keep experienced teachers, you have to increase their salaries as well.

Fifth, SB 1794 and HB 7037 are designed to make it harder for referenda to get on the ballot. These bills will require petition signatures to expire much faster and would require a huge number of signatures to be collected before a proposal can move past its first legal hurdle. These bills will also favor the rich, as they will make the ballot initiative process too costly for ordinary citizens and grassroot participants. As for the wealthy, they will have no problem with the extra expenses involved to get their initiatives on the ballot.

Finally, once again, it looks like the legislature will not expand Medicaid, even though that would provide coverage for about 445,000 Floridians with the federal government picking up most of bill.

Keep these bad ideas in mind the next time you vote, and maybe we will have a legislature with some good ideas for a change.

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Bork is a Jacksonville-based attorney with more than 20 years’ experience.

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