Six months ago, in a series of widely ignored New Year editorials, I predicted that 2019 would be make-or-break for public education in Duval County. And—lo!—it has come to pass. Now, I draw no satisfaction from this admittedly easy feat of clairvoyance. First, because I didn’t put money on it; second, because it’s tending toward “break,” and as a former union teacher—indeed, as a responsible citizen who values equality and accountability—I support the public schools that are suffering at the hands of a relentless state-sponsored charter-school lobby.
How did we get to this point? Mostly because a scandalously miniscule plurality voted to re-elect Lenny Curry in March. This “victory” validated the mayor’s cloying schoolyard Machiavellianism (his Twitter feed should be prescribed as an emetic) and empowered his corrupt crony administration. Blame the local Democrats, who didn’t field a mayoral candidate. Blame Curry’s opponent, Anna Lopez Brosche, who didn’t “play the game” (code-speak for hiring the necessary shills—I know, dumb game). Blame whoever you want, but we’re all about to lose our free, equal, accountable, secular and civic-minded school system.
Let me count the ways. City Hall is stonewalling the school board’s proposed infrastructure-tax referendum, using every rhetorical fallacy in the book to smear basic school building maintenance as tax-and-spend profligacy.
Then there’s the existential threat posed by the Charter Review Commission. City Council President Aaron Bowman has stacked the incoming advisory body with so-called “school choice” advocates—more commonly known as charter-school lobbyists. Enter Scott Shine. Again. The former school board member withdrew from his re-election campaign last year and openly criticized his erstwhile colleagues. It worked! His nomination to the CRC proves that it’s easier to be politically appointed than popularly elected. Now, in his new position, Shine will most certainly recommend school board “reform.” You see, his dream school board is all-appointed, all the time. Corrupt politicians hand-picking board members? What could go wrong?
In the meantime, for-profit education-industry mountebanks continue to siphon funds from the schools that need them the most. Teach For America is attempting to sell an army of young, untrained sightseers to address the next school year’s projected teacher shortfall. Whatever money such programs receive is disbursed at the expense of public schools statewide. And, without funds, the “failing” public schools cliché becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As Doctor Strange told his fellow Avengers in the final moments of Infinity War, “We’re in the endgame now.” (Aye, I like to think of myself as the Stephen Strange of the local media ecosystem. I was introduced in the storyline relatively recently. I came from another dimension: South Florida by way of Brussels and Detroit. And that collar ...) In the film, Strange delivered the line after metaphysically surveying some 14 million potential future scenarios and realizing that the good guys triumph in only one of them. Our villains are less powerful and less flashy. And the stakes are admittedly less dramatic. (Thanos dusted half of all the universe’s living things.) That said, a healthy public school system is important to any democratic society in general and, with its history of corruption and uneven development, consolidated Duval County in particular.