Gov. Rick Scott unveiled an education agenda last week that could allow more students to go to existing charter schools while preparing the state to adopt a new national curriculum.
Most of the initiatives Scott announced Thursday were not a surprise, but they amount to one of the first vigorous education agendas he has unveiled since taking office last year. Scott largely focused on the economy in 2011, and his main education priority for 2012 was to persuade lawmakers to plow roughly $1 billion of new funding into public schools.
The most controversial element of Scott’s plan could potentially prove to be measures to increase the role of charter schools, public schools that are usually run by third parties and are free of many of the regulations faced by typical schools.
Scott’s plan would remove enrollment caps on existing charter schools and allow school districts to operate their own charter schools. In Flagler County, the district–led in part by School Board member Colleen Conklin–had been urging lawmakers to allow it to do just that: open a charter school of its own.
“We’ve got a lot of choice in our state, but we know in everything else in life, if you have more choice, quality goes up, prices sometimes come down,” Scott told WBBH-TV in Fort Myers in an interview Thursday morning.
In a news release issued after Scott formally unveiled the agenda at an event in Fort Myers, State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand praised the charter school proposal.
“Having been involved with charter schools, I know firsthand how they can positively impact the student performance of children who come from economically disadvantaged areas. … Governor Scott’s agenda would make those opportunities available for more students in Florida,” Chartrand said.
Scott’s agenda would also make other changes, junking some regulations and giving debit cards to teachers to pay for school supplies, with the hopes that businesses would help support the program. And the agenda would require the state not to introduce any new testing that doesn’t conform to the “Common Core Standards,” a national set of curriculum guidelines set to take effect next school year.
Educators largely responded to the news with cautious optimism or at least took a wait-and-see approach.
“It’s kind of sketchy,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union. “The proof will continue to be in the details.”
Ford’s group has frequently clashed with Republicans in recent years over whether and how to expand policies promoting school choice. Ford said he would like to see accountability for charter schools as part of the expansion.
“We have to make sure that we aren’t allowing charter schools to cherry-pick students,” Ford said.
He also said the state would “have to make sure that all schools are being treated fairly” in the school supply initiative, given that schools in more affluent areas might have an easier time getting businesses to partner with them.
Democrats, meanwhile, questioned Scott’s motives.
“While we hope that Scott’s plan — introduced just 12 days before the election — is sincere, it does not erase the Republican’s long record of hurting our parents, teachers and students,” Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux said in a statement.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida