MidPoint Wednesday explored the state of Florida’s K-8 Public Education today with Norin Dollard, Senior Policy Analyst / Florida KIDS COUNT Director, Florida Policy Institute, and Damaris Allen, Executive Director of Families for Strong Public Schools. Unfortunately, according to our guests, the outlook in Florida right now is dim as the current Republican majority legislature seems dedicated to killing the public school system in favor of the privatization of our schools.
We are increasing the burdens on our public schools to provide more services and enhancements while reducing the funding available to pay for them. In 2022 and 2023 the voucher program was expanded to be available to all students. Each student may receive $8000/year of our tax dollars whether they attend a private, religious, or secular school, or are homeschooled. This is the SAME amount per pupil that is allocated to students who attend public schools which use that money to benefit and provide services to all students. The voucher program has been expanded but is not benefiting the average Floridian family as 44% of vouchers are now going to families that are at 120% of the Federal poverty level, in other words, to families that are well off. Most of the private schools benefitting from voucher payments are not accredited and they don’t accept all students; their teachers are not required to have a degree, and there is little accountability to measure students’ educational progress. Indeed, there is little accountability in the voucher program itself, particularly with vouchers going to homeschoolers who can use those funds for tickets to Disney World, and purchases of assets like kayaks and 55-inch televisions, according to the latest reports from Step Up for Students, one of the organizations which administers the voucher program.
There are some 8000 vacancies for teachers and other educational personnel in Florida this year. The current pool of people willing to teach in Florida for starting salaries of $51,000 and facing the aggressive culture wars in the classrooms over educational content has shrunk. In places like Miami-Dade County, the public schools are allowing people graduating high school with nothing but a GED degree to teach students. The educational expertise of teachers in our public school system is declining throughout Florida, especially in core subjects like math and reading, as it becomes harder to recruit teachers and more of them leave the system for private tutoring gigs.
Our guests suggest that better educational policies and more support for strong public schools can only be realized by voting for Florida legislators who support public schools.
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