September 22, 2022

Sue Kingery Woltanski: This November’s Election is Going to Have Real Consequences for Florida’s Public Schools

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Sue Kingery Woltanski blogs at Accountabaloney, where she keeps a close eye on Florida shenanigans. Like manyh, she caught the Ron DeSantis acceptance speech when Florida won top prize in The Heritage Foundation’s ranking of most privatized state education systems. Unlike many, she hung in there for the Q&A session.

While the first part of his speech hit the usual education dismantler notes, the follow-up session offers more reminders of what is riding on Florida’s gubernatorial election.

DeSantis talks about changing the court to get the results he wants:

Right off the bat, DeSantis explains that, when he took office in 2019, he knew voucher expansion went against current Supreme Court precedent in Florida, so he simply altered the make-up of the court:

“the good thing is I inherited one of the most liberal Supreme Courts in the country but within 3 weeks in office I was able to replace 3 of the 4 liberals with Conservative Justices (applause) and so we knew that we had a pathway because that decision that was made to strike down previous school choice was even criticized by like the Harvard Law Review as being a very adventurous reading of the constitution and so that was the first fight.”

Then there’s that damned teachers’ union. Moderator Kevin Roberts of the Heritage Foundation, put in his advice:

Roberts tells DeSantis that  “special friends like Lloyd and Bea Smith and the Pharos Foundation came to “came to us in the last month and said ‘Kevin, you and the Heritage Foundation need to team up with Governor DeSantis and any governor, any state that wants to completely dismantle the power of the teachers unions.’”

DeSantis goes on to talk about Florida’s future, including destroying the teachers union and further dismantle public ed, to be replaced with choice–particularly via ESAs:

DeSantis calls for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), something that Manny Diaz Jr, now serving as DeSantis’ Commissioner of Education, has been pushing for for years (We have written about them herehere and here). Unlike tuition vouchers, ESAs are the equivalent of publicly funded, edu-debit cards which can be used by parents to piece together an education by purchasing individual products from an education marketplace. ESAs place the responsibility for piecing together an adequate education squarely on the parents, privatizing not simply public education but the responsibility for providing that education as well. This is not a new idea but DeSantis speaks as though he just thought of it himself:

“We’ll also look at ways that we can modernize our scholarship (voucher) program. In Florida, you get a scholarship (voucher), you do the tuition, and that’s good, that’s great, I mean there’s a lot of good things about it, but there’s an opportunity for some innovation with this. If (instead of a tuition voucher) it’s basically an account that the parent controls that could be tuition but also could be for tutoring and some other services (Roberts nods his approval) then you have an opportunity and it would be good for some teachers, too, you literally, maybe you have a group of kids going to a private school but maybe there’s a really good English teacher that works for one of the district schools, you could have 10, 15 parents pool together put some of their education money to that and have that teacher tutor their kids. So you have a huge opportunity for kind of micro-education and it will be more like, not just you’re choosing the school, yeah, you’re going to be doing that but the parent will be able to make a whole host of other choices to give their kids the most opportunity possible. So I think we will, we will definitely work to make that happen.” (This received a big smile from Roberts and lots of applause from the audience – dismantling public schools is a real crowd pleaser with certain audiences.)

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