John Romano: State's stance on education too complex for my public school brain

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Getty Images
Published April 14 2014
Updated April 15 2014

Please forgive me, but I am a dim-witted product of Florida's inferior public schools. Big numbers confuse me and grandiose ideas are beyond my grasp.

For instance, I have a difficult time following the game plan of our super-smart state leaders when it comes to public education. Try as I might, their logic escapes me.

They insist accountability is the key to all that is magical in education, then steer students and tax money to private schools that have no formal accountability.

They insist charter and public schools be treated equally, then hand charters 97 percent of the state's capital outlay funds even though charters make up less than 15 percent of the schools.

They insist they are watching out for your tax dollars, and yet flush millions down the toilet as charter schools run by for-profit corporations go belly-up every year.

Their thinking is so complex, even educators seem confused.

"They're causing damage to our public schools,'' said state Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, who has spent most of the past 30 years teaching in Hillsborough County. "And it's a pattern that's been going on for a number of years.''

Danish joined U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and local/state PTA leaders for a news conference Monday to bemoan the latest budget proposals for school funding.

If you weren't aware, the state has used Public Education Capital Outlay funds to build and repair public schools for 40 years.

That is, until Gov. Rick Scott showed up.

During Scott's first three years in office, charter schools have received about $200 million in PECO funds. Traditional public schools have gotten around $6 million.

That means public schools with leaky roofs are out of luck. That means broken air conditioners are held together with duct tape and a prayer. That means a lot of your tax dollars are being spent on school buildings that are not owned by the state.

"We do see a draining of resources of traditional public schools in what seems to be a move to privatize education,'' said Linda Kearschner of the Florida PTA legislation commission. "We can't keep robbing our children in public schools in the quest to provide other options.''

State Republican leaders explain that charter schools are in need of the PECO funds because they're growing at a more rapid rate than traditional public schools. That makes sense to me.

But then you ask why the disparity is so wide, and the answers grow enigmatic. You ask where schools are going to come up with the money to repair crumbling buildings, and they suggest counties foot the bill by raising taxes, which seems at odds with the usual Republican way of thinking.

On the bright side, state leaders have come up with PECO funds for public schools in their latest budgets. The Senate suggests giving charters $50 million and public schools $40 million. Gov. Scott is proposing even greater spending. The House, in its infinite wisdom, says charters should get $100 million and public schools $50 million.

Considering public schools outnumber charters nearly 10 to 1, I'm tempted to question such lopsided numbers but I realize I'm no match for the brainiacs in Tallahassee.

Heck, if I was smarter, I might even wonder if public schools are being thrown a few crumbs simply because the governor has an election later this year.