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If lawmakers really care about education, prove it

They love to talk about education in Tallahassee.

Love to talk about providing opportunities for students, holding teachers accountable and, especially, the quantifiable results of standardized tests.

Okay, so let's talk about numbers and education.

Let's talk about how, when Florida students lag behind the rest of the nation in test scores, lawmakers always seem to insinuate the blame lies with unproductive teachers.

Yet our legislators never consider that they may be part of the problem.

Here's what I mean:

Recent studies have shown that the amount of money a state spends on education affects how well its students perform.

Specifically, a report from the Kids Count Data Center indicated that states above the national median for per-pupil spending are also more likely to be in the top half of student performance nationally. Twenty of those 25 states, to be exact. Which means only five of the bottom 25 states in spending are above the mid-point in student performance.

That's fairly persuasive, don't you think?

Spend above the national median and you have an 80 percent chance of a better-than-average school system. Spend below the national median and your chances of having a quality school system drop to 20 percent.

(For clarification purposes, the 2012 Kids Count Data Book adjusts for regional cost differences. Its student performance numbers are based, among other factors, on standardized test results from fourth and eighth grade and graduation rates.)

This is not to suggest that backing a Brinks truck up to a school auditorium is the answer to all of our educational shortcomings. The school systems in West Virginia and Louisiana are fairly well-funded, for example, and still do not produce adequate results.

My point is that money does have an impact, and it's incredibly disingenuous and self-serving for lawmakers to act as if the problem should be dumped at the feet of educators.

Particularly when Florida consistently shows up in the bottom-third or bottom-quarter of most per-pupil spending surveys.

The most recent U.S. Census ranks Florida 44th in per-pupil spending. Taking into account regional factors, Kids Count has Florida 39th.

So what does all of this mean?

It means legislators now have a chance to make a difference.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday that he wants a $1.2 billion increase in education funding in the next budget.

Now you're free to question the governor's motivation. It does, after all, have a whiff of political opportunism to it. But shouldn't we appreciate good decisions, no matter what the impetus?

Freeing up an extra billion dollars in the budget is not going to be easy, and I do not envy lawmakers who will feel pressure from the governor's mansion to get this done.

But for those legislators who continually whine about the performance of teachers and students in this state, this is a moment of reckoning.

This is their opportunity to show whether they are serious about education, or if they simply use it as a political platform. This is their chance to put up.

Or, for heaven's sakes, shut up.

If lawmakers really care about education, prove it 01/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 11:07pm]
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