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Daniel Ruth

Scott's (Bush's) new (old) schools scheme

Let's face it, by now it's become abundantly obvious that former Gov. Jeb Bush, and his political paramour, Gov.-elect Rick Scott, regard a public school education with about the same esteem as the Taliban's Mullah Omar has when finding himself stuck in an elevator with Lady Gaga.

If Scott has his way, Florida's public classrooms could well be reduced to a one-room school house meets Oliver Twist's school of artful dodgers.

A few days ago, the governor-to-be proposed blowing up the state's public school system, calling for a gimmick to provide every family in the state vouchers to send their little dickens to any educational system they want: private, public or even virtual schools. If he succeeds, families would receive a voucher worth $5,500, or about 85 percent of the per-student cost of educating a Florida public school student, to be applied to their kiddo's learning.

Or put another way, much like the way he ran the massive Columbia HCA hospital chain, Scott would, in effect, lead a hostile takeover of public institutions. He would essentially privatize the schools, drive out the public sector end of education and leave families to fend for themselves in educating their children — only without (hopefully) all the fraud charges that Scott's hospital company resolved by paying record fines.

The plot to turn Florida public schools into relics was hatched by the governor-elect's 18-member education star chamber transition team, which included so many Bush-era holdovers it is little wonder Jeb's dog Marvin wasn't on the panel.

Not to be too terribly picky, but you would think if you were going to initiate an Iraq-esque surge on the state's schools, proposing a massive, nuclear three R's option on Florida's children, perhaps maybe, just maybe, it might be a good idea to have some actual front-line educators involved in formulating the plan.

After all, there are only a measly 170,000 teachers or so in Florida. The Scott educational transition team couldn't find more than one actual educator to advise the panel from a hands-on classroom experience viewpoint?

That's right. One. Only one teacher — from an online virtual school, no less — was included in the 18-member Kangaroo Court of curriculum. Just one — and that one was from a make-believe school.

Wouldn't this be a bit like advocating for criminal justice reform and not bothering to talk to any police officers, prosecutors and judges? Or cooking up an overhaul of the state's road-building program and leaving engineers out of the discussion?

What could possibly be a more vivid slap in the face to the state's public school teachers than the disdain Scott and his education transition cabal exhibited toward the very people charged with the difficult and challenging task of teaching our children? Well, why bother? If Scott prevails, we won't need too many of them anyway.

Aside from the effort to transform the incoming Scott administration as the Bush 2.0 junta, the new governor's dream to turn public schools into an educational Easter Island is fraught with problems, not the least of which is the Florida Supreme Court has already found vouchers to be unconstitutional.

Channeling his Bush muse, Scott's assault on education is predicated on the dubious notion public schools do a lousy job imparting knowledge — a conclusion grounded in the draconian and delusional results of abusing the FCAT to punish schools with arbitrary grades rather than provide a simple diagnostic baseline of achievement.

And thus the idea that our schools do a poor job becomes a self-fulfilling politically tainted prophecy to justify diverting public education funding to the private sector, which is not required to validate its classroom results.

At the same time, if Scott's voucher gizmo ever sees the light of day just how many tony private schools are going to be willing to accept lower-income public school refugees for a modest $5,500? Try applying to Tampa's hotsy-totsy Berkeley Preparatory School, or Holy Names Academy, or Tampa Preparatory School. Go ahead. This ought to be fun.

For example, Berkeley Preps' pre-K-fifth Grade tuition is nearly $16,000-a-year, not including additional fees and other expenses. Academy of the Holy Names charges $12,000 for a pre-K-fourth grade education, and Tampa Prep charges $17,000-a-year for a middle school experience.

In the end, a cynic might well come to the conclusion that Scott's scam to blow up the state's public school system has less to do with some surreal argument about improving educational quality and more to do with an attempt to geld the state's teacher unions by methodically draining away school funding.

Given the governor-elect's parallel universe views on education, it may be only fitting that the only teacher on Scott's Ding-Dong School transition Inquisition is from a virtual classroom.

Scott's (Bush's) new (old) schools scheme 12/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 7:30pm]
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