Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Corcoran's schools of false hope

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to spend big money to move struggling students from Failure Factories to Schools of Hope. That's a slick pitch, but it would further starve traditional public schools to finance privately run charter schools that often are no better at teaching kids in poor neighborhoods. This is another power play by conservative Republicans to dismantle public education, not to help children succeed.

$200 MILLION FIX?: House Republicans want to bring charter schools to students in 'failure factories'

The Schools of Hope legislation (HB 5105) has passed the House and is a top priority for Corcoran, the Land O'Lakes Republican whose wife founded a Pasco County charter school their children attend. The goal is to attract nonprofits that operate successful charter schools elsewhere to open schools in impoverished Florida neighborhoods where traditional public schools have been failing. To get their attention, the House would give the charters the sun and the moon: $200 million to finance buildings with low-interest loans, cover operations and other costs — plus more flexibility to operate with little or no input from local school districts.

Even that may not be enough. Some charters say their business models are not based on quickly turning around failing schools. Or they could not immediately accommodate every student. Or they are wary of being viewed as unwelcome outsiders. Those warning flags should make the Senate pause, yet Corcoran declares in a television interview: "They're all going to come.''

The arguments for this giveaway don't hold up. Republicans contend students need more choices. But Florida already is a national leader in school choice, from magnets to fundamental schools to charters to Opportunity Scholarships for low-income students at private schools. A new state law also allows students to move across county lines to attend any public school that has room. Pinellas County ranks in the top 10 nationally for its menu of choices, and Hillsborough County's charter enrollment continues to grow at a rate of 1,350 students a year.

Republicans also argue that improving struggling schools is not about spending more money. That is untested in Florida, where state legislators ignore "the paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children'' as the Florida Constitution requires. The state ranks near the bottom nationally in per-student spending, uses revenue from the state lottery to supplant rather than enhance education spending and fails to adequately invest in pre-K programs. Legislators also have steered construction and maintenance money away from traditional public schools and toward privately run charters. Now they want to require a portion of local property tax money for public school construction to be handed to charter schools, without raising the tax rate back to where it was before the recession. Corcoran doesn't even want local school districts to get new money generated by rising property values this year, calling that a tax increase.

Hillsborough County School District chair Cindy Stuart: "They have starved us to a place where that's all they can do is give up on us.''

School districts brought some of this upon themselves by lacking urgency in improving struggling schools. The Tampa Bay Times "Failure Factories" series in 2015 detailed how the Pinellas School District abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to follow through with promised resources for five failing south St. Petersburg elementary schools that became predominantly poor and black. In the past two years, superintendent Mike Grego has brought in new principals, more veteran teachers, new teaching methods, longer school days and other proven methods of helping failing students. Most of those schools are now seeing improved performance in academics, discipline and attendance.

Corcoran is hijacking the Times' Failure Factories investigation to sell his charter school agenda. Charter schools have a role to play in the mix of education choices, but they are no panacea. In St. Petersburg, at least two failed spectacularly at teaching impoverished students and were forced to close. The Legislature would be smarter to invest $200 million in lifting families out of poverty and adding resources to their public schools than in the House speaker's schools of false hope.

Comments
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Published: 10/16/18
Updated: 10/17/18
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

A proposal that goes to the three-county utility Tampa Bay Water on Monday could benefit residents, the economy and the environment across the region. The utility's governing board will consider a proposal by the city of Tampa to redirect highly trea...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/15/18
Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rays’ purchase of the Rowdies soccer team adds some stability to the region’s roster of professional sports franchises. It also guarantees that the Rowdies, who have amassed an enthusiastic fan base in a short time, will k...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

When the sun rose Wednesday, Mexico Beach was a sleepy town of 1,200 people on Florida's northern Gulf coast. By sundown, it was gone. The pictures show the heartbreaking devastation left by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. Entire neighbor...
Published: 10/12/18
Shortsighted opposition to TECO

Shortsighted opposition to TECO

The destruction from Hurricane Michael is only the latest reminder of Florida's growing vulnerability to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other impacts of a warming climate. But the Sierra Club's opposition to Tampa Electric Co.'s plans to retr...
Published: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Florida sheriffs have long hand-plucked their successors from within the ranks. While he is a product of this tradition, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is uniquely qualified to be elected on his own merits.Then-Sheriff David Gee surprise...
Published: 10/11/18
Updated: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

One justice on the Florida Supreme Court faces a merit retention vote in November, essentially an up-or-down vote of confidence allowing him to remain on the bench. Merit retention votes occur at least one year after the justice’s initial appo...
Published: 10/11/18