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  1. Letters to the Editor

Saturday's letters: Give three years for teachers' test but no waivers

Published Mar. 22

The Florida Legislature is reviewing general knowledge standards for earning a teaching certificate, which is required to become a teacher. The impetus comes partly from a concern that potentially good teachers may be barred from teaching.

This test has long been a requirement to ensure teachers possess a minimum general knowledge in English language, reading, writing and mathematics needed to teach Florida's instructional standards that students must master as they progress through school. There is no limit to the number of times an applicant may take the exam. However, current law gives applicants just one year to pass. The bills rightly expand the time limit to three years. They also require school districts or the Department of Education to provide free access to and information about free sample tests, tutorials and exam preparation strategies.

Some of the current legislative proposals, however, go too far. Teachers need a firm understanding of reading, writing and math before they can teach these same foundational skills to our students. Without these, how can we expect teachers to help students attain the higher-level understanding and critical thinking that our complex society requires?

SB 1576 and HB 7061 state that a waiver of the test requirement may be given by a school principal and applicant mentor who both certify that the prospective teacher is qualified. This provision potentially puts certification in the hands of two people in more than 3,000 public schools. Such a waiver system places too much subjectivity in certification. If enacted, parents simply will not know whether their child's teacher is qualified to teach or not.

This proposed waiver should not become state policy. It is far better to give teacher applicants the time and assistance they may need to demonstrate minimum knowledge and skills for teaching. If an applicant cannot pass in three years, he or she should not teach.

John Winn

The writer served as Florida's commissioner of education from 2004-2007.

World Tuberculosis Day

We all need to breathe

When I heard leading infectious disease doctor Jennifer J. Furin, a medical anthropologist and lecturer at Harvard University, lecture on the continuing tuberculosis epidemic, her words were simple but true: "everyone breathes." And that's exactly how a patient in Romania contracted drug resistant tuberculosis — just from breathing.

About 10 million people get sick with tuberculosis each year, about 1.6 million people die from it, even though we know how to prevent and treat it. TB is the biggest killer of people with HIV/AIDS, and drug-resistant TB has also become an alarming problem.

It is true — we all need to breathe. TB is an airborne disease anyone can get, and we are not immune to it in the United States, with 10,000 cases reported each year. Dr. Furin says that the two main problems facing the elimination of TB globally are stigma and discrimination, but it makes no sense to stigmatize because if it can be caught through breathing, everyone can be at risk.

Today is World Tuberculosis Day, and on this day, it is especially important to remind our representatives that now is not the time to reduce critical funding for life-saving programs aimed at eradicating HIV/AIDS and TB around the globe. Remember, we all breathe.

Roseann Santella, St. Petersburg

What is the end game with tuition vouchers? | Column, March 16

Vouchers actually work

I take issue with several points in Paula Dockery's recent column about tax credit scholarships and schools.

For one, she asserts that "vouchers do have a negative effect on the public school system" because "every dollar that goes to a voucher is one less dollar that can be used toward a quality education in our chronically underfunded public schools." However, eight different independent studies have concluded that the scholarship saves tax money that can be used toward traditional public schools.

As for the supposed negative effect on public schools, Education Week's Quality Counts 2018 report on the nation's public schools ranked Florida fourth in academic achievement even though it has a far higher rate of low-income students than any state in the Top 10. This impressive progress has been achieved during a time of unprecedented expansion of school choice in the Sunshine State, including robust growth in the tax credit scholarship students.

Dockery ignores evidence of scholarship students' achievement. An Urban Institute study released this year found that voucher students were up to 20 percent more likely to get bachelor's degrees than similar students in public schools. The results were even better the longer a student was on the scholarship: Those who were on the scholarship for at least four years were 45 percent more likely to earn a college degree.

Keep in mind, two-thirds of scholarship students are black or Hispanic, 54 percent live in single-parent homes, and the average household income for FTC families is $25,749 a year.

These are the families who are least able to access many of the public school choice programs available, and who are least able to leave public schools that, for whatever reason, are not serving their children to their parents' satisfaction.

Scott Kent, Clearwater

The author is manager of strategic communications for Step Up For Students.

Bills may foster bans on books | March 18

Don't ban books

I read this article with disgust. I was wondering what country I had woke up in. We should not allow our government to pick what books we read, even in our public schools. The only people that have the right to censor what we read are our parents or guardians. This country and my beloved state is moving further and further from being governed by the people. Let's not let this happen.

Mary Sheppard, Riverview

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