For about three years I was a volunteer in a public school, daily assisting a teacher working with youngsters who had not done well in math in middle school. The teacher could not have been more dedicated. The majority of youngsters came from homes where they received little support and guidance from their family.
One year part way through the semester a considerable number of Spanish-speaking students were added to the class; some spoke no English. No teaching materials were available for them. Eventually a Spanish-speaking lady was sent to the classroom a few times a week to interact and interpret for them. She knew very little math.
A few weeks into one semester a math teacher for a regular algebra class abruptly left. A number of different substitute teachers were assigned to the class while a search for a replacement took place. Some of the substitutes knew the subject, others didn't. In the interim a hiring freeze occurred as the school district was running out of money. The teacher I was working with was asked to take over and try to salvage the semester for that class while continuing to keep her other classes going.
This is not a bad school. It is a school that has been given insufficient resources to deal with the difficult task of trying to salvage youngsters who had the misfortune of being born into difficult circumstances. I voted for the Hillsborough sales tax increase to help alleviate situations like this. I am not opposed to and in fact financially support a private school that provides an exceptional educational opportunity for students from low-income families. But to suggest using $130 million of general funds to support the new voucher program will not have an adverse effect on funding for public schools is folly.
Joseph Valenti, Tampa
Public schools are not harmed by vouchers | Column, May 5
This isn't 'conservative'
Former Gov. Jeb Bush defends Florida's new private school voucher program, "The Family Empowerment Scholarship." No surprise: His 1998 educational reform platform (he called it, also euphemistically, "The Opportunity Scholarship Program") was also about using tax dollars to fund private schools.
Set aside the issue of how private school voucher programs can provide parents with the ability to choose the best schools for their children when assessment tests and other accountability mechanisms (like requiring the use of certified teachers) apply to public schools, not private.
What I found most distressing about our former governor's column was his continuing to pretend that his vision for educational reform does not run up against America's oldest constitutional value — the separation of church and state. Until he was confronted with a decision by Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal in 2004 that his plan violated our Constitution, he never raised it or even acknowledged the problem. Then when the court ruled against him, he scrambled (and failed) to get the Legislature to propose ripping the provision from our state Constitution.
Okay, I get it: Jeb doesn't believe in the separation of church and state, probably thinks it's a plot by the ACLU or the judiciary. But, again, he does not even acknowledge that it is a mandate of our state Constitution; there's not one word in his column acknowledging this important principle. I don't know how someone who ignores constitutional mandates can, with a straight face, continue to call himself a "conservative." Expand parental choice in education, yes, as much as possible, within the public sector. But it is inconsistent with America's oldest constitutional principles to require my neighbors to pay for my choice of a religious education for my children.
Howard L. Simon, Sanibel
The writer served as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida from 1997 to 2018.
Empowering women in politics | Column, May 5
There are GOP women ...
Regarding Bill Maxwell's column, there seems to be an idea that only the group "Supermajority" is representing women in politics. Cecile Richards, the group's leader from Texas, might remember a Republican named Kay Bailey Hutchison who represented Texas in the Senate for many years. Yes, there are 25 women in the Senate, but Republican women (Susan Collins of Maine, Martha McSally of Arizona, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, and Deb Fischer of Nebraska) also have a voice in helping to run our nation now.
Yes, women should run for office and yes, they should be supported by other women. But did our nation's women support Gov. Sarah Palin when she was on the ticket with Sen. John McCain? Please do not ignore Republican women. They are part of that same group which outnumbers men.
Crystal Dueker, Fargo, N.D.
Steps for Republicans in a nation in need of repair | Column, May 5
... and don't forget them
Peggy Noonan writes about the Republicans' need to repair their party and the country, and she speaks about teaching boys how to live. How about the girls? If you truly want to repair the Republican Party, include women in the decision-making.
Elizabeth Belcher, Seffner
Russian hacking target should be revealed | Editorial, May 5
Stock Russian meddling
This editorial misses the forest for the trees. Florida is ground zero for the Russian disinformation operation targeting voters. Russian intelligence services and the like are heavily involved in Florida races down to the primaries. We should know which county Russian operatives hacked. But, as special counsel Robert Mueller described, the Russian operation is "sweeping and systematic." We also need state and federal action to stop Russian financing of Florida campaigns through LLCs and other interference. We need a state commission to investigate — and stop — Russian intervention in Florida elections.
Joseph Weinzettle, St. Petersburg