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  1. Education

Romano: Florida's schools engaged in double standard of epic proportions

The Florida Legislature micromanages public schools in Florida to the degree that Moton Elementary School in Hernando County told 47 teachers they would have to leave their jobs at the end of the 2017-18 school year because student test scores were too low. Yet private schools do not even require teachers be certified and the Department of Education barely monitors them. In this photo, Joanne McCall, President of the Florida Education Association, addresses the Hernando County District School Board as residents listen in April. [Octavio Jones]
Published Jun. 5, 2018

Your religious views matter, and don't let anyone ever tell you differently.

This goes for evangelicals and agnostics, and everyone in between. A lawyer might argue it's a First Amendment right, but it's also a courtesy we should all embrace.

Even, or especially, when we don't agree.

I mention this because of a story I read over the weekend. The Orlando Sentinel pointed out that many of the state's private schools are using textbooks from a handful of Christian publishing companies that have, shall we say, alternative viewpoints of accepted scientific and historical data.

For instance, some of the books suggest Noah brought baby dinosaurs aboard his ark during the biblical flood. An eighth-grade textbook suggested the Protestant Reformation flourished in North America because God provided this land to keep Catholics from overrunning the Americas.

A workbook seemingly downplayed slavery by suggesting a black slave who believed in Christ had more freedom than "a free person who did not know the Savior.''

Some people will read that and scoff. For others, it aligns perfectly with spiritual beliefs.

That's not the point.

We already know people of faith and science sometimes view the world through different lenses. When you think about it, we should be proud that so many of us coexist despite those disparate views.

The more important point is this:

The state's voucher program is funneling more than $1 billion annually to private schools, and the Florida Department of Education does not regulate, or even monitor, what's being taught.

I'm not suggesting private schools shouldn't be allowed to teach what they want. And I'm not suggesting parents shouldn't be allowed to enroll their children in their schools of choice.

What am I suggesting is Florida is engaging in a double standard of epic proportions.

Our traditional public schools are micromanaged by the Legislature to an absurd degree, while private schools take advantage of taxpayer largesse with virtually no accountability.

This isn't just about textbooks. Lawmakers are fanatical about public school children being forced to take a series of standardized tests, no matter what their parents have to say on the topic. And those tests have become so closely tied to school funding and teacher evaluations that curriculum is heavily monitored and narrowly focused toward the materials on the test.

Meanwhile, private school students don't have to take those tests.

And private school textbooks do not have to be approved.

And private school teachers do not have to be certified.

And yet those private schools still get voucher money.

This isn't about whether you believe in Adam and Eve or the Origin of Species. It isn't even about whether the Legislature is circumventing the state Constitution with its voucher program.

The bigger picture is that the state has created an uneven playing field. It is pushing private and charter schools as being more innovative and parent-friendly, while at the same time handcuffing traditional public schools with more and more onerous regulations.

Surely, there is something in those religious textbooks that covers hypocrisy.

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