Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

Democrat Andrew Gillum (left) faces Republican Ron DeSantis (right) in the 2018 contest for Florida governor. [Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald | AP Photo/John Raoux]
Democrat Andrew Gillum (left) faces Republican Ron DeSantis (right) in the 2018 contest for Florida governor. [Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald | AP Photo/John Raoux]
Published Sept. 19, 2018

And 200,000 third-graders just rolled their eyes.

I swear, even they can see through the education proposals offered by gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum this week.

Let's see, the Republican wants more privatization. And the Democrat wants giant teacher raises. Meanwhile, air conditioners, tutors and classroom supplies are all apparently optional.

Look, I realize the candidates are talking about broad agendas and not the minutiae of running your neighborhood school. Except, that daily operation is what parents and students actually care about.

And instead of exploring plans that have a legitimate chance of getting passed and having a real-life effect in most classrooms, the campaigns have come up with pithy sound bites and buzz phrases that appeal to their base.

They aren't offering solutions, they're looking for votes.

Take Gillum's idea to raise starting salaries for teachers to $50,000. First of all, it will never happen with a Republican-controlled Legislature. So what he is really offering is more of a tease than a promise.

It's also out of whack with Florida's economy. The National Education Association says the average starting teacher salary in Florida is $37,405. And, yes, that's a disgrace the Legislature must wear. It's below the national average, and trails such states as Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina and Nevada.

Even so, jumping from $37,405 to $50,000 would put Florida No. 2 in the nation on the teacher pay scale. Our cost of living does not support that kind of leap, and it isn't necessary to recruit or retain teachers. A raise half that size would still be a game-changer and might even be attainable.

But advocating a starting salary of $43,702 doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Of course, the DeSantis proposal that was rolled out Tuesday isn't any better. He wants to ensure that 80 percent of all funding be used in the classroom, which sounds great but is mostly meaningless.

Does that mean a bus that takes a child out of their school zone to a magnet or fundamental is a classroom expense? Is making sure a child has a full stomach a classroom expense? After-school tutors? And what about extracurricular programs such as football or the National Honor Society that some students rely on for scholarship opportunities?

DeSantis also gave the obligatory nod to the voucher and charter school crowd with his support for school choice options. There's nothing wrong with a measured approach to alternative choices for education but, predictably, there was nothing measured about DeSantis' pitch.

"Twenty years ago, decades of taking a cookie-cutter approach to educating our diverse youth culminated in a systemic failure across Florida's education system," he said in a statement.

This, of course, is hypocritical hogwash.

Florida politicians are the ones who have stifled innovation in education by needlessly meddling in curriculum and turning schools into testing assembly lines. Teachers have little discretion in the classroom, and creativity is discouraged because their jobs are dependent on tests that are created and graded by faceless corporations from heaven-knows-where.

And now those same politicians criticize public schools for not being innovative enough? It's either one or the other. You can't simultaneously demand public schools have uniform instruction, and then use that lack of creativity as an excuse for parents to flee to charter or private schools.

Here's an idea for gubernatorial candidates:

How about stop bashing education in Florida?

It doesn't help to constantly criticize local school districts and teachers or to call public schools a monopoly, as if they're ruled by some greedy CEO in an ivory tower. It doesn't help to worry parents who rely on vouchers to provide the alternative education that might be necessary in their unique circumstance. It doesn't help to use the lives of students to pander to your voting demographic.

Just grow up, and be honest. After all, it's what we ask of our third-graders.