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School choice, HBCU support top education priorities for Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus

The caucus announced its 2020 goals for justice, housing and other key issues, as well, with members saying they will stick together to pursue them.
Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. [The Florida Channel]
Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. [The Florida Channel]
Published Oct. 22, 2019

As Florida’s 2020 legislative session approaches, the Black Caucus stepped forward Tuesday to publicize the priorities it would like to see as outcomes.

Members of the group, which includes 21 House members and six senators, emphasized the importance of education to their communities. But in a nod to the growing support for issues such as private school vouchers for low-income families, the caucus straddled the fence when it comes to PreK-12 education goals.

“We believe in investing in public education,” said Rep. Bruce Antone, an Orlando Democrat who serves as the ranking minority member of the House Education Committee. “And we also believe in school choice."

Antone paused, and added, “But in terms moreso of school choice, in the public school system.”

He referred to offerings such as magnet schools and, to a lesser degree, charter schools. Those get public funds and are subject to the same performance accountability requirements as district schools.

But the Black Caucus has split in recent years over its backing of expanded tax credit scholarships and vouchers, with some Democrats among its members joining with the Republicans to vote for bills that give more choices to families in the areas they represent. Last year, five black Democrat lawmakers received recognition from Jeb Bush’s pro-choice education foundation for their votes on issues including as vouchers.

The caucus also is looking to direct more support to three historically black colleges and universities — Bethune-Cookman, Florida Memorial and Edward Waters — which have found themselves facing challenges and sometimes controversy as they strive to grow and remain viable.

“They have done so much for our community, and we need to be there with them at this time of need,” said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Pompano Beach.

The education initiatives land amid a variety of other objectives for the caucus, ranging from protecting voting rights to ensuring adequate and safe affordable housing. Members called for diversity in the judiciary — particularly on the state Supreme Court — and changes in the way Florida deals with gun violence, as well.

Sen. Bobby Powell Jr., D-West Palm Beach and caucus vice chairman, acknowledged that the aims are many and, in some cases, the members don’t always agree. But they plan to stand together in an attempt to reach the goals they settled upon as a group.

“As a caucus,” Powell said, “we will be unified. ... In order to move forward, we will remain unified.”


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  7. More than 100 people turned out Jan. 15, 2019, to give the Pasco County School Board their thoughts on the district's policy and procedures for transgender student rights. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  8. Hudson High student Kaitlyn Helzer introduces herself to a curious corn snake during the Nature Coast Envirothon, held Feb. 19 at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Sumter County. Students from Pasco, Hernando, Sumter and Citrus counties tested their knowledge on aquatics, forestry, soils and wildlife while vying for a spot at state competition. [MICHELE MILLER  |  Times]
  9. Incoming Superintendent Addison Davis (center) and School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) sign Davis' contract with the Hillsborough County School District after it was unanimously approved by the school board on February 18, 2020. [JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ  |  Times]
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  12. Sen. Audrey Gibson, leader of the Florida Senate Democrats, introduces a bill in January to refocus the $900 million proposed for teacher pay into salaries for all public school employees. It's just one of many ideas still floating around Tallahassee relating to educator raises. [The Florida Channel]