Column: Contrary to what you may have heard, our education bill will greatly help Florida's students

Published May 8, 2017

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men (and women)."

— Frederick Douglass

It is incredible how many societal ills arise out of a failure to educate, in the fullest sense of the word, the children of our great state. We utter platitudes like "we must do better" as we watch a generation of children be stripped of their hope, their dignity and their chance to be all that God intended them to be.

Sadly, this catastrophe is aided and abetted by an educational industrial complex that is more dedicated to self-preservation than it is student achievement realization.

How do we know this? Simple. Just try to change the status quo and watch. We are seeing it already in reaction to the Florida House's revolutionary reform effort this year. Hyperbolic statements, threats and massive disinformation efforts begin the minute you try to put kids before contracts.

Despite the fact that there are 115 schools in Florida that failed for more than three years in a row. Despite the fact that just 22 percent of students in grade 8 can do math, and just 31 percent can read, at proficiency level or above. And despite the fact that it takes more than money to educate a child, we are constantly told that all will be well if we would just spend more.

Where we come from, you're entitled to what you earn. And the educational industrial complex in Florida has earned reform.

That is why one of us, along with several colleagues, introduced HB 7069 last week. Contrary to news reports, virtually everything within this large education reform was debated by the public and the Legislature for months.

We put futures first. We put kids ahead of bureaucrats. And we put money where it does the most good — in our classrooms and with our teachers.

We begin by spending $241 million more this year than we did last year. This money does not even include $413 million in other provisions of the bill that require funding to go directly to students, parents, teachers and principals.

Second, we allow what we are calling "hope operators" — that is, charter school operators with a proven track record of success in low-performing, low-income communities — to come and provide students an alternative to their turnaround failing schools. We believe that hope and opportunity are transformational to the lives of kids who believe many have given up on them. We also include grants to traditional public schools that submit a transformation plan to turn their school around.

Third, we spend $30 million to ensure every child with special needs receiving a Gardiner scholarship will continue to receive that scholarship and achieve their full potential in life.

Fourth, we recognize that the backbone of our brighter future are our best teachers. The very best deserve the very best. To achieve this goal, we offer $233 million that is paid directly to teachers: $6,000 bonuses to the best and brightest teachers in our state as well as $1,200 and up to $800 bonuses to all highly effective and effective teachers. We believe that your tax dollars should reward excellence, not longevity.

We are changing the game with these and dozens of other reforms. Commonsense, child-centric and results-oriented changes are in store.

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But as we stated earlier, when you try to fix an institution, those with much to lose make much of the noise. In the case of HB 7069, the ones making the most noise are those most resistant to change.

You'll hear from those living off the status quo that we actually spend less per pupil in many districts than we did last year. What you won't hear is that in all but one of those districts, the reduction in funding is due to fewer kids being enrolled in those schools.

You'll hear critics say that "schools of hope" are stealing from public schools. In truth, public education spending went up again this year. But most important, the "schools of hope" will be public schools. Public schools in the same neighborhood as the kids they're coming to save.

You'll hear critics say this and so much more.

But we believe as Frederick Douglass believed that it's easier to build strong children than fix broken adults. And we also know as we build strong children, we will need strong backbones to fix a broken system.

We won't ever look at a child stuck in a failing school, with a fading glimmer of hope in her eye, and tell her we put fear before her future. Will you?

Florida Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, is chairman of the House Education Committee, and state Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is chairman of the House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.