Editorial: The Republican phonies assault public education

CHRIS URSO   |   Times
Gov. Rick Scott, left, signed into law on Thursday House Speaker Richard Corcoran's scheme to eviscerate public education in Florida.

CHRIS URSO | Times Gov. Rick Scott, left, signed into law on Thursday House Speaker Richard Corcoran's scheme to eviscerate public education in Florida.
Published June 16, 2017

It's no surprise Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a massive education bill Thursday at a private Catholic school in Orlando. His commitment to public education is as phony as the denials there were secret deals to preserve this gift to private schools and charter schools. Now Republican leaders in Tallahassee all claim to be winners, and the losers are the school superintendents, principals and teachers who begged the governor to veto House Speaker Richard Corcoran's scheme to eviscerate public education.

The fix was in before the Legislature met last week in special session. Corcoran magically dropped his crusade against the governor's key issues, preserving money for tourism promotion and enticements for companies to create jobs. Lawmakers also threw a little more money toward public schools after Scott vetoed that portion of the budget in a faux concern for their well-being. They even gave the governor money toward Lake Okeechobee dike repairs after summarily rejecting the idea during the regular session.

THE DEAL: Cash for bad public policy

The payoff came Thursday, when Scott signed Corcoran's top priority into law after days of "reviewing'' the legislation. What Scott was studying was his prospective U.S. Senate campaign next year and the political risks of angering the Republican base by standing up for public schools and against Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. Standing with him Thursday: Corcoran, his newfound friend and potential candidate for governor who fought the governor for months over Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

This is transactional politics at its worst, and Corcoran is as phony as Scott. He agreed to the same level of spending on tourism promotion as last year and to a new slush fund to lure businesses after portraying himself as the dragon slayer of public waste and corporate welfare. He bragged about transparency while secretly stitching together pieces of more than 50 bills into HB 7069 and springing it on lawmakers in the final days of the regular session. But Corcoran's mastery of politics and policy in the Legislature is real, and so is his disdain for public education.

The legislation cooked up by Corcoran and signed into law by Scott micromanages public schools and starves them financially. It requires 20 minutes of recess daily in public elementary schools — but not in privately run charters. It enables charter schools to take over for struggling public schools in St. Petersburg and elsewhere with virtually no say by local school districts. It takes local tax money for capital projects for public schools and hands it to charters, making it harder for Pasco and Hillsborough counties to pay for new schools to accommodate growth. It handcuffs public school districts in managing federal Title I money, making it harder for Pinellas to shift money to schools that need the most help.

This assault on public education never should have been approved by the Legislature, much less become law. The Senate approved the legislation by a 20-18 vote, so just one more Republican with courage could have killed it. Yet Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Jack Latvala of Clearwater, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa and Wilton Simpson of Trilby voted for it. Perhaps some assumed Scott would veto it, but they assumed wrong and should be held accountable. So should Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who sold his soul for a South Florida reservoir. Negron delivered a lengthy argument last week that he did not agree to any deal that included Scott signing into law HB 7069 and repeatedly called it a "fake narrative.'' Other Republican senators said otherwise, and that narrative looks very real today.

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Republican House members celebrated with Scott and Corcoran on Thursday as they proclaimed their support for a "world-class'' education for all students. It is a phony pitch that masks their hostile private takeover of public education, and it insults thousands of principals and teachers working every day in public schools without the resources and support Tallahassee should provide.