Home > Uncategorized > Florida Legislature Opens Door to Corrupt Charters, Endless Content Challenges, Lawsuits in Public Schools

Florida Legislature Opens Door to Corrupt Charters, Endless Content Challenges, Lawsuits in Public Schools

The Tampa Bay Times editors’ assessment of two bills passed by the Florida legislature has it right: the governance of public education is in peril. The fiscal conservatives in the state undercut the school districts’ ability to serve children over the past several years by passing stingy budgets. This year the legislature passed HB 7069, which diverts more funds from public schools and makes it easier for parents to opt into private charter schools– many of them private for-profit entities and religiously affiliated, and far too many of those privatized for-profit entities have turned out to be corrupt. Moving children out of schools governed by elected boards into schools governed by shareholders or religious leaders is anti-democratic and will continue to open the door for mismanagement and corruption.

The editors had already bemoaned this development, and in yesterday’s editorial they flagged two other bills that religious conservatives enacted this session, laws that are likely to result in a spate of needless lawsuits and public appeals that will likely fill Board agendas for years to come.

SB 438, a “a religious liberties bill”, provides superfluous “rights” to students and opens the door to promoting religion in classrooms. Here’s the analysis of the bill in the editorial:

The bill reaffirms that students and teachers are allowed to pray privately during non-curriculum moments at school, but that was a right that already existed under the First Amendment. It then goes a step further with language that would allow teachers or students to openly express religious beliefs in class or at other public school functions, which is seemingly in conflict with previous Supreme Court decisions. The potential of proselytizing along with the ostracizing of students are just two possible pitfalls among the many unintended consequences this ill-considered law could wrought.

The fact that this bill is “seemingly in conflict with previous Supreme Court decisions” means that one or more school boards will be faced with litigation from one or more parents and/or libertarian groups who do not want their children exposed to proselytization or ostracized from classes. It also means that principals and teachers will likely have to deal with religious zealots who want to ensure that the law is being followed in each and every school.

The worst bill, though, is HB 989, a law that “…gives almost anyone — from parents to strangers off the street — the ability to challenge the appropriateness of a classroom lesson. Supporters say it empowers parents, but it more accurately promotes censorship.”  The editors assessment is rightfully scathing:

Think of the mayhem this could create. Don’t believe in evolution? Challenge the science teacher. Don’t believe high schoolers should learn about sex education? Challenge the health teacher. Don’t believe the Holocaust actually happened? Challenge the history teacher. Don’t like the language in The Catcher in the Rye? Challenge the American lit teacher.

Legislators used straw man arguments to insist this bill was necessary, citing unnamed instances of parents who were unhappy with the age-appropriateness of books on reading lists. To be blunt, this sounds like bunk. Schools routinely have alternative selections available if a parent feels a particular book contains objectionable material. To waste precious time and resources on reviews of mainstream books and lessons is foolishness. Even more absurd is the possibility of denying a particular lesson to a large majority of students because one parent, or any other resident of the school district, disagrees with it.

This law will open the door to crackpots of all varieties to appeal curriculum decisions made by individual teachers as well as school districts. Having dealt with appeals dealing with controversial books, I know that it also has the potential to eat into the time of school districts who may ultimately have to hear every appeal brought by every member of the public who believes that the content in history, science, and literature lessons is “inappropriate”. In the meantime, the privately governed schools can offer the curriculum of their choice and tell their constituents to go elsewhere if they don’t like what is being taught.

The editorial concludes with this paragraph:

The common thread in all of these bills, from HB 7069 on down, is state legislators usurping control of local school boards and school districts. These same lawmakers who shout and stomp their feet at any sign of interference from the federal government are interfering even more in local schools. (See: House Speaker Richard Corcoran.) It is hypocrisy. It is bad governance. Sadly, it is business as usual in Florida.

With Betsy DeVos at the helm in Washington and ESSA giving states more leeway, expect to see copycat laws introduced into legislatures across the country in the years ahead.

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