Tomorrow will be an important day for Hillsborough County Public Schools. Our school board will be holding two independent workshops discussing both the ramifications of HB7069 and whether or not the district will join the growing list of plaintiffs who have banded together in solidarity to tell the Florida Legislature that this law will not be tolerated.
The timing for these deliberations is perfect, mainly because we are only a few days away from October, which coincides with National Bullying Prevention Month. If ever there were a bully to which all public school districts in the state of Florida must stand up, it would be the Republican-led legislature in Tallahassee.
To be unequivocally clear, the School Board of Hillsborough County Public Schools should vote to join the suit. Anything less would be an act of political cowardice. While I am often the first person to advocate finding a middle ground and building consensus–as Board Members Snively and Valdes, as well as Chief Business Officer Gretchen Saunders, recently suggested yesterday–I cannot in good conscience concur. I respect their opinions and understand their shared perspective, but I believe it largely ignores our current reality.
The Legislature, which is almost exclusively controlled by a core group of Republicans, is clearly interested in doing one thing: subverting our Florida Constitution. The legislators who hold our state hostage clearly have no interest in the will of the people, are beholden to moneyed interests that only care about padding profit margins, and will do whatever they can to keep diverting precious resources–in this case, tax dollars–away from traditional public schools to the for-profit charter industry, which in turn is beholden to just about no one.
My recommendation to join the lawsuit has nothing to do with being “anti-charter” as these legislators continue to argue. I’ve stated it before and will say it again: as a teacher, I believe it is a fundamental right for any single child in the U.S. to receive a free, high quality public education. Education is the engine of democracy, because it allows us to have informed opinions and engage in meaningful, respectful debate about how to solve the challenges we all face together.
Instead, my reasoning, which I first outlined in the “Suit Up!” post, has everything to do with my own fiscal and constitutional conservatism, something that our wayward friends in Tallahassee must have forgotten along their journey to the halls of power.
- HB7069 clearly violates the Florida Constitution’s intent on having school boards who are freely elected and implement policy for their constituents. In short, the law takes away “local control,” which, typically at least, is a calling card of every conservative.
- Directly related to this, the “Schools of Hope” provision for the charters allows state-selected charter operators to circumvent the application process, establish their own school boards, and effectively have NO oversight from local school districts.
- The law violates the single-subject provision, in which any given bill submitted to the Legislature should only cover ONE subject; HB7069 by most counts covers 64 (!) various topics.
- The law mandates that the local school districts share their capital outlay funding with charter operators in the area whether they demonstrate the need or not. And when it comes to the for-profit charters, this is simply more corporate welfare and crony capitalism.
- It dictates how local school districts must spend their federally sourced Title I dollars, which is completely hypocritical on the part our Legislature, a body that continually lambasts Washington D.C. for infringing upon an individual state’s rights, yet is perfectly content to do the very same thing to county level government.
Numerous people from both sides of the aisle have endorsed districts joining this lawsuit. Our own U.S. Congresswoman, Kathy Castor, wrote a letter to HCPS lobbying our district to join; Senator David Simmons, the moderate Republican and lawyer from Altamonte Springs, recently stated that “there is a very credible argument that HB7069 is unconstitutional”; and other locally elected officials across the political spectrum have displayed their political courage by speaking out against this monstrosity.
So now it’s our turn. We’ve been silent long enough. And the best way to defeat a bully is by banding together to stand tall and speak out. While the suit may be defeated in the courts or thrown out altogether, it’s critical that we send a unified, bipartisan message that tells the Florida Legislature that we will not tolerate local control being usurped. The Florida Legislature along with our citizens of the past cobbled together our state constitution. Let’s respect that document and ensure equity and justice for all.