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School Daze Hot Topics Review

Dean Johnson

LWVOC members at Wednesday’s Hot Topics got an education about the state of education in the state of Florida.

The Florida Legislature is in session and considering several education bills, including some related to two big League of Women Voters issues – school voucher programs and arming teachers. The state League opposes both.

Panelist Karen Castor Dentel, a member of the Orange County School Board (also a former member of the Legislature and a former teacher), said that Tallahassee has waged a “long-term assault on our schools. Their goal is to break our public schools.”

Although there are only 140,000 voucher students in Florida, compared to 2.8 million public school students, Dentel expects the voucher number to rise. There are four voucher programs in the state now with one more expected to be added this session; the four programs get $1 billion from the state.

Opponents of vouchers generally resent public funds going to private schools – where there is little oversight by the state.

Joining Dentel on the panel for Hot Topics were Orlando Sentinel education reporters Leslie Postal and Annie Martin, who, along with reporter Beth Kassab, investigated voucher programs at dozens of Central Florida schools for a Sentinel series that ran in October 2017.

Among the many problems they uncovered at the schools: teachers and administrators with little or no training, not to mention degrees; the teaching of science with a religious bent (for instance, man and dinosaurs co-existing); few science labs and playgrounds (many of the schools located in strip malls); teachers complaining about not being paid; education centered on workbooks.

As for gun issues, Dentel expects that this year’s Legislature will pass an arming-teachers bill, even though unions, school boards and city and county law-enforcement officers oppose it.

Hot Topics touched on a number of other education issues: 1) the state had 4,000 unfilled K-12 teaching jobs at the start of this school year; 2) Dentel said that transportation issues are hindering later start times at high schools (not enough state money, not enough buses); 3) a 2019 proposed bill would establish term limits for school board members (the League opposes it because of local-control issues).

As always, LWVOC members are encouraged to be mindful of the issues and to let their legislators know how they feel. Dentel suggested checking out fundeducationnow.org to keep up with the latest.

Submitted by Dean Johnson