Opponents At Odds On Education Proposals by Gary Fineout

Posted: October 16, 2010 in News and politics

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Gubernatorial Foes at Odds on Education Proposals

Scott outlines plan for vouchers, Web classes; Sink: public schools underfunded.

By GARY FINEOUT
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 9:02 p.m.

Erik Kellar | AP
Florida Republican Gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott and his wife Ann leave their precint after voting Tuesday Aug. 24, 2010, in Naples, Fla. Scott is seeking to hold office for the first time as he faces Florida’s Attorney General Bill McCollum.

TALLAHASSEE | Saying that more money alone will not improve Florida schools, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott on Tuesday outlined an ambitious plan for a "new era" in public schools that could dramatically expand the use of private school vouchers and having children get their schooling online.

"Parents ought to have the right to choose the school that they want to send their children to," Scott said at a stop at a Broward County school where he announced his plan. "With more choice, everything will improve."

Scott, who already has called for cutting school property taxes by $1.4 billion as part of a separate jobs plan, does not spell out how he would pay to offer private school vouchers to all comers. But Scott also said that the state does not need to increase spending on education, arguing that "simply throwing more taxpayer dollars at an outdated system like my opponent wants to do is not enough."

Scott’s plan puts him at odds with Democratic rival Alex Sink on everything from the use of high-stakes testing to the use of private school vouchers. Sink, who did not address existing voucher programs in her own education plan, said bluntly on Tuesday that she does not support expanding any private school voucher programs at this time.

"Our public education system today is severely underfunded and I would not advocate for expansion of the existing voucher programs until we are assured we are adequately funding public education," Sink said.

Sink on Tuesday also questioned how Scott could cut taxes dramatically without harming schools. Scott has said he would help pay for his plan to cut school property taxes by 19 percent by cutting spending on prisons and forcing state employees, teachers and other government workers to start paying a portion of their pension costs.

"He can go out all day long and say he’s going to eliminate certain taxes, yet not tell the people of Florida specifically what he would cut as a result," Sink said. "I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s honest. He’s got a lot of explaining to do."

Florida already leads the nation with several voucher programs, even though one of the signature programs set up by former Gov. Jeb Bush was dismantled after the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

Backers of private school vouchers, or scholarships as they are also called, have tried unsuccessfully in recent years to put an amendment on the ballot that would make voucher programs immune from further legal challenges. Scott’s plan, however, is silent on whether he would push a constitutional amendment on vouchers if he were elected governor.

Still, there would be significant changes under Scott’s plans. His proposal says that parents should be allowed to choose what type of school they want, whether it’s a public school, a private school or even a virtual school. There are nearly 3 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 in Florida, but only about 2.4 million are enrolled in public schools.

Scott’s plan for schools would open up Internet-based education programs to all students, including those who are not in public schools now, a move that could dramatically increase the numbers of those using it. Scott also wants public schools to use more magnet programs and he wants to create "high-performing" charter schools that would not have to follow as many rules or procedures.

"Kids today have access to computers, they’re using computers," Scott said. "Companies are using computers to teach people. If you look at how companies are training people differently, shouldn’t our kids have the same benefit?"

One thing that Scott’s plan for schools would not change: the reliance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or the use of the high-stakes test to help determine grades for schools that can lead to rewards or sanctions.

But Scott does call for providing parents with a new wrinkle in the annual school grades: "A concise, easy-to-understand financial statement about how much resources the school received and how the money was spent."

Scott, who backed a controversial measure that would have stripped job protections for future teachers, also calls for merit pay of teachers in his plan. But Scott on the campaign trail – and again in his plan – says that teachers who deal with "special needs" children may need to be evaluated differently. Gov. Charlie Crist said one of the reasons he vetoed SB 6, the bill removing tenure for new hires, is that it treated all teachers equally regardless of the students they taught.

[ The Associated Press contributed to this report. ]

This story appeared in print on page A1

 

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