MIAMI (CBS4) – Florida Governor Rick Scott visited the Florida International Academy charter school in Opa-Locka Thursday to tout charter schools, merit-based pay and retention for teachers, and greater choice for parents to send their children to charter or private schools.
“We are going to make sure that this state is the number one state for education, for our children. We cannot get this state back to work unless we have the best educated workforce in the country,” Scott said, still using his “let’s get to work” campaign theme.
Scott gave glancing mention of education in his Tuesday inaugural address, saying that it’s time to take a fresh look at education and offer students more choices.
“If we empower parents and students and teachers and make sure our every effort and focus is on children, we’ll have the best school system in the country,” Scott said at the Opa-Locka charter school, that has gone from an “F” school three years ago to an “A” school the last two years.
While Scott didn’t specifically mention private school vouchers Thursday, one plan that’s being discussed includes giving parents a $5,500 voucher at the beginning of the school year to send their kids to any school they choose. However, the plan is not without risk.
It could become the latest government program that is ripe for fraudsters to take advantage of and force an increase in government costs to fight the fraud.
Scott was joined at the charter school by former Washington, DC public school chancellor, Michelle Rhee. She had a fiery and tumultuous reign over DC schools and resigned last October from her position.
Rhee, who Scott touts as his educational advisor, applauded Scott for having the “courage” to battle teachers union and others who oppose merit pay and “teacher accountability.”
“You people in Florida, under his leadership, are poised to become the nation’s leader in education,” Rhee said.
At the charter school visited by Scott and Rhee Thursday, teachers are not granted tenure. Job security is based on performance. Teachers whose students do well get bonuses. Teachers who don’t perform are shown the door.
“We need to reward the best teachers,” Scott said.
Rhee created a teacher evaluation program called “IMPACT” in the Washington school district, designed to determine which teachers were good and which weren’t. IMPACT was a multimillion-dollar process that included assessing standardized test scores, and a system of classroom evaluations, according to the Washington Post.
If that sounds familiar, it’s a variation of the merit-based pay system that angered parents and teachers that was passed last year by the Florida legislature. The bill was vetoed by then-Governor Charlie Crist after parents and teachers marched in protest.
Rhee’s system was reportedly easy to abuse by principals who could manipulate results to get rid of teachers they considered “troublemakers,” and by teachers who would get front office administrators to tip them off when the evaluators would be coming, according to the Post.
The evaluation system originally sent principals and master teachers into a classroom for 30 minutes and scored the teacher on 22 different teaching elements. But, the system had to be quickly changed to evaluate 10 elements because the original system proved too burdensome, according to the Post.
Critics said the system was, in part, a way to bust the teacher unions. Teachers were upset, saying a system based on test scores forces them to teach a test instead of teaching kids learning skills.
“We hope the Governor will continue to talk with and listen to teachers who are with the children every day and know best what is happening in the classroom,” said Karen Aronowitz, President of United Teachers of Dade.
Like Scott, Rhee supports using public money to fund private education.
“Who are we to deny a child, a low-income child, the opportunity to take the same dollars and get a better education…at a private school?” Rhee said.
Critics counter that charter schools and vouchers for private schools take desperately needed funds from public education, and that funding for education in Florida is already near the bottom among in the country.
Rhee is expected to stay on as an informal education advisor to Scott after the transition team period. Some had touted her as a candidate for Education Commissioner, but that would be unlikely, given that she is directing a national education reform movement, Students First, whose mission is to promote a system “that puts students’ needs before those of special interests or wasteful bureaucracies.”
Scott also is expected to push for many of the changes Jeb Bush sought to put in place. Bush’s voucher system was eventually shot down by the courts, but Scott seems more than willing to do battle again for the voucher system.
Scott traveled to South Florida on his personal jet, at his own expense, and repeated his pledge to get rid of the state plane to save the state money. There are some tabs, however, that even the millionaire governor could not afford to pick up.
The state is facing about a $3.5 billion deficit. Scott must propose a balanced budget plan in the coming weeks.
So far, he has offered no specifics in how he intends to balance the budget, saying only that every program is under review for areas to cut.