As the Florida Supreme Court considered and ultimately removed Amendment 8, the education constitutional amendment, from the November ballot, there was a debate occurring among Florida conservatives over both the wording and the merits of the proposal.
Part of the amendment allowed entities other than duly elected school boards, to authorize education alternatives, charter schools being chief among them. Some well-meaning conservatives have been arguing that opposition to Amendment 8 was limited only to liberals. These conservatives also said that opposition to Amendment 8 was a “vote for the status quo” where half of students, especially poor students, can’t read at grade level.
The truth is that there were many Floridians who opposed Amendment 8 specifically and are concerned about the rapid expansion of charter schools for conservative reasons. Here are the six most important:
Loss of Local Control
When has moving control of anything farther away from the local level increased parent or citizen control? Putting charter decisions in the hands of Tallahassee legislators or bureaucrats, many funded by the very charter corporations viewed with suspicion by Floridians, will not improve parental or local decision-making. The majority of charters are not high-performing like the Hillsdale classical charter in Collier County. They are corporate charters, the boards of which may not be in the same state or even country (think the controversial Turkish Gulen Harmony Schools), much less the same city or county as the schools they control. The same establishment groups and individuals that gave us Common Core and data mining were promoting this amendment. Neutering and or eliminating duly elected school boards has been on their to-do list for decades.
No Improvement in Curriculum – Still Common Core
While Florida parents may be under the impression that charter schools offer children a superior education, this is often not the case. The curriculum in the majority of charters follows the same Common Core standards used by Florida’s public schools, rebranded as the Florida Standards, and students are tested using the same invasive, Common Core-aligned assessments.
Lack of Financial Stability
Many charters have proven to be fly-by-night operations that go belly-up without warning, abandoning the kids they are supposed to help. These charters leave local taxpayers on the hook for all of the land, building, and equipment costs - $70 million through 2015. Despite this fact, taxpayers have little to no oversight or decision-making at these schools.
Poor Academic Performance
The academic performance at charters is on the whole no better than public schools, especially at the low end, with data from Texas and Florida showing the same or greater percentages of disproportionally failing charters compared to public schools. These schools often refuse to serve children who need help the most - the poor and disabled. Looking at the demographics of high-performing charter schools, they do not include many of the children who were “waiting for Superman” - they have the kids who are already doing well.
Lack of Transparency
Regardless of one's opinions of charters, if the ideas behind the charter-related provisions of Amendment 8 were so fabulous, why weren’t the title and language made more clear so that there could be a reasonable debate? Incredibly, the amendment didn't even mention the word “charter.” Why was this piece of it bundled with two other issues more favored by voters? If 8 was so great, shouldn't it have been able to plainly stand on its own?
Excessive Government Strings
Co-mingling public funds for other education alternatives mentioned by Amendment 8 proponents would have opened the door widely to further government control of standards, curriculum, testing, and teaching. All parents would get in the end is a choice of location, not a choice of what their kids are taught. Conservative parents who want a true alternative to public schools want real choice without government strings, just as much as public school parents do not want public funds supporting private alternatives.
For these reasons and more, the courts were right to reject Amendment 8. Even if the courts had kept it on the ballot, voters should still have rejected it. Florida’s families deserve better.
Karen R. Effrem, M.D., is executive director of The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.