Multiple Florida papers have editorialized that Amendment 8, the education amendment, should be removed from the ballot, taking the position that voters are not smart enough to understand what they are voting on.
I have a higher opinion of my fellow Floridians and believe they should have a chance to decide. The State of Florida has requested the Florida Supreme Court quash a lower court order and approve Amendment 8 for placement on the November ballot. The State’s appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon. In fact, the Florida Channel is scheduled to televise.
But let’s get to the real issue. None of these media outlets reached out to me or other supporters to verify facts or offer balanced voices. They, and the group suing the state, the League of Women Voters of Florida, oppose empowering families to choose the education setting that best fits their child. They fear Amendment 8 because it does not preserve the status quo.
We should absolutely celebrate the success of our traditional public schools. Thanks to our many excellent administrators and educators, they have made tremendous strides since the turn of the century. And as innovation and choices have grown in Florida, traditional public schools have improved. But I don’t believe the rules that school districts operate under, codified 50 years ago in the Florida Constitution, are relevant in today’s Florida. Those antiquated rules are holding us back.
We need innovation. We need diverse learning models for our incredibly diverse student population. Florida -- under its current, outdated laws -- cannot realize this for students unless we cut the red tape. Once out in front on education innovation, Florida is falling behind other states that do not share our state’s constitutional barriers.
Other aspects of society are changing at light speed, but education remains mired in the Woodstock era. Amendment 8 facilitates a necessary evolution of education. Imagine our colleges involved in K-12 education, overseeing public schools that graduate students not only with high-school diplomas, but college degrees. Imagine public schools of excellence in high-demand fields such as science and engineering. Imagine these schools available online to all students in Florida. Imagine residential public schools where students and teachers from any county could come for a semester and gain hands-on experience from some of the state’s best engineers in Central Florida, magnetic engineers in the Panhandle or aerospace engineers on the Space Coast.
Those with a mission to preserve the status quo have created unwarranted confusion over what Amendment 8 will do, instilling fear in both fans and foes of school choice and presenting a narrative of an entirely state-run charter school scenario and that of an explosion of new charter schools. What they don’t tell you is that Florida is one of only six states in the country that limits public school oversight only to school districts, and their fear-based scenarios are not supported by evidence in other states.
It is wrong for the opposition to limit the Amendment 8 debate to charter schools, when the proposal is about opportunities for innovation well beyond charters. The mischaracterization has gone to extremes. One Treasure Coast paper stated – since correcting the mistake – that should Amendment 8 pass, local school boards will basically have no say in the charter school process; that authority would go to the state. That is flat out false. This misunderstanding has permeated the media, causing alarm and confusion among members of local school communities.
Amendment 8 does not in itself change the current manner of establishing public schools in Florida, nor does it require the Legislature to so. Districts will still operate, control, and supervise the free public schools they establish, as is the current practice.
Currently, school districts hold a monopoly on the operation, control and supervision of all public schools. Amendment 8 could provide the flexibility for authorizers other than the district to partner with new public schools. Amendment 8 is intentionally non-prescriptive. The free public schools that could be established through this policy could be magnet schools, specialty high-schools that help students hone skills leading to high-paying jobs or new schools not even considered.
What else does Amendment 8 do? It creates eight-year term limits for school board members, to bring fresh faces and ideas to education. I was proud to include this policy, as a sitting school board member. I have witnessed the danger of stagnation on our school boards. It also prioritizes and protects civic education, to help students become informed, engaged citizens.
While I am confident Amendment 8 will be on the ballot this November, I hope reporters will embrace both sides as they write about this issue. And to the grownups blocking opportunities at every turn, please remember that the window of time for a student to receive a high-quality education is small. They only have one childhood. Amendment 8 will give more children in Florida the opportunity to succeed.
Constitution Revision Commissioner Erika Donalds is a mother of three school-age children and CPA serving on the Collier County School Board. She is the main sponsor of Amendment 8 on the Constitutional Revision Commission and is the founder of 8isGreat.org.
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