If you care about school choice in Florida, watch out for Andrew Gillum.
In the debate last week, Gillum told the moderator he is not looking to defund charter schools. “I’m not proposing any change to the current status quo,” he said before quickly pivoting to the more popular talking point on increasing teacher salaries. But you’d be forgiven if you’re a little skeptical of that answer.
A few minutes later, when he was pressed, he expounded on how he really felt.
“The congressman has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from [U.S. Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos,” he said, criticizing his GOP opponent, Ron DeSantis. “Actually $200,000 from Betsy DeVos. Their agenda is simple. It is to completely defund the public education system and to stand up the for-profit charter school industry.
“Why should we forsake 90 percent of the kids for 10 percent of charter school students?” he continued. “It’s not what Florida deserves.”
Clearly, Gillum sees charter schools as a threat.
You know who else sees charter schools as a threat? Local and national teachers unions and their political allies.
If you believe Gillum’s talking point about the forsaken 90 percent of kids in traditional schools, you might be imagining a system where charter schools, which educate less than 12 percent of Florida students, are getting unfair sums of cash to flourish while the rest of the public education system withers on the vine.
The truth is that charter schools receive state funds based on how many students they teach, just like Every. Other. Public. School. The inverse, of course, is also true, but I never hear districts complaining about the money they receive when students come into their schools. When considering all sources of funding, charter schools actually operate with about $3,000 less per student than traditional schools.
And that’s not all. According to the Florida Department of Education, both types of schools -- charter and traditional -- are growing since 2013. Statewide, charters simply aren’t cutting into district enrollment. So tell me again how they are draining funds?
As a parent, I’ve watched my own son’s school get the short end of the stick from a hostile school district. And I’ve seen attacks and resistance on charter schools across the state and nation.
These charter-school haters are Andrew Gillum’s people. Don’t think he won’t be influenced by them if he wins the governor’s mansion next month.
His record against school choice, in virtually all its forms, is well documented. So well, in fact, that a “30-year activist with the Democratic party and left-leaning causes,” Catherine Durkin Robinson, sent out a regretful email showing “who supports [school choice] and who doesn’t.”
She linked to this page showing how Gillum “wants to bring Step Up Scholarship to conclusion.” He got nearly $850,000 from the same group that sued Step Up For Students, the organization that administers scholarships to low-income families and won the support of the National Education Association, in part, because he opposes charter schools.
Even though charter schools make up just a small portion of the state’s public schools, and tax-credit scholarships even less than that, most of us benefit from choice. Some are lucky enough to buy homes in nice neighborhoods, or in a school zone where they’re happy with what the neighborhood school has to offer. Others are blessed to get their kids into specialized international baccalaureate programs, or magnet schools. We all believe in choice, and charters are just one more way to help families get what they need.
The bottom line is this: I don’t know if Andrew Gillum is serious when he says he won’t defund charter schools, but I’ve seen his record and I know who his influential friends are. All signs point to a man who’s more likely to fight against families looking for school choice than to support them.
Contact education contributor Lane Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.