Florida’s Whacked-out Priorities

I admit that this blog is generally innocous. I’m not given to ranting about much beyond the stuff that annoys me personally. Perhaps a little self-centered, but I started this primarily to process my “stuff” anyway.

Today, my rant extends a little farther- basically covering the state of Florida. I’ve known since we moved out here a decade or so ago that the education system here was less than excellent. We’ve ranked in the lower tier of states in terms of funding. Because developers have run the governments at local, county and state levels for so long, there has been little interest in creating tax laws that support anything other than building more sub-divisions with no infra-structure to support them. As property values shot up, people were willing to flip houses, take out equity and invest that in everything except infrastructure— especially public schools.

Local tax rates were frozen or rolled back because people believed the election-season promises that the legislature would raise state funding. Meanwhile, legislators were elected who had no interest in spending money on education. As lotto money started flowing to schools, rather than using that to supplement budgeted funds, it replaced the original funds.

Now, when the economic crisis hits, education is left utterly and completely hung out to dry. The state is funding schools below the cut-off point to recieve federal assistance for education. Ironically, we actually have a republican governor who is willing to take money from the feds. We’re more likely to get money for a bullet train than to keep our kids in classrooms. Maybe we should build the tracks from Orlando north instead of south to Tampa or Miami- in case Georgia cares enough to teach its kids.

So today, I am wearing red to support those teachers and principals who are on the front lines of this crisis… Not only are they uncertain of their own futures, but they spend each day looking at kids like mine who are wondering whether there will be an orchestra program next year. Not because he loves to practice (he doesn’t), but because he has an incredibly gifted and passionate teacher who has ignited similar passions for music in over 100 young players. And who may be out of a job next year instead of leading a program that has doubled in size over last year’s. Mr. A will be in good company, since they are talking about cutting chorus, band, art, and technology electives, too. Maybe even Phys Ed and some athletic programs.

As the Boy heads to High School, I have to wonder what his schedule will look like as he goes into the final prep for college. Will A-P courses be too expensive to offer? Will he have a chance to take a foreign language? How will Florida students compete for spaces at universities – especially the more competitive programs – with no extra-curricular activities and just the bare minimum academic requirements?

I can’t imagine how hard it is to sort out a state budget with 100s or 1000s of interest groups clamoring for their slice of a pie that is half of what it was a year or two ago. I just hope that this year they really do think about how to invest in the future of the people they represent. Even those too young to vote. Especially those too young to vote. Ensuring a quality education will pay off in a better workforce, who can create and fill jobs beyond tourism, service and construction that have floated this state for too long. Good schools will attract industries that place a high priority on skilled/educated workers – who will expect good schools for their children. Educated citizens with good job prospects- the only people who lose at that point are the folks who invest in prisons.

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