Dereliction of Duty

Florida's Failed Education Policy

A Report by People For the American Way, February 2004

Education is a fundamental value of the people of Florida, whose state constitution even calls for a “high-quality system of free public schools.” But rather than live up to this commitment, the state—led by Governor Jeb Bush and a Republican legislature—has embarked on a series of programs that undermine public education.

Florida’s Department of Education has invested heavily in privatizing education through voucher and tuition tax credit schemes, and by funneling millions of taxpayer dollars into homeschooling without oversight or accountability. On the other hand, the state has inflexible and often punitive accountability policies for its public schools, such as high-stakes testing that as one state senator puts it, “are doing more harm than good in an effort to ‘leave no child behind.’” Rather than investing critical resources in public schools or proven reforms such as class size reduction, the state has rushed to embrace unproven privatization. Even the state’s employee pension fund, which includes the earnings of education employees, has been invested in a failing company that is in the business of privatizing education.

As this report demonstrates, the state of Florida is pursuing irresponsible education policies and using taxpayer dollars to the detriment of public education. Rather than investing in public education for every child, Florida is investing millions for a handful of students in untested private programs, contrary to the will of its people and the requirements of its constitution.

Dereliction of Duty explores the following issues:

Vouchers and Tuition Tax Credits
Florida’s three voucher and tuition tax credit programs have cost more than $200 million. These programs were drafted with inadequate oversight and enforcement, resulting in financial and accountability problems that have prompted state officials to conduct five separate investigations, including a criminal one.

Homeschooling
Although parents who homeschool their children are not supposed to receive state funds to do so, Florida’s Department of Education is spending more than $8 million in public taxpayer money to support students who are being homeschooled.

Testing and Graduation
Unlike private schools, which are not held to any performance standards, public schools and students are carefully evaluated and sanctioned for inadequate progress. Schools that fail to meet state expectations lose funding and enrollment, preventing them from serving the needs of their students.

Class Size
Rather than reducing class sizes as dictated by Amendment 9, which passed in 2002, Governor Jeb Bush has fought to repeal the amendment as too costly, while ignoring special interest exemptions and corporate tax breaks that cost the state billions each year.

Edison and Pension Funds
Florida’s Board of Administration has chosen to invest the state’s employee pension fund, which includes the earnings of education employees, in a company that is not only financially unstable and unprofitable, but that also threatens public education by attempting to privatize it.

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