How best to help 77,000 children at perpetually failing K-12 public schools sharply divided the Florida House on Thursday, as the chamber’s Republican majority pushed through a controversial $200 million spending plan to attract specialized, high-performing charter schools to Florida that would offer an alternative to — and potentially supplant the role of — struggling neighborhood schools.
The “schools of hope” proposal (HB 5105) sparked more than three hours of floor debate, mostly by Democrats — the longest of the 2017 session so far. The final vote was 77-40, with Democrats unanimously opposed over concerns the bill would set up a “segregated,” unfair system that would further disadvantage failing schools.
“Are we returning to the days of separate but not equal in 2017? Over-funding charter schools and underfunding public schools is the same thing,” said Rep. Patrick Henry, a black Democrat from Daytona Beach. He called the bill “another nail in the coffin of public education.”
Republican supporters of the measure, meanwhile, touted “schools of hope” as a way to help break the cycle of generational poverty in communities that are frequently home to black and Hispanic populations, because they said these specialized charter operators would use innovative techniques that have been proven to work in other states, like New York or Washington, D.C.
Republicans also repeatedly dismissed their Democratic critics as pawns of teachers unions and cast them as implicit supporters of allowing failing schools to remain that way.
Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times