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Talking Points to Counter Current Criticisms of Public Education

December 10, 2021

I. No matter what one’s political leanings or religious beliefs, the League of Women Voters of Florida believes that we can all agree that our country has democratic and foundational shared values that serve as common ground as we work to create a more perfect union.

Floridian’s shared values and America’s ideals include:

  • Equal protection under the law regardless of gender, race, economic status, political ideology or religious background (United States Constitution, Amendment 14; Preamble to the Florida Constitution)
  • Defending democracy: “All political power is inherent in the people,” (Florida Constitution, Article I, Section 1).
  • Equal opportunity to pursue happiness and to be rewarded for industry…and that “no person shall be deprived of any right because of race, religion, national origin, or physical disability,”

     (Florida Constitution, Article I, Section 2).

  • Truth, transparency, and accountability by our elected and appointed government officials
  • Freedom of speech (Florida Constitution, Article I, Section 4).
  • “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida” (Florida Constitution, Article IX). 

II.  The League of Women Voters of Florida believes Florida’s public education system affords the opportunity for all its students to learn about our shared values and to develop higher order thinking skills.

 Florida’s State Board of Education’s 2021 Strategic Plan explains the state’s Vision for education: “Florida will have an efficient world-class education system that engages and prepares all students to be globally competitive for college and careers” (Florida State Board of Education, 2021).  To realize this vision, students need to have an accurate understanding of World and American history from various perspectives that include opportunities for higher order thinking and for identifying historical examples of political and civic participation. Florida has taken several steps to accomplish this:

  • The League of Women Voters of Florida agrees with those who think all curriculum should include diverse perspectives.  The accurate teaching of slavery and the Holocaust was ensured for Florida’s students more than 10 years ago through the state’s standards and benchmarks.  The Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSSS) were approved between 2007 and 2010. They have been revised since then, and the standards that are used depend on which course is being taught. On January 31, 2019, Florida’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) was established.  The BEST Standards were first implemented in 2021 for grades K-2 and they will be used in grades 3-12 in 2022.  Both set of standards and benchmarks provide objective civics concepts and examples.
  • Florida’s NGSSS includes citizenship skills and examples for students, such as participating in mock trial events, Government Bee, National History Day.
  • Florida Civics Standards are currently under revision. Civics standards are incorporated through civics literacy in K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) and K-12 Social Studies education.

Further:

  • Florida students are taking two independent U.S. Government courses during their K-12 pathway that discuss citizenship, roles and responsibilities of government, government policies, political processes, and the origins and purpose of law.
  • Florida has State Statutes that are mandated for all public schools to incorporate additional educational programs such as Founding Fathers Month, Constitution Day, Celebrate Freedom Week, Career Planning, Financial Literacy and other required instruction.
  • Starting in the 2021-2022 school year all students are required to take the Florida Civics Literacy Exam (FCLE) prior to graduating high school. This exam is an admission requirement for all public universities in Florida.

For students to achieve the state’s vision for education, it is important they be taught the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and the value and importance of civic participation. The League of Women Voters of Florida believes these several examples illustrate how they are accomplished.

To compete globally, students must be able to engage successfully in diverse settings and to recognize multiple perspectives, including those that differ from their own. We reject attempts to stifle voices of those whose opinions differ from our own, whether it be from classroom discussions, curricula design, or instructional materials accessible to students.

  1. All Floridians want students to have successful school experiences and to graduate with the skills necessary to achieve their personal goals. The League of Women Voters of Florida believes that parents, school administrators, teachers, school board members and all residents benefit from sharing a trusting relationship with each other

that will enable us to do the important work of strengthening Florida’s public schools. This requires that our elected representatives engage in meaningful conversations with the public about how we can achieve a high-quality education for all of Florida’s schoolchildren, and to implement policies toward that end. TheLeague of Women Voters of Florida asks that consideration be given to:

Per Student State FundingTheLeague of Women Voters of Florida supports increased funding for essential, much-needed services including math and literacy coaches/reading specialists for children experiencing difficulties; after school enrichment programs; parent education programs; and increased mental health staff.  Such funding will attract high quality teachers. In 2021, Florida spent $9,346 per student. Only 6 states spent less (Lieberman, 2021).

Vouchers.  TheLeague of Women Voters of Florida respects parental decisions concerning school choice.  However, district schools are losing millions of dollars each year to vouchers. As the state legislature continues to expand school choice options and vouchers for them, district schools will have to cut corners to provide even basic services. In addition, the field of school competition is distorted when charter and voucher schools are not required to meet high traditional public school standards such as teacher qualifications, building standards, and testing of students.

Step Up for Students. All of Florida’s residents want funding for schools to be used wisely. Florida’s League of Women Voters’ preliminary report on Step Up for Students, the management company handling 99% of Florida’s voucher funds, details Florida’s arrangement with this company. Step Up for Students receives significant administrative fees that in 2020 alone totaled $21 million and in that year, Step Up had total net assets of nearly $700 million, all public money that could benefit education needs of all of Florida’s children. (Butzin, 2021). This investment in Step Up for Students is not wise or fiscally responsible.

The Achievement Gap – All states across the nation, including Florida, strive to close the achievement gaps that exist in students’ math and reading proficiency between different subgroups, e.g., socioeconomic, race, and gender groups. HB7033, signed by Governor DeSantis in Spring 2021, formed a one-year Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys beginning 7/1/21 through 6/30/22 (Florida Senate, 2021). This is a positive step, but theLeague of Women Voters of Florida believes our elected representatives can do more to reduce the wide disparities in student achievement that exist among all subgroups in Florida’s schools, such as ensuring that every child, regardless of SES, has a healthy start; providing pre-school for every Florida child, starting at age 3; providing full-day kindergarten for every child; identifying and reducing disparities in opportunity that exist in Florida’s schools; requiring accountability from all types of schools in the state; providing resources for setting benchmarks and tracking student progress through the grades; ensuring that all students are taught by certified teachers and who are teaching in their field of certification.

Florida’s National Ranking –Florida is ranked 7th in the nation for improving high advanced placement test scores and 9th inthe nation for having grade 11 and 12students with high advanced placement test scores.  Florida also ranked 3rd in Quality Counts 2021 review of K-12 achievement. But that same study had Florida finishing 23rd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia when the categories Chance for Success and School Finance were factored in. (EdWeek Research Center, 2021).

 IV.  Next Steps

The League of Women Voters of Florida welcomes and supports             parents’  involvement in the education of their children. However, the rancor of many parents toward school board members, and some physical threats of harm, and the increasing demands of parents and legislators to change the curriculum appear to be part of a larger and concerted effort to distract, politicize, and potentially dismantle Florida’s traditional public schools. 

  • Florida’s League of Women Voters calls upon our state legislators and others to hear and let Florida’s children hear all perspectives, not just those representing one point of view  or one political talking point, and to consider how our schools can embrace our differences while respecting our individuality.

Florida’s League of Women Voters calls upon our state legislators and others to recognize the importance of objective and thoughtful instruction, including accurate teaching of historical facts that challenge students to think about key issues and the necessary role citizens play in sustaining a democratic society. This analysis and decision making was accomplished by the Florida Legislature and Department of Education in the past when there was earlier discussion about including education about the holocaust and slavery and we need that cooperation and wisdom now. Florida’s League of Women Voters calls upon our state legislators and others to address the key issues that are affecting the state’s ability to provide high quality education to all of Florida’s children, including

  • how increases in vouchers for Florida’s private and home schools have cash-strapped the state’s public schools, making them less able to meet the needs of Florida’s public-school children.
  • how the significant dollars used to manage the state’s voucher program can be better used to benefit all of Florida’s school children.
  • how all of Florida’s schools, including charter and private schools, can be accountable for providing high quality education for all of Florida’s children that entails following the same teacher certification requirements, high standards, and testing requirements that make achievement indicators transparent across all school options.
  • how to reduce the wide disparity in resources among the state’s traditional public schools, including resources needed to address the achievement gap across grade levels and subgroups.
  • how to improve Florida’s national ranking on Chances for Success and School Finance to move Florida from a state with an average ranking school system to one that has reached its superior potential.

Should the current divisiveness and distractions from these serious concerns about Florida’s public schools continue, the consequences for Florida students will be an education that will make it almost impossible for students to think rationally about important matters or to meet life challenges. They will be unable to develop positive relationships with the diverse individuals they will encounter when they enter the workforce or to thrive in what is, in fact, our multicultural society.

The League of Women Voters of Florida believes that when parents, legislators, and all concerned address the serious issues facing Florida’s schools, we will be working in positive ways toward creating the more perfect union that we all desire.

Prepared by:

Jill Lewis-Spector, E.D.

 Lori Dool

 Christene Campbell Gabor

Rita Hummel

Linda Mann

 References

 Butzin, S. (2021, March29). Step Up for Students: Preliminary investigative report. League of  Women Voters of Florida. https://lwvfl.org/step-up-for-students-preliminary-investigative-report/

 EdWeek Research Center. (2021, September 1).  Quality Counts 2021: Educational opportunities and performance in Florida. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/quality-counts-2021-educational-opportunities-and-performance-in-florida/2021/01

References (continued)

Florida Senate. (2021, June 21). HB7033. Task force on closing the achievement gap for boys. Florida State Legislature.  https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/7033

 Florida State Board of Education. (2021).  Strategic plan. https://www.fldoe.org/policy/state-board-of-edu/strategic-plan.stml

Florida State Legislature. (2021). Constitution of the state of Florida as revised In 1968 And subsequently amendedhttp://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?submenu=3

Lieberman, M. (2021, October 28.) State K-12 Spending Is Inequitable and Inadequate. See Where Yours Ranks.  Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/state-k-12-spending-is-inequitable-and-inadequate-see-where-yours-ranks/2021/10

The League of Women Voters of Florida encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. The League of Women Voters of Florida Education Fund works to register voters, provide voters with election information through voter guides as well as candidate forums and debates.

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