Erika Donalds: Roadblocks re-energize reformers - Florida Politics

Erika Donalds: Roadblocks re-energize reformers

Education reform requires thick skin. I cringed as the League of Women Voters cheered the end of Amendment 8 and their success in disenfranchising Floridians.

Voters deserved to have a say in whether to allow the school district monopoly over schools to continue, but activist judges decided otherwise. The LWV patted themselves on the back while blocking mothers from voting on something most precious to them: the education of their children.

They grinned at the news while hurting the very women they want to run for office, squashing the term-limit policy and ensuring more career politicians stay cozy in their school board seats.

The once-laudable League disgraced its mission and showed it is yet another teachers’ union surrogate to obstructing school choice.

The devastating 4-3 Supreme Court decision to remove Amendment 8 from the ballot was a loss not just for so many students in desperate need of education reform, but for millions of voters who are now susceptible to disenfranchisement anytime an activist group pushes and funds its agenda.

In addition to term limits and civics education, the most publicly contentious priority was to create new pathways for public schools of choice for Florida’s families. We know that choice, competition and innovation are the avenues to continuous improvement of our education system.

More parents than ever are selecting schools outside of their zoned district school. Parents and the public at large approve of charter schools and other education choice options at an increasing rate. The education establishment sees these trends and has doubled down on its antiquated policies and structure. Their interest is in preserving the status quo, and maintaining power and control over the most sacred of choices — who will help raise our children.

And so, despite tremendous gains for our students, it is clear we still live in a state where the education establishment cares more about the system than its students. To them, students are cogs. They are considered “butts in seats.” I know this is not the sentiment of so many hardworking, passionate individual teachers, but the union mentality has lost sight of what matters. It is incredibly sad, but I will not pretend it’s surprising.

These latest actions ensure that student-centered choice will now have to expand further through private options instead. Amendment 8 would have created a pathway to more high-quality public schools, but the monopoly-defenders and activist Supreme Court of Florida won’t have it.

The students most impacted by this awful decision cannot write checks, organize to write misleading editorials or hire high-priced out-of-state lawyers to distort the truth in the courtroom. I was proud and determined to speak up for them. And will continue to do so.

Education reformers do not give up on students. The greater mission of bringing true education freedom to every family in Florida will continue. It is our goal that every child be afforded a free public education that meets his or her unique needs.

Schools can look different and be a perfect fit for an individual child. Please stop fearing change. Schools of choice are real schools too, with real students and loving teachers. That is all that matters.

Families want choices. Choices are working for students. We will find a way to give them the choices they deserve.

You can be sure this is not the end. If anything, roadblocks re-energize reformers. And we have thick skin.

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Constitution Revision Commissioner Erika Donalds is a mother of three school-age children and CPA serving on the Collier County School Board. She was the main sponsor of Amendment 8 on the Revision Commission.

8 Comments

  1. Amendment 8’s sponsor is disappointed that she wasn’t able to pave the way for 3rd party authorizers to take over operation, control and management of publicly funded charter schools. Who would oversee these entities that would receive 2-5% of state per pupil funding? Authorizers would have an easier job, because the state exempts charter schools from many laws, while other publicly funded schools remain burdened. Thanks to the League of Women Voters from another Collier County mom and voter, for clearing this vaguely worded amendment off the ballot so we can focus on researching the candidates and other amendments.

  2. Tampa Bay Times:

    Circuit Judge John Cooper wrote in a summary judgement that the amendment’s ballot title and summary “fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal.”

    The judge agreed with the plaintiff, the League of Women Voters, that the ballot language was “misleading” and that the Constitution Revision Commission intentionally bundled three separate education proposals into one “to increase, in its view, their chances of passage.”

    The CRC meets every 20 years to propose amendments to the state Constitution. In drafting Amendment 8 for the November ballot, the commission combined the charter school provision with two others — one that would impose term limits on school board members and another that would constitutionally require civics education in public schools.

    “That measure was meant to confuse voters. It did not show the intent was to take away home rule from the districts. … The judge saw right through it.”

  3. Had the author listened to her CRC colleagues or the myriad of CRC public commenters, unbundled the proposals and clarified the language, we would be discussing whether or not school boards should have sole authorizing and oversight power. Instead, the deliberately deceptive language (a calculated risk by the author and her ed reform colleagues on the CRC) wasted the once-in-20-year chance for the Constitution Revision Commission to address k-12 education issues. How many millions did the state spend on the CRC? How much did we spend defending this lawsuit? The language was deceptive by design. The courts agreed. The sponsor needs some self-reflection: she dropped the ball she was trying to hide.

  4. These suggested amendments did not belong on the ballot. The first one regarding civic instruction is a prerequisite for seventh graders to advance to eight grade by passing a civics’ exam. This clearly indicates the DOE is on top of this core subject and its importance to our youth and this great country. Term limits for School Board Members is a hot topic in the State legislature and they can impose limits without the need of a Constitutional Amendment. I believe they will be imposed in the upcoming session or the one after. The last item regarding Charter schools is also unnecessary. I am in a district that has three charter schools that will soon become two. Two of the middle schools are run by the same operator and are combining into one. This charter is in the top 7% of middle schools (ranking) in the State of Florida. They are combining due to a purchase of large space and now can reduce expenses by operating one facility. They do a superb job in preparing students, I thank them. The additional charter works with socially and economically disadvantaged students moving them from low scores to the mid-range and fills a void in our system, they also do a more than adequate job in helping students In my County.
    We had a n applicant for a charter high school. the School Board reviewed an application that was not complete. The financial plan was lacking and the more important academic plan was not fully integrated or explained. There were holes in the prestation to the Board. It was turned down twice. Under current practices they can appeal to the State DOE for a determination that will override the local school boards decision. There is administrative law in place that protects charters from being turned away without caus. In our case without knowing the needs of the local community a state board could have approved a school that in the opinion of the school board was not sufficient to meet its needs. Is that giving communities local control over education which is the stated goal of the State Legislature? Ms. Daniels and her husband are operators of charter schools and I understand why they are in favor of easing the restrictions regarding curriculums and standards. What should have been in the amendment were safeguards where both charters and public operated schools adhere to the same standards and testing. Then we could determine if charters are doing a service to our future or hurting this great country of ours.

  5. THIS mom is glad Amendment 8 is off the ballot. It was deceptive. You know it was deceptive. If you like choice so much, support public school districts that offer choice and magnet schools to all.

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