Remember “Schoolhouse Rock”? Many of us remember the process of how a bill becomes a law from that jingle which still rings in our heads. First, there’s an idea. Then this idea becomes a bill, which must be vetted by both legislative chambers and approved through a rigorous process meant to weed out the good ideas from the bad.
This year, we were promised “unprecedented transparency” in how things would be done in Tallahassee. In my heart, I believe the intent, in the beginning, was pure. Unfortunately, as time passed, that promise slipped away from us. Whether due to the crunch of time, or trying to please everyone, nowhere was the notion of transparency abused more than in the development of HB 7069.
When it comes to any piece of legislation, we owe it to you, our constituents, to allow public comment and input before a vote is taken. This principle is even more important when it comes to public education and charting the course for success for our children’s futures.
With HB 7069, at least 55 different bills concerning public education were jammed together at the last minute in a conference report that was sent straight to the floor of the House and by rule could not be amended. Even more concerning, one of the bills included in this giant package was a bill that will make it harder for Florida to retain our highest performing teachers that had been voted down in a Senate committee. This isn’t how the process should work.
While there are undoubtedly good aspects to this bill — including some portions that I had the privilege to give input on such as recess for public school children and the expansion of the Gardiner scholarship for our students who need it most — it is littered with poison pills that teachers, superintendents and parents all oppose. While some argue that charter schools are public schools, this bill contains a massive giveaway to for-profit charter management corporations at the expense of the 90-plus percent of students in Florida who attend traditional public schools.
Let’s also be honest — you can’t develop a 278-page bill in secret and tell us to deal with it. We must do what’s right and start over so that these policies are given a fair examination in the sunshine.
I urge Gov. Scott to veto HB 7069.
You deserve better. Our children deserve better.
State Rep. Shevrin Jones represents House District 101, which includes southeastern Broward County. He is a ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.