Perry Thurston: Florida finds another way to turn public education on its head

What part of “free public schools” are we missing here? 

Florida seems hellbent on sending its public schools into K-12 purgatory. We’re at the bottom in per-pupil spending and teacher pay, and the job openings for quality teachers continues to grow.

So, what’s our state’s response? School choice; let’s give more public money to private schools.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed creating a new school voucher program to expand Florida’s school choice options to allow another 14,000 students to use taxpayer money to pay for private school education. The rationale behind the move makes about as much sense as our state’s 20 year-effort of undermining public schools to make them better.

As DeSantis put it while selling this new round of bad public policy: “If the taxpayer is paying for education, it’s public education …”

Such nonsensical logic is costing Florida’s taxpayers big money, while the one institution responsible for educating more than 2.8 million students flounders from underfunding and poor direction from state leaders.

Gov. DeSantis earlier promised to seek more money for per-pupil spending and teachers’ salaries, but this latest move undermines that effort to make our state a more attractive place for educators and education.

We simply can’t afford this latest siphoning off taxpayer dollars from our neighborhood public schools to unregulated and unaccountable private schools.

In the past 20 years, our state has seen rapid growth in the unregulated School Choice Industry. “Choice and competition” were sold as reforms. Our public schools were supposed to improve by diverting taxpayer money to make it easier for privately-run charter and religious schools to operate.

If the glaring statistics that show Florida mired near the bottom of per-pupil spending and teacher pay rankings, along with the number of approved local tax referendums to raise money to improve school curricula, raise teacher salaries and restore aging school buildings, then we all should come to the obvious conclusion that “choice and competition” alone won’t cut it.

What began years ago with Gov. Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan won’t end with DeSantis’ so-called “Equal Opportunity Scholarship.” School choice advocates will want more money from Florida’s taxpayers to make more money for their dubious operations.

That’s the only way I can describe it because there is no easy way for Floridians to determine if private schools are succeeding in educating their students because they aren’t held to the same standards public schools must meet day in and day out.

That is Florida’s fault. It is the state government that has a major role to play in crafting state budgets and education policies that improve our public schools and the opportunities for its 2.8 million students.

For too long, though, Floridians have been shortchanged by dubious state education policies, whether it’s meager funding, over-relying on standardized tests or arming schoolteachers.

Educating children should be a fundamental value in this state. According to the Florida Constitution, “Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high-quality education …”

What part of “free public schools” are we missing here?

Unfortunately, too many Floridians have bought into a panacea of a policy that flies in the face of our state’s constitution and common sense.

What part of “free public schools” are we missing here?

The dream of privatizing public schools remains just that — a dream. It certainly isn’t a strategy for academic gains, and it shouldn’t become Florida’s nightmare that turns public education on its head.


State Sen. Perry E. Thurston Jr. is a Democrat representing Florida’s 33rd District.

Guest Author


  • Paula

    February 25, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    Not to mention all the wasted money from duplicating the infrastructure, administrators, etc. that go into making another school building.

    Pay teachers well, get parents involved, support and provide enriched environments from the time kids are born. Spend more money on programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start.

    Good education begins before a woman is even pregnant.

    And, many of you may have heard the research about talking to your children. It’s the Hart and Risely study: “The 30 million word gap between children in a language-rich home environment,
    and children in a language-deficient home environment was first identified in the 1995 Hart & Risley Study, and ​later examined in the two LENA Studies.”

    “The vocabulary levels of children at age three were strongly associated with and predictive of the language test scores of the children at ages nine and ten in the areas measured: vocabulary, listening, syntax, and reading comprehension. “

    • chris safos

      February 25, 2019 at 1:32 pm

      it seems our politicians want to destroy public education for religious schools.they are always taking money from public education for private schools.if they would spend more funds for teachers and schools theye
      would not have a reason for private schools funded by tax payers.

  • Elizabeth

    February 26, 2019 at 10:34 am

    As a former preschool-12th grade educator, and someone who briefly taught in a FL public school, I can tell you that (1) teaching to the test is a disservice to our kids and our communities, (2) principals are under enormous pressure to increase test scores from year to year to keep their schools’ “grades” up for the state, (3) teachers are vastly underpaid and under-supported, (4) our high schools start WAY too early in the morning, and (5) school “choice” is a euphemism for allowing people who hate science and hate critical thinking to take over our education. I work full time, but if our schools get any worse, I’m going to have to think about homeschooling. I don’t know how in the world I would do it, but my kids need a good education! So do yours.

  • Tee

    February 26, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Why would we want our tax dollars to fund private schools? That should be illegal.

Comments are closed.


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