In Tallahassee, Hundreds Demand Educational Options
February 23, 2012
More than 700 parents, educators and students marched on Florida’s capitol Wednesday to demand more school choice in the Sunshine State. The rally, organized by the National Coalition for Public School Options, featured remarks from a variety of state officials, including Florida Governor Rick Scott and Schools Chief Gerard Robinson.
"As your Commissioner, I believe that a quality education across the board is important – public, private, home school, virtual, tax credit, the whole works. And the Governor believes so as well," Robinson said.
"Last year we had a great bill, the Student Success Act," said Governor Scott in his remarks to the crowd. "We made sure that everything we do here for education is going to be for the benefit of students."
The Student Success Act eliminated tenure, revamped teacher evaluations and introduced merit pay, initiatives that won support from many prominent education reformers around the country. "We applaud Florida for its adoption of bold and comprehensive education measures that put students first," Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, said after the bill was signed into law.
Another reform enacted last year empowered Florida school districts to authorize virtual charter schools. Since then, however, only three virtual charters were approved – out of 53 applications. "That is not what legislators had in mind when they passed these bills," lamented Cheri Shannon, President and CEO of the Florida Charter School Alliance.
In addition to calling upon districts to approve more virtual charter applications, rally organizers touted a bill that would ease restrictions on who may enroll in virtual charter schools. Under current law, after first grade those attending private schools as well as the home-schooled are barred from entering virtual charters. HB 7063, currently pending in Florida's House of Representatives, would open virtual charter enrollment to any K-5 student.
Finally, there were demands that state lawmakers address funding inequities that exist between district schools and charters. One featured speaker had a plan to do just that. “It is a delight to be the house sponsor for House Bill 903 dealing with student equity,” said State Representative Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach). “I filed that bill because I absolutely believe in parents' rights and parent choice and I believe all students should have the same access to a quality education.”