Few things spark more heated conversations today than public education. With 90% of Florida students in public schools, students, parents, teachers and staff, administration, governing bodies, the community at large are stakeholders who share an interest in public education .
Supporting and advocating for public education are top priorities for the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVFL). Public schools are the basis of a democratic society. They welcome all students, regardless of background, disability, economic status or zip code. Schools provide opportunities for students to excel and become contributing members of society.
The League’s vision for education aligns with the Florida Constitution: “The League of Women Voters of Florida supports Florida’s constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education for all children that is ‘uniform, efficient, safe, secure and of high quality”. We support a free public school system for Florida with high standards for student success and with quality educational opportunities for all that are adequately funded by the state through an equitable funding formula.
This article will expand on that view and highlight some troubling issues.
SU’s vision begins with students. Students have the right to feel safe at school, both physically and emotionally. They shouldn’t have to worry about violence or illness. They have the right to feel welcomed as they present themselves, with their diversity, their strengths and their particular needs. They should be able to express themselves, provided their expressions do not disturb or harm others.
Students deserve to be taught by well-prepared, well-compensated teachers who are certified in their content areas and skilled in research-based teaching practices. Students deserve a curriculum framework, developed by education experts, that teaches our shared values and history, develops their critical thinking skills, and prepares them for a future in a global economy. Their learning progress should be assessed at regular intervals, with data used to inform teaching and identify areas where more support is needed. Our students need schools that are adequately funded and governed by locally elected, nonpartisan school boards, with experienced educators providing the necessary state oversight.
The League believes that politics has no place in student-centered education, but public schools and teachers regularly face false accusations and resentment. Recent legislation that targets what can be said or read in schools seems more focused on political gain than meeting genuine needs.
Even with the proposed increases, Florida teacher salaries remain lower than most states. Ever-increasing teacher vacancies in Florida are resulting in classrooms staffed with long- or short-term replacements and posing a risk to the high-quality education our students deserve.
SU’s vision for students encompasses all stakeholders. However, parents have additional rights. LWVFL views parents as educational partners, who deserve to be a part of their child’s school life and decision-making. Parents need timely information about their students’ progress and ways to support their learning. Within reason, they should be free to exempt their children from content or activities they object to. Florida’s 2021 Parents’ Bill of Rights details all rights. Parents can get involved at the school and district level through PTAs and School Advisory Councils (SACs).
However, parental rights have limits. For example, LWVFL does not support the perceived right of some parents to determine what other parents’ children can read and learn. The League also does not support the recently legislated parental right to sue local districts over materials or content they object to. Such laws divide stakeholders.
As school choice continues to grow in Florida, the League supports the right of parents to choose the best learning environment for their children. However, private schools are allowed to choose their students and to discriminate between students and families. Public charter schools may also refer children with learning or behavioral problems to public schools in their district. The League supports any legislation that promotes diversity and non-discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity, nationality and ability status in all SU-funded schools. State, including private schools.
Moreover, the League has never supported the use of public funds in the form of scholarships for private schools. We are concerned about private school accountability because Florida does not oversee the curriculum, instruction, evaluation, or certification of private school teachers, and the accountability system is not comparable to public schools. . Likewise, public charter schools remain exempt from the more onerous restrictions just enacted for Florida public schools. If legislators believe their education policies are for the good of children, then they should be required of all schools, for all children.
LWVFL agrees with the statement that “education is freedom”. We envision that with a sincere effort to support and improve public schools, every student will thrive in their educational experience and benefit from its results.
LWVFL develops positions on issues only after careful study and consensus. LWV remains nonpartisan, never endorsing or opposing political parties or candidates. Find us on www.lwvcitrus.org or www.lwvfl.org.
Rosemary Nilles is a retired educator, administrator and educational consultant. She is a board member and chair of education for the League of Women Voters of Citrus County and a member of the statewide LWVFL Education Committee.