Miami Herald Editorial: Crist’s gamble on education

Jan 28, 2010

The Miami Herald published this editorial on January 28, 2010.

After several years of diminishing returns for Florida’s public schools, Gov. Charlie Crist is proposing to increase the education budget from PreKindergarten to 12th grade.

It’s a key piece of an economic puzzle that has left Florida languishing as other states like Georgia and North Carolina connected the pieces by improving schools to attract high-tech jobs with a trained, educated workforce.

State funding for public schools dropped the past several years as Florida’s economy worsened, and property and sales tax revenues fell. Even as early as 2002, the state’s funding formula had forced local school districts to pay a bigger portion of the tab.

Summer school classes were limited to a few courses for failing students. Tutoring services to help struggling students also were cut by some districts. PreK classes were shortened in others. Teachers’ pay locally and statewide trails the national average.

So, yes, the money is needed to improve education, but reforms are needed, too, to focus on performance. State proposals for merit pay for outstanding teachers continue to be blocked by teachers unions, for example. Yet studies show that beyond parental involvement, teacher quality is key for students to excel. Much more needs to be done.

The source of the new money for schools also is a big if. While the governor uses some federal stimulus money (which will end next year), he gambles on the Seminoles’ casinos deal, which the Legislature has resisted passing. Without that $433 million from the Seminoles’ gambling compact, school funding remains in jeopardy.

Legislators will have to make the final call. It’s clear the Seminoles’ deal offers one way to help fill that gap, particularly when no one has the appetite for a tax increase during a recession.