From the Left-The Daily Commercial: Our schools take care of kids in spite of the politicians

Mary Ellen Griffith  Columnist

When I share that I am a high school English teacher, most individuals look at me with the same sympathetic eyes one might offer to a friend who’s grieving a tragic death. Okay. It’s challenging, but no need to send condolences.

I love my career. There’s much for which to be grateful. Like watching a student’s face turn from teen-disdain to proud appreciation when they “get it”. Those parents who act as my partner in the edification of their children. I am blessed to have the pleasure of working for the most supportive administration in Lake County. And my District? We don’t always see eye to eye, but they do what they believe is best for Lake’s kids and that, I respect.

There is one infuriating obstacle, however. Leaders of the Florida Department of Education regularly redirect capital from the pot of public schools, leaving districts, administrators, and teachers like me, buffering students from the shortfall. I guess for that, you may send your condolences.

The appointment of school-choice proponent Richard Corcoran as commissioner of Education, is questionable in and of itself. It creates a conflict of interest. His wife helped found Classical Preparatory School almost a decade ago, and until 2019, she was listed on the board of directors of Tallahassee Classical School. Both of those are charters funded by our tax dollars.

Furthermore, according to the Florida Phoenix, Corcoran’s brother lobbies for charter schools. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe parents have a right to choose where and with what ideologies their children are taught. But not at the expense of other people’s children.

Moreover, that’s all most charter schools do: siphon funding from public schools. Ben Wilcox, author of a report on charter schools published in 2019, believes the issue is a “lack of oversight”. The problems include water being shut off due to unpaid bills, teachers complaining about not receiving their salaries, and the hiring of employees with felony records. This year, principals of two charter schools were investigated for altering IEPs to gain additional funding, one of them to the tune of $60,000.

About half of all charter schools in Florida are run by for-profit agencies. That’s more than $9,000 of tax-payer funds that leaves public education with each student who attends a charter school. The leaders of which often make campaign contributions to political candidates. A more blatant conflict of interest than the nepotism enjoyed by Corcoran’s family.

In the meantime, Florida’s proposed education budget for the 20212022 school year was over $27 billion. Yet, we can’t even get a shop class in our high schools. However, that’s not all due to Corcoran and his cronies. According to that budget, we will spend over $125 million on politicians’ continued affection for high stakes testing.

And the return on our investment? Thousands upon thousands of children who hate to read, third graders with anxiety issues, and high school students whose forte is not taking tests, spending much of their final school hours trying to pass the FSA so they can graduate.

Citizens of all political ideations recognize that passing a multiple choice test does not prove one to be a fine citizen and contributing members of society. No one agrees with high stakes testing except politicians. Those able to line their pockets with campaign funds provided by publishers.

Why not simply increase public school funding and allow all students access to innovative instruction? So, in Corcoran’s own words, we may prepare Florida’s children “to grow, build, and innovate”. By creating classrooms that address real-world needs, we could institute hands-on classes like mechanics, and computer hardware.

We could include more on campus dual enrollment classes, saving parents thousands in college costs. We could provide teaching assistants in elementary schools so our younger children may have the individualized attention they so need and desire.

In our District alone a fraction of those funds could do things like replace Tavares Elementary School’s aging portables, and Mount Dora High School’s condemned football stadium. In the meantime, we have voted in politicians who put our students on the back burner so they can cook up their own best interests while our students go without.

Regardless, there is an elderly bundle of wisdom who regularly attends the Lake County School Board meetings. I believe his name is Dr. Tibbetts. During a recent public forum, he was congratulating the district stating, “You take care of the kids in spite of the politicians.” We do Dr. Tibbetts. Yes, we do.



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