By Francisco Gonzalez, JMI Development Director
Posted January 4, 2012
It’s that time of year again. Gathering around the dinner table with friends and relatives you don’t see very often. And when you remind them that you are living and working in the public policy arena inTallahassee (or Washington, for that matter), your relatives have so many opinions about what government is doing wrong. This is the state of things today–so many people are affected by decisions made in far distant capital cities, and they are ready to vent.Take for example my aunt who teaches in Miami-Dade public schools. When I saw her on Christmas Day inMiami, she asked me what I thought of our Governor, Rick Scott. Her opinion of him is not so high. But after I asked her a few questions, it didn’t seem like she had all the facts on her side. She was, once again (sigh), repeating talking points straight from the teachers union reps.I reminded her that just a few weeks prior, Governor Scott proposed to increase public education spending by $1 billion/year. Honestly, while I like many things about this Governor, I don’t agree with him that more spending is the answer. Consider this: because of the poor state of the current economy, there is a lower revenue stream coming into state government (via our taxes). Therefore,Florida’s Legislature will once again have to cut $2 billion in spending just to balance the budget. Unlike Washington, Florida actually has to balance its budget each year (as directed by the state constitution). So, the projections have us once again in a “revenue shortfall” by $2 billion this year. Taking the projected shortfall into account, if we do what the Governor wants to do, and INCREASE spending for education by $1 billion this year, we’ll have to cut $3 billion elsewhere. That’s awfully tough when you consider that education is already the #2 spending item in the state budget–roughly 13% of the state budget. (The largest spending item in the budget is health care, most of which is Medicaid.)Plus, study after study shows that money is NOT the answer to improving education. Some of the worst school systems in the country (DC and NJ) are also the ones that spend the most on education.The teachers unions like to say that conservative Governors like Jeb Bush and Rick Scott are anti-teacher. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. Governors Bush and Scott have done more than any other Florida Governors in recent history to try to cut down on other spending items that strain the state budget (like Medicaid) and push positive reforms like merit pay for teachers (more money for good teachers) and the expansion of school choice (more options for poor and middle class students and parents such as charter schools and vouchers). In my opinion, the biggest thing hindering education reform is the teachers unions and the administrative bureaucracies. Local, state, and federal administration buildings are expensive monstrosities, and the bureaucrats in them know very little about what’s going on in individual classrooms, yet they put a lot of demands on teachers like my aunt. What we need is more local control of education–ultimately individual control–and I think that day is coming (especially with new technologies such as virtual school). The teachers unions realize they are losing their control over education–and thus money and power—and are fighting it in every way they can, even if it means giving teachers and school administrators false information.