The cynical view is this: Florida Gov. Rick Scott has turned out to be just like the others — another narcissistic politician who lusts for power and will do whatever it takes to buy votes with payoffs.
Thus the big announcement last week that he wants to give every Florida public-school teacher a $2,500 raise. Talk about buying votes. Especially when you consider Florida’s unionized teachers and union leaders are not Scott fans at all.
This payoff — if the Legislature approves — would come on the heels of Scott lobbying successfully last year to increase state education spending by $1 billion.
And on the heels of his campaign to force Florida’s public colleges to bring down their costs and offer $10,000 bachelor degrees. Talk about a populist move.
Clearly the guy is selling out. The guy who rode the anti-tax, anti-government Tea Party tsunami to the governor’s office has flip-flopped and gone soft — just to win votes and keep his job.
That’s the way it looks.
But there’s another argument, one that frames Scott’s new emphasis on education as a smart strategy to fulfilling the promise he articulated on the 2010 campaign trail — that of creating jobs. “Let’s get to work.”
It’s a great strategy, incredibly simple. We’ll show you.
But before we do, here’s a prediction: Scott’s efforts aren’t going to change much in Florida education. Sure, the state will move up in national rankings over the next few years. But the results will be like saying you grew up to be one of the tallest ponies. American public education is a disaster. And public education controlled by Tallahassee will always be public education — awful.
The only real way to save our children is to abolish public education. Yes, abolish it. First, back to Scott’s strategy.
Ever since his tenure as CEO of Columbia-HCA, Scott has used the same approach to address a challenge: Identify a problem and its cause. Make a simple case for the change, stick to the message and then implement steps and incentives to eliminate or modify the bad behavior.
When Scott decided to run for governor, Florida’s economy was in free-fall. He says over and over he wanted to help preserve the American Dream — create an atmosphere of opportunity where those who wanted could pursue their dreams.
As Scott told voters repeatedly, that meant Florida needed jobs. If you have a job, you can get closer to the dream.
How do you create jobs?
Government cannot create private-sector, wealth-producing jobs. But the government can create a social, economic and legal framework, or a climate that influences the creation of jobs.
That’s the Scott strategy. Use the power of state government to create a framework and climate that attracts capital and entrepreneurs and rewards investment and entrepreneurism, all of which leads to more economic activity and more jobs.
This seems so elementary, but when you read the daily press, the bigger picture often gets lost in the politics of the day.
Scott has been methodical in getting the framework right.
Step 1: Cut regulations. Regulations eat into a business’ capital and retards economic growth. The Scott administration says it has eliminated 2,300 regulations.
This makes Florida less costly and certainly more attractive for businesses vis-a-vis, say, New York, New Jersey or Illinois.
Step 2: Reduce the cost of government. Cut taxes and reduce Florida’s debt. They are costs. When businesses and individuals pay lower taxes, they have more money to invest, grow and hire more people.
Scott’s administration has lowered Florida’s debt from $5 billion to $3 billion, and 75% of Florida’s businesses will no longer pay a state corporate income tax. Capital will flow where it is welcome.
The big, final step: Educate the work force. For Scott, crucial to that is to make college affordable (i.e. $10,000 bachelor degrees), which creates a greater incentive for the future work force to be educated.
Scott’s education strategy is also focusing on improving the quality of the product for customers — i.e., better teachers teaching Florida’s students. This is where his $2,500 pay increase comes in.
The end game is this: If the quality of Florida’s schools improves, and the cost goes down, Scott figures Florida is bound to have a more educated work force. And that’s what businesses want — plentiful and competent labor.
Simple, sensible strategy: Fewer regulations + less government + lower taxes + better schools + educated work force = more businesses starting in and moving to Florida = more jobs.
Executing all of this is complicated.
The most difficult challenge and the area where it’s most difficult to see appreciable differences is in education. The size makes it daunting, as do such variables geography, culture, economics, families and their histories.
Just think of Florida’s $18.6 billion, tax-funded, public-education system in this snapshot: Florida has 120 House members, 40 Senate members — all elected politicians — dictating how 67 superintendents, each accountable to 67 school boards, each of which has at least five elected board members, should implement the way 192,000 K-12 teachers in 4,200 schools should instruct 2.7 million students, each of whom comes from a variety of social, cultural and ethnic milieux.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit the best this structure can do is what it’s doing, which is pretty miserable. Why would anyone think that having our students in the 50th percentile vis-a-vis students from around the world is an acceptable achievement? When you received a 50% on a test, you failed!
But as C. Bradley Thompson, a Clemson University professor, writes in this month’s The Objective Standard, to advocate for the abolition of public schools is to be labeled an extremist (see below).
So be it. But he’s right. You should read his whole piece, “The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of our Time.” Finally, someone has the courage to say and show what he did. The facts will make you want to yank your child from public school.
We can credit Gov. Scott’s boldness for instituting more teacher accountability and pressuring the state colleges to hold down costs. His objective is on target: Make Florida’s work force more attractive to employers.
And by the time Scott leaves office, whether that’s in 2015 or 2019, he likely will have made progress improving Florida’s public schools. But like most modern government reforms, his reforms mostly will affect only the margins.
It was revealing last month to hear former CNN CEO Walter Isaacson talk about his experience of rebuilding New Orleans’ public school system after Hurricane Katrina. He established an entire district of competitive charter schools. And guess what? New Orleans’ schools are vastly improved; competition is working.
This message has always been clear: Let the marketplace fill the needs. Abolish public schools, indeed.
EXCERPT: WHY THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM SHOULD BE ABOLISHED
I begin with my conclusion: The “public” school system is the most immoral and corrupt institution in the United States of America today, and it should be abolished. It should be abolished for the same reason that chattel slavery was ended in the 19th century: Although different in purpose and in magnitude of harm to its victims, public education, like slavery, is a form of involuntary servitude. The primary difference is that public schools force children to serve the interests of the state rather than those of an individual master.
These are — to be sure — radical claims, but they are true, and the abolition of public schools is an idea whose time has come. It is time for Americans to re-examine — radically and comprehensively — the nature and purpose of their disastrously failing public school system, and to launch a new abolitionist movement, a movement to liberate tens of millions of children and their parents from this form of bondage.
Twenty-first century Abolitionists are confronted, however, by a paradoxical fact: Most Americans recognize that something is deeply wrong with the country’s elementary and secondary schools, yet they support them like no other institution. Mention the possibility of abolishing the public schools, and most people look at you as though you are crazy. And, of course, no politician would ever dare cut spending to our schools and to the “kids.”
For those who take seriously the idea that our public schools are broken and need to be fixed, the most common solutions include spending more money, raising standards, reducing class size, issuing vouchers and establishing charter schools. And yet, despite decades of such reforms, our schools only get worse.
The solution is not further reforms. The solution is abolition …
The case for abolition is clear. America’s government school system is immoral, impractical and unfixable. It is immoral because it is coercive — because it forces parents to submit their children to government-sanctioned educators, government-sanctioned curricula and the whims of government bureaucrats — and because it forces Americans to fund its immoral operations at the point of a gun. The government school system is impractical in that it fails to educate children — and it fails to do so by design. Its goal is not and never has been to educate children; its goal is to create obedient citizens who will serve the state. And because the government school system is by its very nature immoral and impractical, it cannot be reformed. It must be abolished …
Part and parcel of our principled approach must be the wholesale rejection of conservative demands for “prudence,” demands that the government schools not be abolished but rather be “reformed.” Nonsense. You cannot reform that which is fundamentally corrupt.
Conservatives (not to mention leftists) will attempt to smear us as “extremists,” as “firebrands,” as “incendiaries.” Good. We will answer that we are extremists — extremists for what is morally right and educationally practical…
C. Bradley Thompson is a professor of political science at Clemson University. To read “The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of our Time,” go to TheObjectiveStandard.com.
HOW WE RANK vs. 25 COUNTRIES
Percentage of our students scoring above the world.
Math | Reading
Sarasota County: 50% | 63%
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