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Opinion

Unite with shared vision that puts kids ahead of politics

Public schools are the foundation of our democracy. How we respond to vouchers and charter schools is crucial.


  • By
  • | 8:00 a.m. July 10, 2024
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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Editor’s note: The following is in response to the Observer’s June 20 recommendations for Sarasota County School Board. 


As the mother of four children in our local public schools, I am deeply concerned about the future of public education. 

Public education is at a crossroads.

More than ever, our community is paying attention to education and is willing to work for its success. We have an incredible opportunity to put our collective experience, skills and energy to work.

But we must choose to do this. Political extremism threatens to upend the entire system in favor of privatization. Are we willing to abandon public schools and sell our children’s education to the highest bidder? Or are we committed to protecting them?

Public schools are the foundation of our American democracy. They guarantee a free and appropriate public education to every child. The quality of our public school system is directly tied to our home values and local economy.

For a community to thrive, it must have strong, robust public schools. We’ve often heard, “Good schools are good for business,” and this is certainly true here in Sarasota. Our community cannot afford to allow public education to fail.

To do this, we must choose to put our kids over the political chaos and move forward with unity. Sarasota County Schools have engaged families, outstanding educators and a plethora of generous community partners. We have access to more research and data around best practices in effective instruction than ever before. We have better systems for monitoring student progress and analyzing data.

Imagine what could be achieved if we chose to leave politics out of the educational equation. 

Education in Florida has changed dramatically in the last few years and poses many new challenges to public schools. The expanded voucher program and the increasing number of charter schools run by for-profit businesses has diverted funding away from traditional public schools. The way that we respond to these challenges in the next four years is critical.

To move forward effectively, we must rethink our approach. What if parental rights meant more than stacks of permission slips and packed up libraries?

What if instead it meant a true partnership between schools and families? Our public schools can be a place where every family is empowered to participate, and every student is treated with dignity and respect.  

Academic outcomes are inextricably tied to the availability of resources, including food, shelter and mental health support. What if, instead of stigmatizing mental health services in schools, we embraced the idea that students do not learn in a vacuum?

Research is clear that schools with strong mental health support are safer and higher achieving. Addressing the needs of our students beyond academics ensures that every student comes to school every day ready to learn.

Central to this equation are our educators, dedicated professionals who deserve fair compensation and our total support. Teacher shortages nationwide are a startling consequence of both the challenges of teacher pay and politicization of the teaching profession. 

We must stop acting as if our teachers are nefarious influences who are trying to indoctrinate our children. They are not. They are highly skilled, committed experts who care deeply about our children’s futures.

According to the results of a survey conducted in April 2023 by the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association, 83% of teachers in Sarasota report feeling unsupported by the current school board, and 68% of teachers fear retaliation from this board, if they were to voice their concerns. If we value public education, we must return to the days when teachers were respected and treated as pillars of our community.

We have a responsibility to chart a course for public education. We can continue to waste time and resources on political battles, or we can unite behind a shared vision and demand change.

Imagine what we could accomplish if our elected leaders were champions for the public schools they are elected to serve. This is our moment to work together to ensure that our public schools remain an opportunity for future generations.


Liz Barker is running for the District 2 school board seat. Her website is LizForSarasota.com.

 

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