Friday, October 29, 2010

Scott, Sink education plans differ greatly

From Dave Weber of the Orlando Sentinel on Oct. 29:
The direction of public education in Florida could hinge on Tuesday's election of a new governor, who will have wide influence on decisions affecting the schools.

Republican Rick Scott wants to continue former Gov. Jeb Bush's reforms and kick them up a notch.

Democrat Alex Sink says continued improvements to schools are needed, but it is time to reconsider how they should be made.

Unlike some past campaigns, education issues have played a small role in this year's race despite the power over the schools that the governor wields.

The governor appoints members of the state Board of Education who, along with an appointed commissioner, steer education. The governor can trump efforts by the Legislature to direct the schools by vetoing its proposals. And even legislation that becomes law is open to wide interpretation by the state board and commissioner who are under the governor's wing.

Although the topic has been low key, Scott and Sink each have detailed education platforms worked up in part by their closest allies on the issue.

For Scott that was former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, which lobbies for education reforms. The Florida Education Association, the teachers' union, had input on Sink's platform.

From the FEA's perspective, Sink's strength is her plan to involve teachers, school administrators and parents in determining such issues as merit pay plans for teachers. Many recent education reform efforts such as merit pay have been too top down and left out those most affected, said Mark Pudlow, FEA spokesman.

"It has got to be a merit pay plan that teachers can buy into and understand, and can't be based on a sole test," Pudlow said.

Pudlow said Sink also is dedicated to maintaining a public school system amid pushes to have private, charter and virtual schools replace public classrooms.

Conversely, Scott wants to ramp up more school choice options for parents, including charters. He raised some eyebrows among his backers worried that his plan to end corporate income taxes would kill funding for the Tax Credit Scholarships that allowed 32,000 low income children to go to private schools this fall.

But officials with the Foundation for Florida's Future say they have been assured that Scott will find another way to fund the scholarships.

"Rick Scott's plan to provide parents with choice and to expand virtual and online education is very good for Florida," said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the foundation.

Here are the highlights of each candidate's education platform:


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