Dear governor: Ignoring traditional public schools is a slap in the face

October 21, 2019 7:00 am

Chicago public school teachers picketing over contract agreement with the city. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Gov. Ron DeSantis met with finance and aviation leaders last week in New York, to talk about Florida’s “business-friendly” environment.

He touted the state’s “pro-business tax climate, top-rated public university system and talented workforce,” according to a news release.

Missing was a little-noticed meeting on the governor’s Big Apple travel schedule:

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Friday, DeSantis visited a prominent, nontraditional New York City charter school network – Success Academy Charter Schools — that has garnered high praise for academic performance but tough criticism from detractors.

Some parents, for example, have complained about an “excessively punitive atmosphere” for children, and other concerns, according to a 2017 New Yorker article titled: Success Academy’s Radical Educational Experiment.

The charter group manages 45 public charter schools enrolling some 17,000 students, largely low-income and mostly black and Hispanic, according to its website. The network describes itself as “the largest and highest-performing free, public charter school network in New York City.”

For those who aren’t education policy experts, charter schools have been part of the education landscape for decades.  Some families flock to alternative public charters as a lifeline, but most others stick to traditional public schools.

There’s still a lot of controversy about the charter movement, in part because charters are financed by public dollars but run by private entities, both nonprofit and profit-driven.

Many educators and teacher unions nationwide believe taxpayer dollars have been siphoned from traditional schools to finance charters. In Florida, charter schools have blossomed.

So far, the public doesn’t know why DeSantis met with Success Academy Charter Schools.

The public also doesn’t know why the governor’s travel schedule didn’t include a meeting with traditional public schools in New York City.

Let’s face it: Ignoring traditional public schools is a slap in the face.

For generations, great grandparents, grandparents, moms, dads and now current students have attended traditional public schools. And don’t forget DeSantis – he graduated from a Florida public school.

It’s not the first time that DeSantis has dissed visits to traditional public schools.

The Florida Phoenix earlier chronicled where the governor traveled since his inauguration and through the end of June, listing 135 travel entries. The analysis included visits to schools.

Of 18 appearances at schools across Florida during that time period, the governor visited seven traditional public schools. He appeared three times in Hillsborough, and elsewhere in Broward, Sarasota, Palm Beach and Pinellas.

The other 11 appearances were at private schools, often with religious affiliations.

There was the Baptist Piney Grove Boys Academy, in Broward; the Greater Miami Adventist Academy in Miami-Dade; the Calvary City Christian Academy in Orange; the Mt. Moriah Christian Fundamental Academy School in Pinellas and the Potter’s House Christian Academy in Duval, among others.

Some private special education schools also were included in the list of governor appearances. The private schools tended to be connected to controversial scholarships, or vouchers, that allow public dollars for private schools.

As to other nontraditional schools – the public charter schools that have blossomed across the country — educators, families, politicians and taxpayers should be aware that charter schools represent a small, albeit growing, slice of the K-12 education world.

The latest U.S. Department of Education report on enrollment show that 47.3-million students attended traditional public grade schools and high schools nationwide in fall 2016, compared to about 3 million students in public charter schools.

The charter enrollment has risen dramatically compared to fall 2000, but again, the increases fall far below the number of students in traditional schools.

In addition, the report called School Choice in the United States: 2019, revealed no “measurable differences in average reading and mathematics scores” between students in traditional public schools and kids in public charter schools when it came to performance on major federal tests for 4th and 8th graders in 2017.

Yet Gov. DeSantis decided to meet with the New York City-based Success Academy Charter Schools, rather than visit traditional public schools in the city.

Was the governor interested in bringing the New York City charter school network into Florida, or looking to replicate the network’s model to improve Florida’s current charters? Who knows?

A Success Academy press associate, Liz Baker, said in an email to the Phoenix that the head of the charter network “frequently meets with elected officials from other states who are interested in our school model, but Success Academy has no plans to open schools anywhere outside New York City.”

As to any criticisms of the charter network, Baker said, “There are many views and reports. Not all are accurate.”

Meanwhile, maybe it’s time for governor DeSantis to go back to his roots as a public-school graduate and focus on visiting traditional public schools that enroll the vast majority of students in Florida.

Let’s face it: Ignoring traditional public schools is a slap in the face.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.