Will Democrats Embrace Public Schools?

Florida has been at the forefront of the school “choice” movement over the past two decades. With a conservative, part time legislature, demographics representative of the nation as a whole and a champion in Jeb Bush, we became the national laboratory for different school choice initiatives.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, Bush’s Republicans pushed school “choice” and standardized testing as the solution to all that ailed Florida’s schools. Painting Governor Lawton Chiles, who supported limited charter schools, as a tool of the teachers unions, the Florida GOP was able to push vouchers and what became the FCAT as way to solve Florida’s problems.


When Jeb Bush was elected in 1998, backed by the Republican takeover of the Legislature two years earlier, school vouchers became one of the two biggest priorities for the new Governor. The other major priority of tort reform went along with the national GOP agenda of “de-funding the left,” which meant mitigating the amount of influence the trial lawyers and teachers unions could have on political campaigns.

Many longtime Republican legislators were dubious about vouchers and standardized testing. These legislators, such as Senator Jim King and Representatives Dennis Jones and Evelyn Lynn, went along with the 1999 “A plus Plan” but voiced concerns about some of the plans facets. In time, all three of the aforementioned legislators would become thorns in the side of the school choice movement in Florida. Meanwhile, several other Republicans voted against the school choice plan and a few rural Democratic legislators who had stopped voting with their party on every other issue cast questions over school choice.

Under Governor Bush, Florida became a laboratory for every right wing school choice idea floated by out-of-state think tanks. While school choice was being seen as a failure in other states, Florida was expanding its program on an almost yearly basis. Owing itself to the weakness of the Democratic Party in the state and the willingness of Democratic legislators to make deals with the GOP, school choice has become accepted by the D’s. This is in direct contrast to Democratic lawmakers in other states who have rightfully fought these dangerous measures to destroy the public school system.

All of this has happened while many Republicans were beginning to openly question the various school choice schemes. Several legislators who had voted for the “A plus Plan” in 1999 sought to put the brakes on the expansion of vouchers throughout the state and began to openly ponder changes to the FCAT standardized tests.

Many Republicans began to actively question what happened to communities and schools left behind by voucher programs. While recipients of vouchers were able to escape from failing or under performing circumstances, those that were left were put in an even more untenable position. This was true in both urban, ethnic areas and in rural areas where private and charter school choices are more limited than in cities.

Charlie Crist publicly supported school choice but did little to promote this radical agenda. As a moderate Republican who saw political value in cultivating the teacher’s unions, Crist’s indifference temporarily put the brakes on the dangerous proposals. While Crist was Governor, Bush began to export the Florida program to other states, actively lobbying legislators in states like Indiana and Utah. But here in Florida Crist gradually moved towards an education consensus working with moderates in both parties to craft compromises on funding and curriculum. This moderation prompted many conservatives to court Marco Rubio, Bush’s intellectual heir apparent, to challenge Crist in the GOP US Senate Primary. Crist’s veto of a dangerous teacher tenure reform bill pushed by Bush, Rubio and their out-of-state conservative think tank allies brought the debate front and center again.

Rick Scott’s election thrust the school choice and reform efforts pushed by right wing advocates back to the forefront. The bill tenure vetoed by Crist became law as did any number of other school choice proposals. At the same time, more and more legislative Democrats, who lack the will to stand tall on fundamental progressive issues, gave Scott their votes and vocal support.

Florida’s schools and educational achievements continue to fail, as budget cuts and ideologically motivated changes to the curriculum make Florida’s students less competitive with their counterparts from other parts of the country. Yet in many cases the Democrats have accepted this or even given the conservatives critical support in order to maintain some semblance of “influence” in the legislature. Many Democratic leaders have actually voted for voucher proposals and have supported GOP efforts to weaken Florida’s public school system.

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16 thoughts on “Will Democrats Embrace Public Schools?

  1. Lets face it, it’s a one party system and in Tallahassee, representation isn’t clearly serving the people, but serving oneself.

    Why would the Democrats want to weaken the public system, which would lead to more inequality. We just have to much amnesia these days. Why support public schools, when you can privatize everything for profit, I guess. And why would Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz endorse the CCA’s project for the privatization of prisons?

    As long as there is Citizens United and unlimited money, critical thinking skills and the greater good doesn’t count….

  2. Not all the Democrats wants to weaken the system. Just the Ds that vote to privatize it like Smith, Bernard, Abruzzo, Slosberg, Perman, Ring, where do we stop? The problem is these people do not understand that if they want to change the system then they need to put in legislation to do so. While Sachs’ firm makes money of the Charter Schools as a client, she should take note we are aware of her record. It normally looks like Bogdanoff’s but this time she listened to her district. Thank you Maria…now go talk to Joe, Steve and Mack….oh and your buddy Ronny and Dave who continued to vote for vouchers while they were in the Senate.

    How much money is the chairman of the Democratic party making off of this..maybe we should check with Siegal’s accountant.

  3. Excellent blog.

    I’m upset with all these Dems for their horrible votes and failure to actually give voters a choice.

    What about Obama and Arnie Duncan ? They’re playing ball also with these conservatives.

  4. Maria voted for vouchers. Check her record. She is in tight with the Republicans. Look at who her chief fund raisers are.

  5. Slosberg is a good vote. Abruzzo as well. Defeating Bogdanoff is a priority but Sachs record and mentality makes me doubt her ability to take the fight to her. I wish we had another candidate.

  6. You only need to look at Democrats like Gwyn Clarke Reed for the typical example of a Democrat who has crawled into bed with the Republicans to tear apart our public school system.

    She owes her election and fundraising support to the charter school advocates like the De Voss family and consistently votes for these pie in the sky changes that only line the pockets of private education businesses at the expense of our local schools.

    She justifies her support by claiming that it provides opportunities for minority students to achieve a better education. If you look at the reality of the statistics behind charter schools, however, you find that 95% of the money goes to religious backed schools and most of that money goes to preschool and first and second grade programs. Very little actually benefits junior high and high school students in our state, where you find the greatest need.

  7. This is one issue that should unite Democrats, rural or urban, conservative, moderate or liberal. Unfortunately as Ann mentions Democrats especially African-Americans have sold out the party on this issue.

  8. Investing in public schools was always one thing that kept the conservative Ds from North Florida loyal to the party. Many would never vote for vouchers even though it was considered conservative. Rural areas need public education investment and lack good private schools.

  9. Slosberg has not voted for vouchers since last time he was a rep. Abruzzo on the other hand has voted for vouchers time and time again. All you people need to do is look up their damn record. Maybe Abruzzo will be like Sachs if he makes it to the Senate. He will change positions based on the influence of the district instead of those who are making money off the vouchers like Weiss and Handler. Perman also voted for vouchers.

    The party is worried about filling their pockets instead of filling the minds of our students in the public schools.

    Sachs got better in the Senate. If she looses it is because the Ds are helping Bogdanoff. Maybe Rader will jump back in that race. Then Bogdanoff will win for sure.

    The Florida House of Representatives
    Date: 05/02/2011
    Session Day: 56
    2011 Regular Session
    Time: 12:29 PM
    Calendar Page:
    CS/CS/HB 965
    Passage
    Third Reading
    Yeas – 96
    Nays – 18
    Not Voting – 5
    Presiding – Cannon
    Y
    Abruzzo-125
    Y
    Gonzalez-142
    Y
    Precourt-81
    Y
    Adkins-52
    Y
    Goodson-69
    Y
    Proctor-60
    Y
    Ahern-91
    Y
    Grant-87
    N
    Randolph-76
    Y
    Albritton-106
    Y
    Grimsley-117
    Y
    Ray-57
    Y
    Artiles-159
    Y
    Hager-127
    Y
    Reed-99
    Y
    Aubuchon-114
    Y
    Harrell-121
    Rehwinkel Vasilinda-49
    Y
    Baxley-64
    Y
    Harrison-100
    Y
    Renuart-58
    Y
    Bembry-50
    Y
    Holder-110
    Y
    Roberson, K-111
    N
    Berman-126
    Y
    Hooper-90
    Y
    Rogers-134
    Y
    Bernard-124
    Y
    Horner-119
    Y
    Rooney-123
    Y
    Bileca-157
    Y
    Hudson-141
    Y
    Rouson-95
    Y
    Boyd-108
    Y
    Hukill-68
    N
    Sands-138
    Y
    Brandes-92
    Y
    Ingram-42
    Y
    Saunders-160
    Y
    Brodeur-73
    N
    Jenne-140
    Y
    Schenck-84
    Y
    Broxson-41
    N
    Jones-54
    N
    Schwartz-139
    Bullard-158
    Y
    Julien-144
    N
    Slosberg-130
    Y
    Burgin-96
    N
    Kiar-137
    Y

  10. Yes a number of rural conservative Democrats continued to vote against vouchers. I recall the legendary George Crady, House Parliamentarian who voted for Webster for speaker and became rules co-char. Crady by that time was voting against the Dems on EVERY SUBSTANTIVE ISSUE except School Vouchers. He kept voting with the Ds on every voucher bill.

  11. Forget rational behavior. Our Democrats are more concerned about fighting one another and making deals with Republicans to maintain some access than anything else. Hence, the continued effort to make deals on fundamentka issues like this.

  12. Excellent post and study. One suggestion though. The 2010 US Senate race probably should have been included as we could combine the Crist and Meek vote to get a Democratic number. The Governor’s drop off is something I have talked about before and the cabinet races will show even more decline in the Dem vote. Two things you can take from this.

    1- Our turnout drops in off year elections. That is on the FDP and local DECs
    2- Our voters don’t vote down ballot. The drop off among D’s is much greater than Rs.

  13. Pingback: Florida Democrats Sell Out To School Voucher Lobby « The Political Hurricane

  14. Pingback: TPH Archive: Florida Democrats Sell Out To School Voucher Lobby « The Political Hurricane – Florida Political Blog.

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