Back to school 2020 and the long view for public education

Will the Covid pandemic be used to fundamentally alter public education in Florida?

That’s a great question, asked recently by blogger Sue Woltanski of Accountabaloney.

While nobody saw COVID coming, our education commissioner Richard Corcoran has not been quiet about his desire to privatize our public school system. Given that, it doesn’t seem too out of the question that the pandemic might inevitably push that agenda.

At this point, most school districts in Florida have opened their doors in some fashion. With some exceptions, most districts seem to be offering families three educational choices:

  1. Traditional brick and mortar, with additional safety precautions that vary by district
  2. What’s being deemed by most as an “innovative model” that involves remote live instruction by a teacher at the student’s zoned school
  3. E-school, either through Florida Virtual School or a district-level equivalent, which equates to pre-recorded lessons and weekly check-ins with teachers

According to the Emergency Order issued by Commissioner Corcoran on July 6, districts receive the same amount of funding with options 1 or 2. Option 3 results in districts receiving roughly 70% of the per student funding.

With all options, there are cases across the state where things aren’t going well. Some schools are learning that safety precautions are not that easy to follow in brick and mortar formats. Families are struggling with digital learning due to demands on parents, lack of socialization for students, technical challenges, and other concerns.

The biggest issue seems to be with a hybrid model being used by many districts, where teachers simultaneously teach digital and in-person students in the same course. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to successfully meet the demands of each type of student using this model. At any given time, it would seem that half the class wouldn’t be served well. Districts say this method is necessary to ensure social distancing in the brick and mortar schools. However, that doesn’t make it any easier on the teachers or students who are seemingly in a no-win situation.

In some cases, people are waiting it out to see if it will get better with time. In other cases, people are leaving public education all together. Teachers are taking a leave of absence or leaving permanently, and families are electing for an e-school or home school option, both of which mean less funding for schools. Some brick and mortar families are leaving because they aren’t happy with lack of safety precautions being followed by some schools. The option selected could end up being permanent in all cases.

Meanwhile, many charter schools in the state received federal assistance in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans that were not offered to public schools. This is in addition to the stimulus funds that all traditional public and charter schools received, once again putting these schools on unequal playing grounds (part of the privatization agenda).

So, what does this mean for public education? This is a question we should all be asking. What’s happening right now will undoubtedly have a long-lasting effect on public education as we know it. As districts continue to lose funding, will that be permanent? How will the loss be recouped? How will the state respond to the mass exodus of students and teachers? Will it be seen as a sign that public education is failing?

Those who want public education to fail might find this to be the perfect storm. But those who continue to believe that public education is a pillar of our community, and that the state should continue its constitutional responsibility to provide access to a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools for all children in our state, might want to collaborate with schools and districts to find a way to get all of us through our current situation.




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