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HOUSE SPEAKER ADDRESSES EDUCATION

February 15, 2001
Source: Representative Tom Feeney,  Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives

As we enter into our fifth year of reforming public education, some critics are claiming that the Legislature has failed to address public school construction needs and has ignored the obvious solution, which would be more dollars for school construction.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In a special session in 1997 we provided nearly $3 billion to directly address portables and school overcrowding. As a matter of fact, according to a recent national report, Florida state government funds a higher portion of local school construction than any other state, except Alaska and Hawaii.

The Legislature also demanded that these construction dollars be spent wisely, not wasted on extravagant buildings as some counties had previously done, spending three times as much as other counties on comparable facilities.

Today, according to the latest Florida Department of Education report school districts still have more than $1 billion at their disposal for school construction needs. Of the $2 billion in lottery bonds, 42 percent has yet to be spent by local school districts.

The Legislature is doing its part to fund construction needs. Some school districts can do more to maximize use of dollars, provide more parental options, and shift bureaucratic expenditures to classroom instruction and school construction. Also, creating plans, approving plans, drawing up contracts, and the actual construction, take time, years, in fact. In the meantime, many children remain in overcrowded schools.

To provide immediate relief for these children, Republicans are sponsoring the "School Crowding Relief Intervention for Parents & Teachers" Act (SCRIPT), which provides $3,000 grants to parents of students in overcrowded schools to attend the private school of their choice. This bill is a win-win for everyone.

Taxpayers win because this bill not only improves classroom conditions but also provides a savings to the taxpayer. The average funding for children in public school education is over $5,000 not including the money spent to build schools. For every child that takes a SCRIPT grant to attend a private school, the taxpayers will save a minimum of $2,000.

Parents win because they are given a choice. They have the option to send their child to another public school, including any charter school that is not overcrowded, or keep their child in the school that is receiving this targeted relief. If they choose to keep their child in public school, they will benefit from reduced overcrowding. If they choose to use a SCRIPT grant and send their child to a private school, they will have $3,000 to choose the best education they can find for their child.

School districts and public school teachers win because class size can be reduced making classrooms more manageable, lunch schedules will improve, and there will be less need for portables since the grants specifically target overcrowded schools.

Finally, I’d like to ask a question. Which part of the bill do opponents object to? The part that helps the children who leave? The part that helps the children who stay? The part that helps the teachers? The part that empowers the parent? Or the part that helps the taxpayers?