Three questions for the candidates running for governor: Education

School Entrance sign. Credit: CD Davidson-Hiers

Today on the Florida Phoenix, we continue our election series, where we ask three questions of the candidates for Florida governor, who face off in the Aug. 28 primary. Each day we’ll cover a different topic of interest to voters. Today we ask about education.

The Republican candidates — Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis — chose not to participate in the “Three Questions” series. The five Democrats running for governor responded, and we present their answers in alphabetical order.

  1. Where adults went to school growing up impacts their views on education. In that light, please let us know where you attended public or private K-12 school/schools; what you liked and disliked about your school/schools and if you thought you got a good, bad or mediocre education at your school/schools. Feel free to expound about your school days.

Andrew Gillum:

As the son of a school bus driver and a construction worker, and the first in my family to graduate high school and college, I’ve seen first-hand how intergenerational poverty can be interrupted at the hands of a good public education. While matriculating through Miami-Dade and Alachua County public schools, I believe our teachers had the freedom to teach and recognize the unique potential and challenges of their students — before the current high-stakes testing obsession took over. As Governor, I’ll end that obsessive focus on tests that don’t measure what our children our learning, but how well they take a test.

Gwen Graham:

I am proud to have attended public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. I attended Miami Lakes Elementary, Miami Lakes middle school, Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School, and graduated from Leon High School. My transition to Leon High School was difficult – I was fifteen and moving to Tallahassee because my father, Bob Graham, was elected governor. It was the students and faculty of Leon High School that made me feel comfortable and ease the transition during a difficult period in my life.

Jeff Greene:

I went to public schools all the way through high school. I got a great education. There’s nothing I don’t like about it. We had great teachers committed to educating the kids. We had wonderful communities. I have no complaints whatsoever. I got an amazing (education). That’s what I hope to provide (for students in Florida).

Chris King:

I attended both private and public schools growing up. I attended private schools at a younger age and then moved into the public school system, graduating from Winter Park High School. Both of these environments gave me wonderful experiences that have shaped my life today.

I was lucky to always have teachers who cared for me and pushed me to achieve at the highest levels of my capability. Because of that, I have come to believe that regardless of the type of school, our teachers are our most valuable resource in education, and it is they who make all the difference in the world in the lives of students. I have children attending public school and have continued to be impressed by the quality of their education.

Philip Levine

I’m a proud product of Broward County public schools. From age 12 to age 18, I attended Attucks Middle School and Hollywood Hills High School. My teachers taught to inspire, they didn’t teach to a test—I learned the value of civics education and critical thinking. Back then there wasn’t a high-stakes testing culture. We need to reform our standardized tests to be a better measure of student’s performance and not just how well they can take an exam.

2. The debate over traditional and charter schools continues to grow in Florida, particularly since a Constitutional amendment was placed on the ballot relating to who can and can’t control public schools. Should charter schools continue to grow in Florida and should traditional public schools get more money, particularly for public school teachers whose salaries are very low compared to the national average?

Andrew Gillum:

Republicans for decades have criminally underfunded public education — failing to pay teachers their worth, failing to invest in public school facilities, and failing to provide our children with a well-rounded education that creates good citizens prepared for a global future. That’s why I’m the only candidate with a plan to invest $1 billion into public schools, pay new teachers a $50,000 starting salary, and raise veteran educators’ salaries. Diverting public funds to unaccountable, for-profit alternatives only makes it harder to fulfill our constitutional requirement to provide a world-class education for all — not just some.

Gwen Graham:

We should not be fueling the expansion of charter schools before fully funding our state’s public schools.

Jeff Greene:

Charter schools, in my view, should not be funded at all from public education budgets. Zero. Because the problem is, our public schools are so badly, grossly underfunded as it is.

I want to have two years of PreK for every 3 and 4 year old……..We need that money; we need money for PreK; we need money for our public education (where millions of students attend traditional public schools).

We can’t take a penny of it to go for experimental for-profit charter schools. So I’m against funding that. If somebody wants to go out and start a school, go raise the money and do it in the private sector. Don’t ask for public money.

Chris King:

Florida’s public education system is chronically underfunded, from its voluntary pre-kindergarten program to its high schools. We must make sure that our students receive the highest-quality education possible because that is what they deserve and what taxpayers should expect.

I believe that a significant part of the underfunding for our public schools simply reflects a failure of our one-party state government to properly prioritize public education more generally (e.g., versus systematic tax cuts or the funding of private prisons, both of which cost state millions) and relatively (e.g., as opposed to the funding of private schools, especially those that operate for profit).

Public schools are the best investment we can make. We need to do whatever it takes to fully fund our public schools. Charter schools lack the accountability measures that ensure they are operating in a way that is best for our children and school staff. Voucher programs sound good on the surface but strip crucial funding from public schools and every other student who does not qualify for these scholarships. My goal is for public schools to serve every need of every student.

As such, it is a true disservice to our children and society in general that while 90 percent of Florida students attend public schools, 90 percent of the conversation in Tallahassee is focused on everything but public schools –– namely private charters. While some non-profit charter schools are true inspirations, our state leadership has become beholden to the for-profit charter industry, and we cannot continue to support this industry at the expense of our children and our public school system.

It is reprehensible that we are not funding our public schools to the extent that is necessary to support our students. Despite being the third largest state in the union, Florida is a back-of-the-pack state when it comes to the quality of our public schools. We need new leadership in Tallahassee that prioritizes our students’ futures and I’ve rolled out a six-point criminal justice reform plan which calls for using part of the approximately $1 billion in cost savings from reducing mass incarceration for nonviolent offenders by 50 percent over the next decade and legalizing, regulating and taxing recreational marijuana to give our teachers a raise, renovate and build new schools and improve the overall quality of our public education.

I’ve also made free community college and trade school a critical part of my platform. Every Floridian deserves to pursue higher education without taking on a lifetime of debt and so that everyone in our state has the opportunity for good-paying jobs.

Philip Levine:

The state has a constitutional requirement to fund and administer a high-quality public education system, and we need to make it the best that it can possibly be. That means putting funds going to charter schools back into our public schools so that every child, regardless of what community they live in, can get a high-quality education. We should be investing in our public education system first and foremost. Public funding should not be used to support privately managed, for-profit charter schools.

If charter schools are looking to expand in Florida they should do so on their own dime, not using taxpayer dollars.

Many schools serve children with disabilities, and these are important and necessary to many families. We will prioritize investment in our public schools and work to improve them so they can fulfill their requirement of providing a high-quality education for all students.

3. Few public schools in Florida get D and F grades and even A, B and C grades for public schools do not necessarily reflect a school’s performance. That’s because a key part of grading schools has to do with kids passing state exams. However, the state allows kids to pass when they’re not proficient in key subjects. Do you think Florida should eliminate or change the A through F grading system in order to accurately reflect how schools are doing in the state? Do you believe the state accurately reflects the performance of schools or does the formula just make schools look better than they really are?

Andrew Gillum:

Any single metric — a letter grade for a school, a high-stakes test that captures a snapshot of how a student tests on a single day — shouldn’t be the sole, punitive determinant of how we fund our schools, how we measure their performance, and how we compensate our teachers, who are already chronically underpaid. As Governor, I would direct our Department of Education to explore a variety of metrics with which to measure the performance of our educational institutions.

Gwen Graham:

When I am governor, we will end the grading of schools. It’s not grading –– it’s degrading. When I first began my campaign, I did a Workday at Carol City Senior High School. At the end of the day, a young man came up to me and said, “Ms. Gwen, I’ve been at a D or an F school all my life. I feel like I’ve already been told I can’t achieve my dreams.” I never want any student to feel like they’ve failed before they’ve even been given a chance to succeed.

Jeff Greene:

We have to get rid of all this testing. Look, I’m the only person, the only candidate, who actually started his own school….I know something about education.

I can tell you that…..we have to end this whole testing regime; it was set up by Republicans to try to destroy public schools….we have to put an end to it.

There’s just way too much testing. ……I can tell you I will fight tooth and nail to get rid of this testing regime which was set up by these Republican governors to try to show that public schools are bad.

Chris King:

I support ending the current grading system and replacing it with a rubric that supports schools, rather than punishing teachers and students.

Over the last 20 years, a small group of lawmakers who are completely removed from classrooms have controlled the education policy-making process without teachers being properly represented. I don’t support the current school grading system.

While a simple system of assigning letter grades to schools is appealing, the fact is that no simple system will ever truly capture the quality of education. Moreover, letter-grade systems encourage schools to simply do those things that will get them the best letter grade possible instead of taking the time and energy to ensure that they are figuring out and doing what’s best for their students.

While we must have some objective standards in place, we must delve deeper into how our schools are serving our students so that we are properly educating our students and developing the next generation of citizens for our state, nation and world.

Philip Levine:

We need to reform our high-stakes testing culture. Our kids aren’t standardized, and our tests shouldn’t be either. We need to move to a new method which accurately tests the strengths and weaknesses of our students—not everyone is a good test-taker.

The best experts at evaluating school and teacher performance are master educators. Peer evaluation, both for accountability and formative development should be encouraged. No matter how poorly constructed, quantitative evaluation of complex goods such as education can distort and oversimplify.

School districts should be empowered to create peer assessment and mentorship programs along with outcome measures, including qualitative evaluation of schools, programs and teachers.

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 spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.


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