Mark McGriff: Florida’s paramount’ duty
Published: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 4:27 p.m.
It’s sad when a $3.7 million mid-year cut for local schools is considered good news, but that’s apparently the political reality here in Florida.
Just a week after the release of the national Quality Counts report that gives the state an ‘F’ for school funding — a report widely publicized by Governor Charlie Crist and other state leaders — Florida lawmakers have voted to cut another $466 million from public education. That’s on top of the dramatic cuts schools have already experienced since the beginning of the 2007-08 school year.
With this newest cut, Alachua County’s schools will have lost about $21 million in the last 18 months. Yes, the results of this special legislative session could have been worse. But is “not as bad as it could have been” really the standard we want for our schools?
And remember, the budget-cutting isn’t anywhere near over. State officials are now saying that when the legislators meet again in March for their regular session, they may cut even more money out of this year’s budget. They’re also telling school districts to expect 10 percent in new cuts for 2009-10, which would mean another $10 million loss for Alachua County schools.
Florida’s Constitution says public education is the “paramount duty” of the state. We the citizens voted to add that language to the constitution ten years ago. And yet Floridians seem to be willing to accept lousy school funding both in good and bad economic times.
Even when Florida’s economy was humming and sales tax revenues were up, the state was reducing its share of school funding and dumping more of the responsibility onto local communities through property taxes.
I’m not willing to accept that situation anymore. Not as a businessman, not as a parent, and not as a citizen who recognizes that Florida’s economy and our community’s success depend on a high-quality school system that attracts new business and new jobs.
When I agreed to serve as chairman of Citizens for Strong Schools last summer, I fully expected I would be stepping down from that position on November 5, the day after the election. In fact, I expected the committee would also cease to exist at that time, since its original purpose was to promote the one mill initiative for schools.
But the threat to our schools is still too real and the stakes too high to stop now. Citizens for Strong Schools continues to function with a new, broader mission; to push for the funding that is needed to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”
That’s the constitutional language that the citizens of Florida voted for in 1998, and we should demand that it be respected by our state’s leaders today and in the future.
I urge all Alachua County citizens to join us in this effort. Visit our Web site at yesforalachuaschools.org to find out how you can become involved in Citizens for Strong Schools.
Most importantly, contact your legislators and let them know that you expect them to support and fight for adequate funding for our schools. A list of the legislators and their contact information is available on our Web site.
If our state leaders don’t hear from you, we can expect more of the same when the Legislature convenes again in March. That would be bad news for our students, our schools and our entire community.
Mark McGriff is a Gainesville businessman and chair of Citizens for Strong Schools.
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