Only on 8: Florida House Speaker defends new education law

TAMPA, Fla.  (WFLA) – Public schools in Florida are scrambling to cover their budget losses after Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial education bill, HB 7069, into law this week.

The bill was widely criticized by school officials statewide, though Republicans are claiming a victory.

Governor Scott says the law paves the way for every Florida student to receive a world-class education they deserve but the major point of disagreement stems from the part of the law that funnels $140 million from public schools to charter schools.

Governor Scott touts the bill as a win-win, with a $30 million dollar expansion of private school scholarships for students with disabilities, daily recess and eliminating the mandatory tie between teacher evaluation results and student test scores, just to name a few items.

Recently, News Channel 8’s Paul Mueller spoke with Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran about why he pushed for the bill to be signed into law.

Paul Mueller: So we want to talk about House Bill 7069 (which is now law.) Former Governor Jeb Bush as well as Senate President Joe Negron both weighing in saying this is a great day for Florida, though at the same time there are a lot of school officials throughout the state, including here in the Bay area, scrambling right now, saying they don’t know what they’re going to do for next year’s school budget.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran: The budget…there is no budget impact. And what I would say to the local school districts, what really is at issue is money. What they care about is their bricks and mortar money. And what this bill does is, it says we’re going to focus on building beautiful minds, not beautiful buildings. Every single person, I don’t care if it’s Pasco, Hillsborough…they build $40 million Taj Mahals. On the front page of the local —

Mueller: That sounds like a Pasco, not a Hillsborough…

Speaker Corcoran: No, no absolutely.

Mueller: Hillsborough?

Speaker Corcoran: Hillsborough County, the superintendent of schools just came out and said they’re trying to cut, and you want to know why? Broward County has more students than Hillsborough County. They have 1,500 less employees. Orange County has about the same number of students. They have 3,500 less employees. The problem in Hillsborough County is bloat, mismanagement and inefficiency. And that was the St. Pete times, or the Tampa Bay Times, that wrote that just yesterday on the front page.

Mueller: So when (the Hillsborough School Board) is blaming the lawmakers, they’re sitting there, a couple of days ago, when they’re sitting in their workshop blaming lawmakers saying they’re not looking out for our children, how do you respond to that?

Speaker Corcoran: It is the most pro-parent, pro-teacher, pro-student bill in the history of the state. It says no longer will we tolerate being the third largest state in the richest country in the world and having kids have to go to failure factories their entire educational career. That ends, that ends.

Mueller: You’re talking about failure factories in public schools, right?

Speaker Corcoran: Yes…almost 100 percent of the funding goes to public schools. This is a public school funding bill. And it’s geared towards helping students get a world class education. 

Mueller: So why are so many school officials saying the money is being taken away from them in the public schools, and all this money is going to charter schools when public schools have what you call these failure factories?

Speaker Corcoran: Our focus is on students. It really needs to be on students. And I would even say to these superintendents, fine you know what we’re going to do then? We’re gonna come back and we’re going to mandate every single thing in this bill goes into the classroom. It doesn’t go to our administration, it doesn’t go to more bloat. It doesn’t go to more capital expenditures. It goes to the classroom and that’s where the money belongs. Kids get a world-class education. We’re not going to rob them of their hope and dignity anymore. We’re not going to absolutely hold them captive in a failure factory when they have no opportunity. Of 100,000 kids, 80,000 of them are basically functionally illiterate. Functionally illiterate! That has to stop! It’s inexcusable. That’s where the outrage should be. That’s where people should be saying enough is enough.

Mueller: Governor Scott says this will make public schools more competitive to force them to improve. That’s what I’m hearing from you. Am I right?

Speaker Corcoran: Look, a rising tide rises, and raises all ships. So yeah, I think there is an opportunity but this is a public school bill. This is a public school funding bill and we want to have the best public school system in the entire nation. 

Mueller: The timeliness of the governor signing this bill, I mean we’ve got two weeks to the fiscal year. The Hillsborough County superintendent of schools was saying, you know, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. We’ve allocated all our funds for the next year and basically now are scrambling to figure out what we’re going to do next.

Speaker Corcoran: What they need to do is quit with the bloat, quit with the big buildings, quit with the inefficiencies. The article said it themselves. Why do we have 3,500 more employees than Orange County? How are they being able to do and have good outcomes in Orange County, as good as Hillsborough, and they have 3,500 less personnel? The second thing is, look, we have the gates. The gates came into Hillsborough County – $100,000 million we’re going to invest. They pulled out because of the absolute waste of the money the county was doing. These are the things that have to stop. That money belongs with the kids in the classroom and if they do that, they’re going to have good outcomes.

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