Putting Education Reform To The Test

A Q & A With Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Nan Rich

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich.

Nan Rich campaign

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich.

Nan Rich is a former state Senator who was the first Democrat to announce she’s challenging Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

Rich stopped by the WUSF studios Wednesday for a Florida Matters interview with Carson Cooper.

Here’s what she said about education. You can hear the full interview Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on WUSF.

Q: When it comes to education, you were opposed to the so-called parent trigger bill, which would have given parents more of a say about what should be done with a failing public school. Critics called it a thinly-veiled attempt to turn things over to for-profit charter schools. If a public school is failing, why not give parents the option to do something about it?

A: We already do in this state. We already do.

We have five turnaround options in the state of Florida. And one of them includes allowing parents to go to their school board and ask for a school to become a charter school. The difference is that bill was talking about for-profit management companies coming in and taking over a failing school.

As I said, we already have those options. I feel very strongly that we need to have – I am not opposed to charter schools. In my district I had a wonderful city charter school district in Pembroke Pines.

My sense is that we have the mechanism there. This was an attempt to privatize public schools.

And I want to just mention that when you talk about failing schools – and yes, everyone believes that no school should be failing. The year that we were talking about as we moved along with this bill, there are about 2.5 million schoolchildren, there were, that year in the schools, in K-12. Of those, 180,000 were charter school children.

There were 4,000 schools, OK? And we had 38 failing schools that year. Now we don’t want any, but we had 4,000 schools.

Of those failing 38, 18 were charter. Now, you have to look at that. Only 180,000 of the 2.5 million schoolchildren were in charter schools, and you had just about one less than half of the schools were charter – failing schools.

Q: Do you believe that was an anomaly? The Centers for Research on Education Outcomes says charter school students in New Orleans learn at a faster pace than their conventional school counterparts. Eighty percent of students in New Orleans attend charter schools and they perform better than the statewide average?

A: Well I’m not familiar with Louisiana’s charter schools, but I am familiar with studies that have come out of California where they have had the same issues that we’ve had.

And as I said, it’s a fact that 18 of the 38 were charter. As I said, I think right now we need to look at investing in our public education system.  That’s what parents want.

And when you talk about that bill, it was dubbed the ‘parent empowerment act.’ There wasn’t one single parent group in the state of Florida, active parent group, from the PTA to Parents Across America, to Fund Education Now, 50th No More – all of them were opposed to that bill. Why? Why?

They want the best for their children. But we don’t want to sell our schools, our teachers, our children to for-profit management companies.

A for-profit management company has to make a profit. And where are they going to make a profit? They make the profit, basically, on the backs of the teachers and the children in the schools. Because they’re not going to get any more money from the state. They get the same amount of money as a traditional public school, and they have to make their profit. So it kind of stands to reason that it’s really not the best way to get, I think, the best education for our children.

Q: Student veterans want in-state tuition on the G.I. bill. The legislature did not pass that. What would you do about that? Would you campaign for it with the Board of Governors? Would you approach that?

A: I would approach that issue. I’m hearing a lot about that issue in South Florida.

The United Way has joined, they started a new program called Mission United, which is working with veterans who came back from Iraq and Afghanistan. And they’re addressing all kinds of issues and this is one that has come up very strongly, as well as housing and mental health issues. They’re just a whole array and I’m really excited because we just actually received a $2 million grant from the federal government which will help with housing and so forth.

But I think that people who have risked their lives on behalf of this county – our country – we should do everything we can to ensure they can move back in to our society with all the benefits they deserve for having risked their lives on our behalf.

Q: What about tuition in general? Universities say they’re hurting. The governor has constantly said no tuition increases. What do you do? Would you allow higher tuition at the state’s universities?

A: I think tuition has gone up for the last several years, not this past year, but I believe before that 15 percent – I have to check the numbers on that for several years. And I think we need to sit down with the universities and really figure our what the issues are and what the needs are. I listen to the university presidents, talk to them, and many of them say they need to have additional support.

Now, we could look to the legislature and see what the legislature could do. Because I could tell you in public education, when I started in the legislature in 2000 60 percent of funding for public schools came from the legislature and 40 percent from local property taxes. Today it is reversed and more on the backs of the local communities. So I think we need to take a look at that.

You talked about ‘Do we need more tax cuts?’ Do we need more tax cuts or do we need to make sure our young people are able to get a college education?

Q: By the way, when you were in the legislature there was that tiff over who has the power over tuition, Board of Governors or the legislature? Now that you aspire to the executive branch, what is your thought on that? Should it be the legislature or the Board of Governors?

A:  Well I would say that there have been examples of the legislature getting involved and doing things that were not according to a long-range plan. And that concerns me about passing, creating schools, doing things that have not been part of an overall plan for the state of Florida. So I do think there is a reason we have a Board of Governors and many of those things should be left to the Board of Governors.


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