Editor’s Note: The Apopka Voice will begin its 2018 election coverage next week with features on local candidates, and continue through Election Day on November 6th.
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
An open letter to Rep. Ron DeSantis, Mayor Andrew Gillum, Senator Bill Nelson, Governor Rick Scott, Debra Kaplan, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, OCPS board member Christine Moore and Patricia Rumph
In just about a month, five of you will be heading to Congress, the Governor’s mansion, the Legislature, the Orange County Commission and the Orange County Public School Board. All of you have a diversity of issues, most of you have education pretty high up on your list of priorities, and some of you have big ideas as it applies to Florida’s schools.
I have a suggestion for all of you – think bigger.
Today is World Teacher’s Day, and in honor of this event, I’m going to share a story about an educator who is doing amazing things at a public high school in Greenwich, Conn.
In her book “The Class,” Heather Won Tesoriero spent the entire 2016-17 school year with a life-changing teacher named Andy Bramante, and his group of world-changing students in perhaps the most innovative classroom in the United States.
In “The Class”, Tesoriero writes:
“Andy’s science research class is unlike any other class at Greenwich High, a Connecticut public school behemoth with 2,560 kids. There is no curriculum, no tests, textbooks, or lectures. Students pitch individual projects that they work on the entire school year with the goal of taking their discoveries and their inventions out on the national and global science fair circuit. This is not the stuff of vinegar volcanoes and ant farms. Kids tackle problems like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, HIV, heart disease, cheap water filtration, and carbon dioxide capture, sometimes making discoveries that elude adult scientists three times their age.”
No curriculum, no tests, and no textbooks yet they are taking on the most significant issues our world is facing with expert-level approaches. How is this possible if we can’t measure our students’ performances? And how can a public school afford such a class?
Perhaps investment is more important than tests.
Connecticut is a small state with a $40.2 billion state budget, but they spend over $17,000 per-student each term and pay their teachers an average of $73,147 per year. Both of those figures are in the top five of what states spend on its students and teachers.
In contrast, Florida is a large state with an $88.7 billion state budget, yet it spends about $9,000 per-student each term and pays its teachers an average of $47,276 per year. Florida’s per-student budget ranks 42nd among other states, and its average teacher salary ranks 45th.
It defies logic that a state the caliber of Florida, the third largest by population and home to a booming economy, could rank so far down the list in education. But this is not a poison-pen-letter about the state budget. I’m calling on all 10 of you to consider the benefits of crazy, out-of-the-box spending on Florida’s students and teachers.
When it comes to education, think big.
Not just bigger than your opponent, but implausible big. You’re not going to double the education budget of Florida, but that’s the place to start the conversation. What would doubling the budget do to unharness the future intellectual capital of Florida?
Schools would be palaces. They would be architectural masterpieces that would invite and inspire students. They would define the communities they serve, and students would rather be at school than any other place in the world.