Primaries Done, Statewide Candidates Focus on Education

Look for schools, SB 6 to be major issues in November
By: Kevin Derby | Posted: September 2, 2010 4:05 AM

The two major party nominees in the race for governor threw some jabs at education Wednesday, setting the stage for what will be one of the hot issues in November’s election.

Speaking at Miami-Dade College, state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic nominee, unveiled her education reform plan.

"Without a strong education system, Florida cannot build a more prosperous economy because the quality of our work force depends directly on the quality of our schools," she said. 

"As a parent whose own two children graduated from Florida public schools, I understand that we will build a stronger, more accountable education system by focusing at the local level," added Sink, "instead of the top-down system of micromanagement and unfunded mandates that we have seen for too long from Tallahassee politicians." It was a union-favorite line, a clear shot at Republican efforts to reform education, including measures backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and SB 6, a bill to reform teacher performance pay that was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

“My education reform plan is built on the principles of innovation, excellence and accountability, with defined goals to drive better results for our students and accountability for how our education dollars are spent," said Sink.

She called for building a stronger pre-K program, reducing the number of dropouts, reforming the FCAT exam, seeking more parental input and local control of schools, modernizing the curriculum and increasing education funding.

The campaign team of Rick Scott, meanwhile, the Republican nominee in the race, fired away at Sink’s plan and attempted to link her with President Barack Obama, whose popularity continues to decline in the Sunshine State.

“As Alex Sink tries to hide her liberal stances, today’s announcement is just another indicator that she and other Obamacrats will spend the next few weeks pretending to be Republicans,” said Chad Colby, a spokesman for Scott. “After opposing SB 6, a plan that clearly lays out responsible teacher merit pay, she is now talking about a ‘fair’ compensation system for teachers, which is Obama-speak for ‘union approved.’  For real accountability in education, the obvious choice is Rick Scott, not a liberal beholden to Obama’s policies.”

Confirming the large role education will play in the contest, it was announced that the gubernatorial debate on Oct. 16 at the University of Miami will focus on schools and other issues related to children.

SB 6, which had been a bitterly contested issue during the legislative session, is clearly going to be a major issue come November. Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, who sponsored SB 6 in the Senate, is facing a serious challenge from Democratic candidate Deborah Gianoulis, who is focusing on the issue.

Former Rep. Loranne Ausley, the Democratic nominee for state CFO, also focused on SB 6 Wednesday, even though the office of CFO has virtually nothing to do with education matters. She held a media event at the Capitol promoting a petition to ensure the Legislature will not take up a similar measure in the future -- taking aim at her Republican opponent, Senate President Jeff Atwater, for backing the measure.

“No one wants to pay millions more for testing that does nothing but punish students, schools and teachers,” said Ausley. “We defeated the Tallahassee takeover of our schools during the last legislative session, and we will stand together in the voting booth to make sure Tallahassee politicians stay out of our classrooms.” Atwater's campaign did not respond.

Asked about the questionable role of the CFO in shaping education policy, Ausley countered that the CFO is part of the Cabinet and that education has a good deal to do with the state’s future and economy.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.


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