Gov. Rick Scott can't veto a bill he doesn't have, and he still hasn't been given the controversial education bill, House Bill 7069. But, with the exception of a holiday-weekend letter writing campaign, the public comment flooding the Governor's Office is beginning to even out. In the end, however, the governor gets to weigh what he sees and feels and cast the deciding vote.
By the numbers, the majority of the public, school superintendents, parent organizations and teachers unions are not happy with the rest of the education portion of the budget -- $23.7 billion in base K-12 public school spending. Those folks like none of it.
The Governor's Office updated its number of responses to HB 7069 Tuesday afternoon. They are --
Phone calls: Supporting the bill – 575; Opposing it – 2,208
Emails: Support – 4,762; Oppose – 8,625
Letters: Support – 11,416; Oppose – 114 (representing a significant uptick since Friday, when The Miami Herald reported there were 3 letters in favor vs. 1 against.)
Petition signatures: Support – 2,128, Oppose – 2,110.
A Sunshine State News poll asking, "Should Gov. Scott veto HB 7069, the $419 million education policy bill?" and posted on this website for the last 10 days, records at this writing nearly two-thirds of 2,715 respondents favor the governor killing the bill.
Fewer than three days separated a public unveiling of the full language of the bill and the floor vote -- causing many of 7069's detractors to criticize it for lack of transparency.
And the governor himself wanted to invest far more in public schools than the statewide average $24 per student increase House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron settled on. It's an amount some districts say won’t keep up with rising costs and growth in student population.
On Tuesday, even the First Amendment Foundation checked in with Scott, requesting an outright veto of the bill it claims in every possible way represents bad government.
The Foundation isn't commenting on policy, it's knocking the procedure.
"The secretive process precluded any opportunity for public oversight or input on major changes to Florida’s education policy," wrote Barbara Peter Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation. "Alarmingly, local school officials were also shut out of the process, as were many legislators who were ultimately asked to approve this voluminous and complicated legislation decided in a manner closed even to them.
"Our citizens deserve the respect and the commitment of our elected leaders to uphold our Florida Sunshine laws, a 33-year-old tradition and benchmark of good government," she said. (See Petersen's letter in the attachment below.)
Supporters argue the bill is a necessary move to increase school-choice options. HB 7069 heavily favors charter schools and school choice for Florida students.
Pushed into the bill was the $140 million "Schools of Hope" proposal, which would pump money into turning around failing public schools.
Mostly, the legislation -- and thus the public response -- has pitted school choice activists against traditional public school supporters and officials, who worry the bill will funnel important funding away from schools and provide students with subpar classroom instruction.
Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, said teachers were concerned over charter school regulations, which they believe are not being held to classic "standards" and are not up to par with traditional schools.
"It's mind-boggling to think that lawmakers would consider educating our children with people who have few qualifications," McCall said. "Legislation like this makes it clear that the real goal of some of our political leaders is not to provide a high quality education to our children, it’s to dismantle public schools and profit off our students."
In response, House Republicans launched a social media PR campaign slamming critics for what they see as misguided criticisms over HB 7069.
"It's time we separate fact from fiction," wrote Corcoran earlier this month.
PreK-12 budget chair Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., who largely crafted the legislation with Corcoran and House education policy chair Rep. Michael Bileca, has been at the forefront of the battle since legislators unveiled the bill earlier in May.
Diaz doesn't seem too concerned about the chorus of attacks on the bill -- and says he largely anticipated pushback.
"Anytime you shake up the status quo, you expect criticism," he told Sunshine State News. "If you don't have criticism, you are not implementing change."
Other supporters of HB 7069, for example the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, say the bill is full of provisions like testing reform and expanding school choice, which have only bolstered their resolve to support the bill.
"Opponents note what is not in the bill as a reason for their opposition," said FCSBM President Shawn Frost. "We believe what is in the bill is worthy of support. Having other education establishment groups working against the Legislature only strengthens FCSBM's unique position of creating 'solution-oriented partnerships' with decision makers."
While one large parent organization, the Florida Parent Group, claimed on Twitter "over 3,000 parents have sent emails to @FLGovScott," the Governor's Office said, unfortunately, none of those emails "got through." All were sent from the same email address and thus were blocked by spam and security filters, an office spokeswoman said.
Once Scott gets the bill, if he's going to veto it, he'll have 15 days to act. After that, if he does nothing, the bill becomes law even without his signature.
Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.