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Nancy Smith

Senate Textbook Bill a Clunker

April 13, 2014 - 6:00pm

The textbook bill that passed narrowly in the Senate last week is no way to answer Common Core. It's a school-budget turkey multiplied 67 times. And worse.

Sponsored by Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, Senate Bill 864 provides that district school boards have "the constitutional duty and responsibility" to select and provide adequate instructional materials for all students. If this bill goes all the way to the governor's desk, it will end the state Department of Educations role in reviewing and selecting students textbooks.

First, try to imagine how wildly impractical this is.

"Constitutional duty and responsibility" is a fancy way of saying here comes an unfunded mandate.

The bill includes no state-granted budget provision to conduct an independent investigation of the accuracy of district-adopted instructional materials. Districts would be on their own. Imagine what it would cost in time and money to do the job right, especially for small districts.

Plus, the DOE has always done the heavy lifting on textbooks.Think of a school district as a mainstreet mom-and-pop and the state as Walmart. The state negotiates prices with publishers, cuts phenomenal deals and buys in bulk. The mom-and-pop pays top dollar because the volume it's ordering is peanuts. I couldn't find anyone Friday with the remotest clue how much more this mandate would add to a district's budget -- even a ballpark figure.

But there's something worse than the financial waste.

Florida has 67 districts. Imagine the inconsistencies. Imagine how different the thought process is going to be district to district on what is acceptable for children to learn. I'm afraid for my grandchildren and their children.

All this started in 2013 because the Prentice World History textbook used in Volusia and Brevard counties' Advanced Placement classhad a chapter on Islam but not on other religions. The criticism was largely out-of-context, but it created an almighty stir in Central Florida especially, and of course, it made colorful viewing on FOX and CNN.

Volusia Countians were convinced this was all a federal government plot to impose One World-inspired Common Core standards on Florida schoolchildren. But, I beg you, consider this: The Volusia and Brevard school districts -- like every district in Florida -- had a chance to review and a right to refuse that or any textbook before it ever went into the classroom. It's just that nobody did.

I fear if SB 864 becomes law, one of the unintended consequences we'll get is censorship.

As a hands-off conservative, I want to see scholars, historians and educators -- nobody else -- producing and/or making decisions on an honest-to-God fact-based curriculum. No preaching, no revisionism, no pablum allowed. The DOE might not be perfect, but consider the Senate bill alternative.

It's the arbiters of political correctness on the left and the fundamentalist guardians of morality on the right that scare the pants off me. I think they have a cozy censorship concerto going on that serves the political and social agendas of both, scorns the interests of students, and ensures that students will not be exposed to anything that might bother anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

I remember some years back a group of St. Lucie County parents caused a great commotion at a school board meeting because of two textbooks: In one, summarizing the history of the peanut, a middle school textbook included the term "African slaves." In the other, there were just too many references to words like "gay" and "abortion." One parent commented, "I just don't want this kind of stuff getting in my daughter's head."


So, now I have to worry, what if a few noisy citizens like this wind up on my local textbook committee? Surely, local textbook committees are going to bring these people out of the woodwork. What does this mean for my grandchildren? What kind of education? When it comes time, will they be able to compete with any student in the world for a university place?

By the way, the Florida School Board Association opposes SB 864; the Florida Parent Teacher Association liked the bill initially, but now has retracted its support.

I realize the senators who voted for the bill in part were trying to distance themselves from Common Core without moving to reject it altogether. I appreciate the position they're in this session. But if we must have a textbook bill, let's hope it winds up more like the House version, Matt Gaetz's House Bill 921.

The Fort Walton Beach Republican's legislation says Florida districts can create a process to choose their own material if they like. That option is currently offered, but unused. If a school board goes that route, the House bill says the board would have to follow certain rules in reviewing books and must align with state standards.

HB 921 doesn't cast all 67 districts so dangerously adrift.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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