HB-1 is the most radical school privatization measure in Florida’s history. Although the bill is a boondoggle, which, according to the Florida Policy Institute, will cost $4 billion in the first year, it is sailing swiftly through the Florida legislature, with the House set to vote on it today (Thursday, March 16).
If it passes, Sarasota public schools could be defunded to the tune of around $60 million, as early as this summer.
Yet the Sarasota school board declines to discuss the bill. Chair Bridget Ziegler claimed ignorance at a February meeting when board member Tom Edwards asked his colleagues to condemn HB-1.
“HB … what?”, she asked Edwards, when calling for someone to second his motion. The other board members remained silent; the motion failed.
Ziegler is a close ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his education policies, and a national figurehead of “anti-woke” school policies. However, the otherwise very outspoken Ziegler has been quiet about privatization and HB-1.
“Bridget Ziegler’s silence speaks volumes,” said Daniel Kuether, chair of the Sarasota Democratic Party. “This bill will damage our public schools, and it will deepen the divide between haves and have-nots. It will hurt the 84% of Sarasota County students that depend on a solid public education. It will result in teacher and staff cuts, increased class size, and a loss of programs. Taxpayer dollars will feed for-profit corporate K-12 education management companies and other private school operations resulting in big-time grift. Yet the very board that is in charge of public schools here remains silent.”
HB-1 would make Bridget and her husband Christian — the newly elected chair of the Florida Republican Party — eligible to receive vouchers totaling $16,000 a year for their two school-age children’s private schools.
The school board is actually more than silent on privatization. In the same February meeting, the board voted 5-1 to approve the first for-profit-managed charter school in the county. That school is run by the nation’s second-largest for-profit school management company, Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA.
The $8,000 a year in state vouchers per student is far too little, though, to pay for top-notch private schools. Rather, they will be stuck with a bargain-basement education with little or no standards nor oversight.
The local Republican delegation — Reps. Fiona McFarland, Michael Grant and James Buchanan — is expected to vote for this massive transfer of public tax dollars to private coffers as public education is defunded. Sen. Joe Gruters, former chair of the Florida Republican Party, is expected to vote for the Senate companion bill.