The Florida gubernatorial race seems to be boiling down to one issue–education. Gov. Jeb Bush recently signed into law a bill that gives more authority to state universities, more autonomy to community colleges, and more flexibility to public schools. One of the more important provisions focuses on ending social promotion by providing specific criteria for sending a student to the next grade. However, Democratic Party leaders are criticizing Gov. Bush for both his policies and the present state of Florida’s public education system.
The Florida Chamber Foundation’s New Cornerstone Study, released April 8, reveals stark education statistics. According to the report, Florida ranks 42nd in the nation in per-pupil spending, and ranks 45th in the high school completion rate, graduating only 60 percent of its students. The report called for Florida to spend 18 percent more a year on public schools to approach the national median funding level for K-12 education.
Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno may be Bush’s primary competition come November, but at the moment another candidate is making a push for the Democratic nomination by focusing his campaign on education. Bill McBride, a Tampa attorney new to politics, has been outspoken about the need for universal pre-kindergarten, smaller class sizes, and higher teacher salaries. He has gained credibility by substantiating his campaign promises with fiscal objectives: He proposes to raise the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack while reinstating other sales taxes to fund these programs.