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Alex Sink: Anger over HB 7069 could be Dems winning issue in 2018

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Could expansion of state spending for charter school operators — at the expense of public schools — fuel a surge of support for Florida Democrats at the polls in 2018?

That’s what Alex Sink thinks could happen. At least she hopes it might.

The former CFO and 2010 gubernatorial candidate is angry about the passage of HB 7069, the massive education bill that includes $140 million for the “Schools of Hope” program, which would bring charter school operators with proven success rates in low-performing schools to communities where the traditional schools have earned consecutive state grades of D or F.

“Do we care about public education in this state or not?” she asks in her inimitable drawl. “Ninety percent of our kids go to public school, so 90 percent of our money plus should be supporting public schools,” she said Saturday while waiting in line for the first Democratic gubernatorial debate of the year at the Diplomat Resort Hotel.

“If we’re starving the system, we’re going to get more ‘failure factories,’ not less,” she says, using the term coined originally by the Tampa Bay Times in their award-winning 2015 series about failing schools in Pinellas County.

Just about every Florida Democrat considers the phrase “failure factories” an epithet.

And Sink disagrees with the notion that not enough of the public is upset about what Democrats portray as a GOP-led assault on the public school system.

“When you get sick, and you get into the ambulance, and the EMT people come to take you to the hospital, don’t  you want them to be well-educated, smart people? Hell yes!”

Tampa House Democrat Sean Shaw feels the same way.

“I don’t want to say we’ve got to exploit it, but we’ve gotta talk about it,” he says about HB 7069. “And we’ve got talk about what that bill does to public education in Florida, and it’s awful. I mean we’re dismantling public education day by day, and we can’t allow that to keep happening.”

Democrats talk about the intensity of their voters following last November’s election. Shaw hopes it persuades some people in Hillsborough County to get off the sidelines and into the arena.

“This kind of excitement is what causes a teacher to say, you know, I’m going to run for office, because I hate what they’re doing to public education,” Shaw says. “Or an environmental sciences professor, I hate what they’re doing to the environment, I’m going to run for office.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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