To the ‘small-business’ lawmaker: focus on higher academic standards first

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You’ve seen how many campaign ads where a politician says he cares about the “small business community”?

Uncountable, probably.

These candidates may flank such statements with their views on taxes, regulations, or quality of life. But if you ask most employers what their greatest challenge is, day to day, here is what you will hear: finding qualified employees.

Our system is designed on a flawed assumption that high school graduates have mastered basic skills necessary for being productive in some area of work.

In reality, however, employers read through dozens if not hundreds of applications to find one that exhibits basic mastery in English and Math. Then, upon making what are the best possible hires, employers put substantial investment into retraining or remediating employees on things that should probably have already been learned.

This dismal view of our state’s workforce does have a bright light of hope, however.

Over the past 15 years, Florida has seen dramatic improvements in student performance. More high school students are taking and passing advanced placement courses, more are graduating, and more are performing at or above their grade levels. Florida students are surpassing the national average in multiple skills, and have improved at a far higher rate than elsewhere in the country. In fact, Florida is the only state to reduce the achievement gap between African American and White students since 2011.

But that’s not enough.

Employers know this. I know this, from having read through thousands of cover letters for jobs I’ve advertised.

The Florida Standards are the next step to ensure Florida businesses can succeed to their full potential in the years to come.

Without adequate, home-grown talent pools, employers lose out on productivity. They recruit from out of state. They spend valuable time and money doing what schools should have already done.

By embracing the Florida Standards, Florida’s business community is sending a signal to lawmakers and aspiring politicians that their talking points on small businesses are incomplete without a firm commitment to academic standards, too.

Florida’s 15-year lesson has shown that strict accountability measures, reliable tests, and high standards are a recipe for improvement. Building on this platform is the most important thing that lawmakers can do to ensure true economic development in our state.

That is a campaign ad small businesses would relate to.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.