Commentary: Collier County School Board makes the wrong call

Re-posting an op-ed column from the Naples Daily News

By State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples

This isn’t about protecting kingdoms, nor is it about creating new ones. This is about the futures of children at Village Oaks Elementary in Immokalee.

The lawsuit against House Bill 7069 is a product of complacency our school systems have reached from failing year after year to fix failure factories. To make bold change, you must sacrifice the status quo — that’s what the Florida House did when we passed HB 7069. We identified the issues and, rather than regurgitating old policies that continue to fail our kids, we looked in unexpected places for new ideas.

We saw charter schools succeeding in some of the most challenging areas of our country and sought to bring that success to Florida. The House took a transformative approach to give children in failing schools new opportunities. However, any time you change the status quo, you also challenge the power of entrenched special interests.

You’d think school boards would be eager to cut red tape and utilize opportunities offered in HB 7069. Rather, some boards are resisting change and filing lawsuits in the name of maintaining complacency.

Collier’s School Board, to my disappointment, joined as an intervening member of a lawsuit to overturn Schools of Hope, one of the major components of HB 7069.

There are 340 schools in Florida that are D or F. Schools of Hope is about those schools — only one is in Collier.

Collier County should be proud that our schools are successful in having strong, healthy and positive environments for most children. Why shouldn’t we try something new to make that true for every child? For five years, children at Village Oaks Elementary have been stuck in a failing school, waiting for help. Those students are the reasons Schools of Hope is important.

HB 7069 is about schools like Village Oaks, struggling to provide students with the opportunity for success they deserve. We should be concerning ourselves with how to remedy the failure factory we have here in our neighborhood, not fighting part of a Florida law that provides a new avenue for reaching a solution.

Instead of taking bold steps forward for the Village Oaks students, the Collier School Board has opened taxpayers up to funding a lawsuit that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those dollars could be used to provide Village Oaks students a better education. Unfortunately, taxpayer dollars are being used to fight a law that will empower parents and bring an academic environment proven to give our children’s education a boost.

By entering this lawsuit, the board is acting in its self-interest and fighting for the status quo. As a parent and your representative, I can’t watch it in silence.

To make matters worse, the board overlooked a major aspect of the law they chose to fight. HB 7069 allows districts to submit a turnaround plan, including specific criteria such as wraparound services, to qualify for funds to convert a failing school to a district-managed School of Hope.

CCPS could turn Village Oaks into a district-run School of Hope, and do the hard work to provide a high-quality education to the children. Instead, the board has chosen to fight for the status quo and against reforms to help provide the best education possible for every student of Collier, no matter where they live.

A Naples Daily News editorial correctly stated, “That’s a lot of money going for legal battles, not education.” Unfortunately, the editorial also claimed, “That’s on House leadership, not school boards.”

Wrong!

If school boards choose to waste taxpayer dollars on power-grab lawsuits, instead of focusing on students in their districts, that’s on the Collier County School Board and the like, not the Florida House.

Byron Donalds is a member of the Florida House of Representatives. He serves as vice chairman of the pre-K to 12 appropriations subcommittee.