Steven J. Klees of the University of Maryland wrote this post. He is former president of the Comparative and International Education Society.

He writes:

This spring, the Florida legislature passed and this summer Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 7069, a school reform promoted by organizations linked to the Koch Brothers and Betsy DeVos. Florida has been a poster child for conservative ideological education reform for some time. Going beyond even the federal No Child Left Behind – or as the critics call it, No Child Left Un-tested — reform of the elder Bush era, it became one of the most frequent testers of students in the nation. Basically, from February to May, students in Florida prepare for and take an endless array of tests. Florida instituted evaluation of teachers tied to student test scores years ago, motivating teachers to spend the whole year teaching to the test. On top of this testing regime, Florida has enacted many right-wing reforms: eliminating K-12 teacher tenure; grading schools A to F; and changing curricula to emphasize only what is tested, for example, eliminating recess.

Well, after a decade of this, parents began to revolt. Last year, a statewide survey highlighted two priorities for needed school reform: stop all this testing or at least cut way back – and restore recess for our children. PTAs mobilized behind these changes. The Florida State legislature began to respond by formulating the “Recess Bill” – intended to cut testing and restore recess. However, the ending point of this effort was very different than the starting point. Basically, the Recess Bill was hijacked by business – two businesses in particular – the testing industry and the charter school promotors. Testing in Florida is a half billion dollar a year business, and Pearson and other testing companies lobbied hard against cutting testing. Moreover, the budget for public education is $14bn a year, and charter advocates saw the bill as a way to capture a lot more of that money.

The result, passed in the last two hours of the the legislative session, with scarcely any discussion, was House Bill 7069. This terrifying school reform is being called “the death of public education” by its critics. The bill gives a sop to the protesting parents – it restores 20 minutes of daily recess in K-5. But it only eliminates two of the many tests that students are forced to take. It also allows school districts to opt out of evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores. However, this was just the superficial bow that tied up a major reform package that basically turns public education over to private companies to start charter schools.

There were several dimensions to this reform package. Any school in the state that received low or failing grades in the state rating system (Ds and Fs) would be closed and likely re-opened by a private corporate charter school company, the so-called “Schools of Hope.” These and other charter start-ups would be freed from most regulation and oversight by school districts. They would no longer have to test their students to see if they were doing as well as regular public schools. There would be no curriculum guidelines for charters, no need to hire certified teachers. Charter schools would even be exempt from the new recess requirement. For the first time, school districts had to share their money for capital expenditures with the charter schools.

Perhaps most astonishing is that many of the Florida Legislators who designed, promoted, and voted for this bill have strong ties to the charter school industry. Many of them or their families have become wealthy from running charter schools and, with the enactment of HB 7069, stand to make much more money. Yet there was no talk of conflicts of interest or violation of ethics laws. Contrary to Florida’s Sunshine laws, the final version of HB 7069 was put together by the Republican leadership in secret, in the last 3 days of the legislative session, turning a 7-page bill into a 278-page bill by tacking on the content of 55 other school reform bills that had been considered in the past. Analysts are still not sure what this now very complex reform will yield in practice.

There was a strong effort to get Governor Rick Scott to veto the bill as parents, teachers, school administrators, and the general public sent thousands of messages demanding a veto. But, in the final days, the charter school industry responded by giving charter school parents and students incentives, like discounts or extra credit, for sending in messages of support. The resultant legislation will be turning over a substantial segment of public education to unaccountable private sector, often for-profit, corporate managers. And this is what Betsy DeVos wants for the nation.