Florida must pursue education first-even before clothing

According to the Morgan Quitno Press, the state of Florida ranks 36th out of 50 states in a ranking of “Smartest States.” This represents a jump of three spots, from 39th in the 2004-2005 year. The ranking, though done independently of the government, takes into consideration factors such as graduation rates, proficiency in standardized tests, class size and student-faculty ratio.

The slow but steady improvement of education under Jeb Bush, however, has been as disappointing as it has been promising. His controversial voucher program, which cost about $3 million each year and sent more than 700 qualified students to private schools last year alone, was ruled unconstitutional earlier this month. The notorious FCAT test, administered to public school students to test proficiency in a variety of topics, has lowered its standards to ensure a higher passing rate across the state.

But, with precious months remaining in his tenure as governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush offered an intriguing proposal that aims at resolving not only the student-faculty ratio problem, but the overall quality of teachers as well. A story by Matthew Pinzur of the Miami Herald explains that Governor Bush wants every public school teacher in the state to have a laptop-part of a $237 million program aimed at improving education further (laptops take up nearly $190 million of that).

Yet in this highly polarized state, plagued by poor spending, how could our government muster up $237 million without causing too big a dent to our other spending plans? The answer was laid out quite simply by gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.), who, at a candidates’ forum in Orlando this past weekend, took time aside from slamming his fellow candidates’ special interests to focus on a way to free up some $500 million-for education.

Davis’ suggestion-to drop our annual sales-tax holiday and re-invest the money in “schools, roads and infrastructure”-drew applause from the crowd in attendance, despite the lack of a real spending plan.

But put two and two together: Bush’s laptop plan would take up less than half of the money reallocated by Davis’ plan. That means attracting more and better teachers, not to mention improving other aspects of education: technology, special programs and class size, to name a few.

Of course, in a state where education continues to lag behind, putting two and two together may not be so easy.