It isn’t clear what got Florida Governor Rick Scott in more hot water with education advocates and Democratic politicians: his failure to show up at a three-day education summit he convened in Clearwater or his subsequent secret meeting with former governor Jeb Bush, during which the future of the state’s education system was extensively discussed.
Calling the meeting “secret” is no exaggeration. According to Kathleen McGrory and Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times, neither the meeting’s location nor its agenda was listed on Scott’s official schedule, and his spokeswoman Melissa Sellers turned away any press inquiries about it.
That infuriated parent activists, who said Scott shouldn’t have called three dozen education leaders to Clearwater if he intended to make decisions with a small group of advisers out of the public eye. “This is how education reform gets done in Florida,” said Rita Solnet, founder of the advocacy group Parents Across America. “The summit was a façade. The real decisions have always been made by Jeb Bush.” Bush, who has played a dominating role in determining Florida’s education policy for nearly two decades, declined comment through a spokeswoman. Chartrand and Thrasher did not return calls for comment.
Other guests included state senator John Thrasher and Florida Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand.
It’s also no exaggeration to say that Florida’s education system finds itself at a crossroads and facing a number of significant questions. Not only will Scott soon have to make a decision about the now-controversial Common Core Standards, he is also dealing with the fallout from the recent resignation of his hand-picked Education Commissioner Tony Bennett after an Associated Press article raised questions about his tenure as the top education official in Indiana.
The fact that he consulted with Bush and Thrasher specifically might be tipping Scott’s hand when it comes to Common Core. Both men are strong supporters of the new standards, although Scott’s many Tea Party backers have recently come out in opposition to what they see as federal government incursion on state power to control their own schools.
The opposition intensified on Thursday, when state Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, filed a bill that would stop schools from using the standards until the public can weigh in. The Sarasota Republican Party also launched an online petition aimed at putting an end to the Common Core in Florida. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the governor called the Clearwater summit to have an “an honest discussion” about the standards, as well as the new tests that will accompany the benchmarks. Participants in the summit also addressed the growing backlash over the school grading system. Scott didn’t attend. It was not until Thursday — the day after the summit ended — that the private meeting with Bush, Thrasher and Chartrand appeared on the governor’s daily schedule.