I won't fire any educator or cut any pay or steal any pension. Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell will have to do that.
At some point in the near future, the superintendent will present your Polk School Board with a budget -- or a budget amendment -- that reflects a massive reduction in funding from the local, state and federal levels.
Your local School Board has no power to affect revenue, not even locally-generated revenue. We only have the power to dole out what we're given by the state funding program and the federal government.
We will be told: vote for this destruction; there is no choice. I will reject that position with my vote.
They want your pensions and everything else
This coming budget or amendment will fire massive numbers of employees or cut pay drastically across the board or do some crippling combination of those things. Maybe it will eliminate transportation and busing entirely and fire all bus drivers. I have heard that floated in casual talk by various people. This budget or amendment also seems likely to eliminate everyone's pension, as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky makes clear:
Senator Mitch McConnell said he'd rather see states declare bankruptcy than get a federal bailout. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.” https://t.co/DnZUNIoPW9
— Lisa Abramowicz (@lisaabramowicz1) April 22, 2020
Broward County Supt. Robert Runcie predicts 20 to 25 percent state cuts to education. I think that's a conservative guess. I think it could be much higher over time.
Beyond education, these cuts will be equally damaging to the local private sector economy. Public schools are the largest employers in most communities, including Polk. They are a crucial engine of the private sector economy because we buy stuff directly from private businesses -- and we provide an army of paying customers for local businesses.
I will vote for zero human or capacity cuts to education
These eviscerating cuts could fall prior to start of the new school year; or various bits of legislative chicanery could push it out past the election in November. I don't know exactly when that budget or amendment of destruction will come to me.
But I want to be very clear about how I will vote when it does.
This elected school board member will not vote for that budget. I will not vote to fire a single teacher, para, bus driver, or employee of any kind in the next two years based for financial reasons. I won't vote to kill anyone's pension. I will not vote to cut pay or the human capacity of our schools in any way. We will need all of it and more when we come out of COVID life.
I have a different policy position that I will fight for. Indeed, all local school boards should unify around the position that we will reject budget cuts imposed by the state and federal government. And we should insist on the obvious alternative.
The Fed must treat schools like the "Too Big to Fail" institutions that they are
Instead, the Federal Reserve Bank and federal government must support schools to at least their current human capacity -- just as they have supported "small business" and Wall Street and the cruise industry and airlines with at least $6.5 trillion in combined aid and forgivable loans.
America spends roughly $800 billion per year nationwide on K-12 schools. Just the $700-plus billion Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) to bail out Shake Shack and other "small businesses" would more than support every school, every teacher, and every system for the next year.
This is what I expect to happen for schools. And I won't negotiate with myself about it.
I can't deliver a PPP for schools by myself. But I certainly will not be complicit in the destruction of the school system I was elected to help oversee because Trump, Pelosi, and McConnell can't or won't act; and Ron DeSantis won't demand it. They can own that, as can any other elected board member anywhere who votes to cut any human capacity. (I'm happy to cut mindless testing and compliance spending, by contrast.)
Moreover, I will never vote to cast off the people of the Polk School System, who have worked so hard to build the distance learning system Ron DeSantis is taking credit for and bragging about politically. I'm not going to subject them to Ron DeSantis' incompetent unemployment system, which was built to punish people who lose their jobs by the same people in state and federal government (Rick Scott, Richard Corcoran, Kelli Stargel) who will try to force me to fire our staff and steal their pensions now.
A federal PPP for schools is the only acceptable option. The only one. I won't negotiate or vote for anything else.
School board members and education leaders must make an existential choice to fight
Monroe County School Board Vice Chairman John Dick is already calling for a 10 percent cut in pay for his teachers, just to start. Nope. Never. Nobody is calling for police or soldiers to see pay cuts of 10 percent, nor should they. That's the worst thing to do for our vital national infrastructure and retaining capacity that we will desperately need when we emerge from the COVID era.
Education leaders must stop thinking and behaving as if public education begs the state to exist, like a charity.
Public education is popular because its people and facilities provide vital public, social, and economic infrastructure. They provide the only true form of capital many children and families have.
In Florida, as a function, public education is vastly underfunded and understaffed already because of bad state government and the last economic collapse in 2008. And because our local and association leaders have not fought half as hard as other leaders in other sectors have fought for private interests that aren't half as popular or vital or noble.
Our own education leaders are addicted to compliance; and they will comply us right out of existence if given the chance.
The public likes public education; and it's not addicted to mindless compliance with incompetent state leaders
But in the last two years, the Florida public (including the Polk public) has voted repeatedly to tax itself at the local level to sustain and grow public education, in spite of state government haters and weak leaders. The public wants the public education function to continue and to grow and to serve as crucial human support during this time. Now more than ever.
Moreover, business desperately needs public education childcare for its employees. We are a popular, vital, politically powerful function that is afraid of its own shadow in demanding better treatment for our people and students.
And let me say this: if 25 percent or more cuts to public education happen against my will, I will immediately propose one more cut: Polk County's dues to the Florida School Board Association and Florida Association of District School Superintendents. If neither can roust itself to fight, then both absolutely deserve to die.
Suck it up, fellow board members and superintendents: fight for the public that elected you and pays you. For the people you like to brag about and patronize.
The survival of your schools and teachers is entirely a political question for Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Nancy Pelosi
As I said, for $700B in money printed by the Fed, the federal government can easily support every public school in America next year without even a long-term debt consequence.
It can preserve and grow school's vital human and economic capacity for when we emerge from COVID-19. It's a drop in bucket of the $6.5 trillion already committed to business and unemployment. The Fed and Treasury are already supporting financial sector and big business without debate or concern about debt because there is no concern when forgivable Fed loans are the mechanism.
So understand; this is not an economic question. Sustaining schools and local government functions is entirely a political question. Are schools as important as Shake Shack and cruise ships? It's a very very very simple question. I answer YES. How do you answer, governor?
I fully support massive aid to small business -- actual small businesses -- up to and beyond $700B.
But now it is the Federal Reserve and federal government's responsibility to provide the same support to schools, which are the most vital small businesses in any community. Likewise, I hope our city and county governments join me in this position and refuse to fire any police officers or workers and demand federal support, just like Wall Street and the cruise industry got.
Florida's "mass gathering" economy is dead for months to come
Florida's state government is America's worst.
But even if it weren't historically awful, it would not have the ability to sustain our schools because -- like most states -- it's bound by balanced budget rules. And Florida does not have its own investment bank that can print its own currency and offer loans it then forgives to important private sector "institutions."
Moreover, Florida's entire economy depends on "mass gatherings." That's most of what we produce as a state now that citrus is dying. Nobody in power seems to think a focused, prevention-based testing program is a priority; and we have no vaccine. So that means we we will have no mass gatherings. Do you think Disney opens before we have a coherent testing program or vaccine? Or First Friday? Beach-opening stunts don't produce tax revenue.
All this silly "re-opening" stuff might make a few public spaces more accessible; but state and local revenue collection will be critically impaired for a long time to come.
DeSantis, Trump, and McConnell can fire you and steal your pension while Pelosi watches weakly if they want. I won't do it for them.
So Ron DeSantis faces a major political choice that is crucial to your life.
Will he call his friend Trump tomorrow and say, "Bail out my schools and teachers and support staff so my public can continue to benefit from them and employers get their free child care back when the time comes."
That's what I'm hoping for. But hope is not a plan.
If Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump disagree with me that schools are as important as Shake Shack and cruise ships, they can fire all the teachers and bus drivers and guardians and replace everything with "education savings accounts" or whatever nonsense gimmick they want to use.
DeSantis' activist judges in the "7069" lawsuit clearly give the governor the power to overrule my vote. I will make him use that power and own every firing politically, if I can. If he gets Trump to say "PPP for Schools," Trump and the Democrats can override Mitch McConnell, easily. McConnell will do whatever Trump says. But so far, Trump and McConnell have deliberately excluded schools and local governments from the support that Shake Shack and cruise ships are receiving.
That's a purely political decision; and I will treat it that way as an elected political leader. If DeSantis refuses to get Trump to do the obvious, he can own the destruction of the teachers he spent last week praising. I won't.
We've heard a lot over the years about education's "death of a thousand cuts." They scratch us here, stab us there, take a thumb, etc. But the education system still stumbles forward, bleeding. This is different. It's different than 2008. This chops off the top part of the body at the chest level. That body will fall dead if that happens. There will be no valiant struggling forward.
My re-election is such an impossibly small matter compared that. So trust me when I say this is a hill I'm willing to die on.