The high cost of doing business in the sunshine state, those evil standardized tests for students and program cuts were all up for discussion Monday when Governor Rick Scott hosted a roundtable forum at the Blountstown library.
Business leaders with the Calhoun County Chamber Commerce and local elected officials filled the room for a chance to share concerns with Governor Scott who was joined by Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson. The visit was part of a tour of panhandle counties.
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test - commonly known as FCAT - was a hot topic, thus the likely reason for Robinson’s presence. Recent changes in grading standards have many educators and parents perplexed. “FCAT has been a four-letter word since I’ve been on the board,” said Kelly King, who represents district 2 on the Calhoun County School Board. King noted her concerns became more personal when her own child, a fourth grader at Altha Public School, took the writing test. “He has the highest academic average for his class, but he did not pass his writing exam.”
This prompted King to dig a little deeper into the FCAT. “I began to do research on testing standards and how they correlate to college readiness.” King said she discovered Florida students are among the lowest in the nation in ACT test scores, a college entrance test. “We are spending millions on the FCAT, but what are we going to do to prep our kids for college and the workforce?” she asked.
Commissioner Robinson explained that education officials went back to the drawing board to see what could be done to raise the standard of education in Florida. “We looked at FCAT reading and level three was the mark [on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest]. I said, ‘Why not 4?’” Robinson noted that $185 million is being spent in remediation because students are not where they should be. He agreed more needed to be done to prepare students for the workforce, pointing out that business leaders say writing, reading and critical thinking are the key needs for their companies.
“We are going to be stronger for college and the workforce in the next couple of years than we have in the past five years,” Robinson stressed.
Governor Scott agreed. “Everybody is not going to college. If you’re not, when you finish K-12, we want you ready to get a job.” Gov. Scott said a two-path plan was being developed for schools - one with students who are preparing for college and another for students who want to immediately enter the workforce after graduation.
Campus facility needs, public library program cuts, excessive costs to Florida businesses and funds needed for economic development projects were brought to Gov. Scott’s attention. He agreed each was worthy of funding, but shared the dilemma he faces daily.
“I’ve been governor for 17 months and not one person has come to my office suggesting we cut something,” he remarked. “I’ve been in business my whole life. When you are in business and you see something that is not as big of a problem now as it once was, you decide you don’t need to put as much money into it. But in government, people say you don’t care if you do that.”
Gov. Scott said he often tells folks who come to him about not cutting a program if there are other programs in their agency they would like to cut instead. When they want to keep all the programs, he asks, “So what tax do you want me to raise?”
Gov. Scott closed his visit by urging citizens to speak up about wasteful spending and get involved. “Since I’ve been governor, you can look at our budget and see every line. But now you will be able to see every line on every agency’s budget. But it won’t matter if you don’t get involved,” he emphasized. “The more people get active in this, the better we will be. It’s your money.”