john-dudley_web.jpgThe year 2010 has had a rare focus and spotlight placed on education at the local and national level. On Feb. 17, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This historic legislation was designed to stimulate the economy, support job creation and invest in critical sectors, including education.

The Act is the hated stimulus spending often criticized by the Tea Party and Republicans. It provides $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund, a competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform, including making substantial gains in student achievement and improving high school graduation rates. Florida has gotten at least $700 million of those funds; Miami-Dade County is set to receive about $70 million.

In defense of the Republican Tea Party, the federal government’s investment in Florida education may indeed be wasteful spending.  Florida has a long history of failing to educate its students.  The Department of Education has recorded that Florida hasn’t had a freshman graduation rate above 66 percent since 2002.  A freshman is a student in the ninth grade. The 2008 freshmen graduation rate for blacks and Hispanics was 55 percent and 63 percent, respectively. Why invest in this long legacy of a prolonged failure to educate?

The finger-pointing is endless and the blame game is non-stop. When it comes to graduating from the ninth grade, the teachers blame the students (blame the victim) and the parents.  The parents and the Florida elected officials blame the teachers. The teachers union blames the students, the parents and the school board.  The school board blames the superintendent. The superintendent blames the school board and the state officials.

No-one in Florida’s history has ever stood up and said that they are accountable for the state of Florida’s student education.  Where is that person?  Who amongst the teachers, parents, unions, school boards, superintendents and Florida elected officials is willing to take responsibility for the results? That person does not exist.

If Florida students aren’t graduating from high school, what are they doing?  According to the 2006 U.S. Census Bureau Statistics, Florida ranked fourth among 50 states in violent crime  and tied for sixth in the country for property crimes. The 2009 Florida Department of Corrections found that the median grade level of Florida inmates was the seventh grade — 6.9, to be exact.  Forty percent of the inmates never made it past the fifth grade. 

So if you are looking for those Florida dropouts, just turn on the news every night.  They are doing armed home invasions, dealing drugs, robbing businesses and stealing property.  The secret is out.  The more educated your community is, the more economically independent and safer it is.

Will President Obama’s education stimulus result in higher graduation rates or fund more Florida crime? The students, parents, teachers, superintendents, school boards and state legislatures will decide. Who will these usual suspects blame for the mis-education of Florida student?  They can blame it on the ninth grade.

John Dudley is a freelance writer living in Miami Beach.