HHS hosts Florida Governor Democratic candidate forum

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Hillsborough High School welcomed candidates Andrew Gillum and Philip Levine at a Democratic Candidate Forum on Aug. 16. Hosted by the Hillsborough Association of School Administrators (HASA), the main purpose of the forum was to discuss the gubernatorial candidate’s plans regarding public education.

The first candidate to speak was former Tallahassee City Council member and current Mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum. He began his remarks by introducing his mother to the crowd and giving a campaign rundown of his policies concerning public education, with a specific focus placed on increasing funding to public schools.

He addressed the role of charter schools in diminishing the budget for public schools and shared his plans to utilize any legal action, like the governor’s veto, along with the budget pen to stop the siphoning of money from the public education budget. “In a way, we are taking money away from the public system and by virtue of that, we are depriving areas of a low-income nature from receiving an equal opportunity to learn,” Gillum said. “That is the state’s obligation for every child and we are not meeting that obligation.”

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine shared Gillum’s desire to increase funding for public schools, promising a $10,000 increase in teacher salary without raising taxes, but by rest

ructuring the budget to accommodate the increase at the expense of high-stakes testing. “I don’t believe in the testing program we have now, I think we should stop the testing and start investing in schools,” Levine said. “Today if a school gets an ‘F’ it doesn’t get funding. But to me, ‘F’ means funding because in business when something isn’t doing well you want to invest in it.”

Both candidates had similar policies concerning public school funding, but different approaches to address educational disparities with low-income students. Gillum advocated a system of outreach programs for parents and students using a combination of nonprofit and faith organizations.

“I don’t believe that parent lack of involvement in a child’s education is disconnected from the economic circumstances and conditions of the household. So, I don’t think you can solve one without paying attention to the other,” Gillum said. “I think we need to create the kind of economy that allows those parents to make the resources that they need to take care of their families and spend time with

their children.”

His dedication to this issue is personal. As the first person to graduate college in his family, he’s decided to make parenting programs one of his educational priorities. “I don’t know a parent that doesn’t want to do right by their children. I think there is an absence of information on how you do the best job you can do, and we want to help close that gap,” he said.

Levine is also focused on bridging the gap between low-income students. His focus is on technology, rather than parent outreach. His goal is to create a level playing field for all students in the public system. “I think that there’s too much of a digital divide that we see. If I’m governor, I’m going to make sure that every high school kid has a laptop,” Levine said. “The thought that some kids don’t have access to a computer or don’t have access to the internet means that they’re at a huge disadvantage, and it’s not fair. We want to give everyone the same opportunity.”

For Levine, this also means creating individualized education for each student, with spec

ial emphasis placed on vocational and technical training for students who aren’t planning on pursuing a traditional college degree.

Eliminating the current system of high stakes testing is a large part of his plan. Levine advocates teaching over testing, and a personalized approach for each child in the public school system. “We need to make sure that we’re inspiring students, not teaching them for a test. We need to have programs where they can learn what they’re excited about,” he said.

Other Democratic candidates — Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, and Chris King — did not attend. HASA has announced plans to invite the winner of the Republican primary to a future members’ event.

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