Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently put an end to a two-decade-old Learning for Life character education program by cutting an annual $2.5 million appropriation for the program from the state budget.
The move is already impacting local Boy Scout groups that contracted with the state to help public schools meet a mandate for character education. It also raises troubling questions because Florida’s standards for defining moral character were already low.
The Suwannee River Area Council of Boy Scouts are working to patch a $155,000 budget hole left after Scott, a former Eagle Scout, vetoed the $2.5 million appropriation for Learning for Life. The Council and other Boy Scout troops tailored their citizenship programs to offer lessons on kindness and other character virtues to public schools through the program, and rely heavily on the cash from the state to fund their efforts, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.
“Scott’s focus was not on the Suwannee River Area Council when he made the final decision on the state budget sent to him by the Legislature,” according to the news site. “His eyes were on the bottom line.”
The move means two workers lost their jobs when the Suwannee River Area Council was forced to shut down its Learning for Life program, which it provided to eight Florida counties. The Council may also be forced to merge with another council if it doesn’t come up with about $62,000 by the end of the year.
Like Scott, Republican state Rep. Randy Fine said the decision to cut the Learning for Life funding was not aimed at the Boy Scouts.
“You get all these programs with similar sounding names stacked up against each other,” he said. “Put your name on the appropriation, that’s my advice. Here’s one of the premier educational (entities), people need to know you are involved.”
Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone contends the governor “will work with the Boy Scouts to identify their priorities,” though Scott contends that because character education is mandated by the state “districts should use current resources to provide the instruction,” the Democrat reports.
The shift is troubling based on the state’s already low standards for “good moral character.”
CultureFeed recently described the Florida Department of Children and Families’ “Affidavit of Good Moral Character,” a required document that outlines for prospective employees “the moral character requirements” to work with children.
The document requires applicants to “affirm and attest under penalty of perjury” that they “have not been arrested with disposition pending or found guilty of, regardless of adjudication, or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to or have been adjudicated delinquent and the record has not been sealed or expunged for, any offense prohibited under and of the following provisions of Florida Statutes.”
The listed statutes include “sexual misconduct” with patients, the mentally ill, or children; abuse; murder; manslaughter; kidnapping; assault “if the offense was a felony” or “if the victim of offense was a minor”; burglary; theft, drug sales, and other crimes.
“In the case of the State of Florida, where ‘good moral character’ might once have meant being kind, loving, courageous, merciful, and wise—all for the benefit of the children under the person’s care—it now means that one hasn’t forced a child to have sex or committed other heinous crimes,” Zambone wrote.
Considering that definition of “good moral character,” Scott’s decision to ax Learning for Life begs the question: How will they encourage the teaching of character and citizenship in Florida’s schools?