cott Maxwell: Saying goodbye: To Jimmy Buffett. And watching Florida tax dollars meant for education go to theme parks

We have some news and nonsense to cover, including the Florida plan to let parents use school vouchers for flat-screen TVs and more evidence that Florida is trying to whitewash history lessons when it comes to slavery.

But let’s start by raising a margarita in honor of the guy who epitomized the Florida lifestyle as much as any modern man: Jimmy Buffett.

Jimmy made it OK to wear flip-flops to Sunday dinner and to start drinking before noon. But as much as anything, he encouraged everyone to look for the sunny side of life. And in a world full of darkness, that’s something.

I read one tribute that described him as a “balladeer of a better way of life.”

Like many Floridians, my wife and I bought in. We went to concerts, communed with Parrotheads, used Jimmy’s songs and storybooks to introduce our kids to Florida culture and wildlife when they were little — and even attended his final show in Orlando with our daughter when she was old enough to enjoy a Landshark (or White Claw, in her case). In fact, it was our kids who first heard of his passing this past weekend and let us know.

Jimmy certainly wasn’t a pure altruist. When I say he epitomized Florida, I mean that in every way — including this state’s attraction for profiteers. The man slapped his Margaritaville brand on everything from timeshares to cruise ships. If Jimmy could find a way to monetize sunshine, he’d do so and tack on a resort fee to boot.

Still, his message of staying young at heart, appreciating the wackiness in life and enjoying the simple pleasures, like the feel of an incoming tide at your ankles, captured a lot of what makes Florida so attractive.

So, in a state that seems to make more headlines nowadays for divisive politics than serene sunsets, I appreciate his passion for promoting the happier side of a place we’ve all made our “One Particular Harbor.”

Our house salted a rim and took off our shoes in Jimmy’s honor.

Now on to the nonsense …

Vouchers for TVs

If you happen to find any eyeballs on the sidewalk this week, please do your fellow Floridians a favor and pick them up. The wayward peepers probably popped out of the heads of anyone who read the recent story: “Florida school vouchers can pay for TVs, kayaks and theme parks.”

The piece by the Tampa Bay Times helped crystalize a point Orlando Sentinel investigations have revealed for years — that these publicly funded vouchers go to “Schools Without Rules.”

Schools Without Rules: An Orlando Sentinel Investigation

You’ve read our past reports about how Florida’s largely unregulated voucher schools can hire teachers without degrees, teach fiction as fact and don’t have to prove they’re actually educating kids to keep on cashing taxpayer-funded vouchers.

But the Times piece also explained how families can use the vouchers on everything from theme park tickets to 55-inch televisions — as long as they claim the expenditures are for “instructional materials.” So if a dad wants a new flat-screen for the NFL season, there’s little to stop him from claiming Junior needs the instructional value of watching “Sesame Street.”

Certainly many families will use this money precisely as intended. But some can also seek out some cut-rate voucher school, like the ones the Sentinel has found operating out of run-down strip malls, just so that they have extra voucher money left over for theme park tickets and TVs.

For years, Florida politicians used the mantra of “accountability” to beat the snot out of public schools, demanding published test scores and detailed accounting of every dollar spent. With voucher schools, there is neither. That suggests the accountability push wasn’t really about guaranteeing a child’s education — or that taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely — but really just part of a campaign to smear public schools.

After all, if accountability was truly the goal, why wouldn’t voucher schools also have to prove they’re actually educating kids and account for every tax dollar spent? Whether it’s for a genuinely qualified teacher. Or for a kayak.

Sanitizing slavery

In other disturbing education news: While voucher schools can teach pretty much whatever they want, newly unveiled documents reveal more evidence of Florida education officials trying to whitewash and sanitize the history lessons taught in public schools.

The Miami Herald found records that show state education officials objected to African-American history lessons about the inhumane practice of forcing African slaves to work on plantations with the state saying it craved “opposing viewpoints or other perspectives on the subject.”

Keep in mind: This comes on the heels of Florida also wanting students to hear that some slaves benefited from slavery when it came to job skills.

Listen, they are two sides to many controversial issues like abortion and capital punishment. But there aren’t two legitimate viewpoints as to whether forced labor and human captivity was a good thing. And I’m done indulging the people who try to defend this stuff. Because there are really only two options here: Either you’re ignorant about the lessons you’re advocating, or you truly want to sanitize the brutal realities of history. And neither one is defensible.

The benefits of slavery? Florida teaches warped version of history | Commentary

Parting words

I thought it seemed depressing to end a column honoring Jimmy Buffett with ugly news about trying to spit shine slavery. So instead, I thought we’d part ways using Jimmy’s own words.

My personal favorite lyric is probably appreciated by anyone who’s ever stumbled to church after a late night before: “There’s a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”

But for purposes of this ending, let’s stick to these two:

“Wrinkles only go where the smiles have been.”

“If there is a heaven for me, I’m sure there is a beach attached.”

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