Jeb Bush’s predictable RNC performance centered on school choice with a dash of teacher union bash. The later, red meat for the GOP base; the former, code for vouchers with a lustful eye on total privatization of education. But Bush knows that his Florida test-based way is collapsing and he’s desperately trying to control the narrative with spin. He knows that for some republican voters, playing the union card enables justification of any means he chooses. It’s noteworthy that Bush never used the word “tests” during his speech.
Its understood that Bush needs his tests to be seen as holy writ to trigger privatization. While it’s becoming clear that it’s already occurring now in Florida via the for-profit charter school industry and the cash it’s pouring into state politics, Bush has been relying on portraying benevolence in expanding the state’s voucher options. His heavy-handed influence in state politics has delivered a misleading named Religious Freedom Act to the ballot this year. Bush hopes Floridians don’t know that this is another one of his attempts to privatize education and will OK sending taxpayer dollars to religious schools in another voucher scheme. Who could ever be against “religious freedom” afterall.
But what do Florida’s private schools really think about this? A piece in the Hechinger Report gives insight:
For example, a private school not far from the convention center — highlighted on the GOP Convention website as one of Florida’s best independent schools — did not take part in Florida’s first voucher program, which was ruled unconstitutional in 2006. And Tampa Preparatory School — founded in 1974 by a group of Tampa citizens, including Al Austin, chairman of the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee for the Republican convention — does not participate in the state’s current school choice programs.
Florida has a voucher program for special-education students and a tax credit scholarship program in which taxpayers are able to receive credits for donations made toward private school scholarships for low-income students.
As it turns out, many of Florida’s independent schools, which are a small subset of private schools that aim to be entirely independent from the government, do not take any form of public money on philosophical grounds.
“Vouchers have not impacted us significantly one way or the other,” said Barbara Hodges, executive director of the Florida Council of Independent Schools. The group accredits 159 independent schools across the state, including Tampa Prep. “It does not mean that we are supportive or non-supportive [of vouchers]. Part of being independent means that, typically, our schools do not take tax dollars.”
Tampa Prep, which serves grades six through 12, stresses student participation and the development of self-confidence. It’s open to students of all backgrounds, its website says. The middle school costs $18,375 a year, if paid in two installments in June and December, and the high school costs $19,025. The school supplies its own financial aid to help families unable to cover the full cost of tuition.
Robin Kennedy, the school’s Director of Alumni Relations and Communications, said in an email that the school had looked into vouchers, but so far has chosen not to participate.
Other Florida private schools say they would welcome an expanded voucher system. Many parochial schools around the country have struggled in recent years to stay afloat financially.
“[Romney’s plan] is definitely something we’d follow with interest,” said James Herzog, associate director of education for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, which oversees the state’s Catholic schools. “We think it would make a big difference to our schools.
Some, but not all private schools are embracing vouchers. It shouldn’t be lost on Floridians that some struggling private schools would welcome vouchers. Louisianans are finding out their tax dollars are going to some unsavory private schools in their expanded voucher legislation. There’s a reason why those private schools are struggling. Why would Floridians want to subsidize a floundering business while potentially putting a child’s future at risk?
Moreover, its worth pointing out that Bush is essentially picking winners and losers with taxpayer dollars in a similar manner his GOP allies have been saying the Obama administration has with Solyndra. Its easier to defend Solyndra as an investment in a potential energy resource. It’s indefensible to do so with children as Bush wants with his school voucher schemes.
Bush’s continued demonization of teacher unions to defend vouchers is an irrational and potentially catastrophic exercise in hubris. One needs only to be reminded of the Scientology charter school scandal in Pinellas county earlier this year to understand the dangerous folly of his Religious Freedom Act. Florida public schools have been led and staffed by serious education professionals long before Bush became final arbiter on Florida’s education policy. His dangerous partisanship tilts against the interest of Florida’s children in favor of the only vision that matters: his own.