From Orlando Sentinel reporter Dave Weber:
More than four out of every five low-income students receiving a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship are attending religious schools. The rapidly expanding state-scholarship program allows students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense, and 83 percent are choosing church schools.
Schools run by Baptist, Lutheran, Seventh-day Adventist, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic religious organizations are among those accepting scholarship students in Central Florida and across the state. The scholarships are paid with money that certain businesses can contribute to the scholarship organization instead of paying state taxes.
Participation in the program has exploded since it was set up by the Legislature in 2001, with about 50,000 students sharing the $229 million available for scholarships this year. Half of the state’s more than 2.6 million students could qualify for the program based on low family income, and the State Board of Education estimates 100,000 students will be getting scholarships within five years.
Herein lies the benevolence of “choice” which Jeb Bush’s privatization cabal spouts out every time their ideas are challenged. It for poor kids, you see. Nevermind that the playing fields aren’t even close to being level. While Bush’s two corporate financed foundations and his republican legislative lap dogs have shoved a costly, rigid and complicated school and teacher accountability systems, no such suffocating demands exist for an industry which is receiving a quarter of a billion from Florida taxpayers. Writes Weber:
The state prescribes what students learn in public schools — including, for example, instruction on evolution theory — and carefully measures results. Performance of students and schools has been appraised by student test scores for several years, and this year for the first time public-school teachers will be evaluated based in part on those test scores as well.
But the state has no control over the curriculum at private schools. Critics complain that the state is sending students to private religious schools at taxpayer expense without adequately assessing how students or schools perform.
The state requires that scholarship students in grades three to 10 take a standardized test each year but only takes a broad look at the results to see whether the scholarship students overall appear to be relatively on par with public-school students.
Weber points out that “the scholarship fund continues to grow as businesses such as Walgreens, Winn-Dixie and United Healthcare of Florida contribute in lieu of paying state taxes.” Politicians and executives get a wonderful photo-op every year when these contributions are announced. Remarkably, an alcohol distributorship, Southern Wine and Spirits are among those corporations who also dodge state taxes this way. Such subtle crony capitalism gets blurred by the benevolence that privatization advocates hide behind. These corporations benefit from state services which are being cut, yet gain favor from legislators by signing over their tax check to Step Up for Students, the agency which administrates the program.
Sort of like selective Robinhoodism.
While Bush and Florida GOP legislators tell voters they are giving parents choices and creating competition, they are guilty of the same thing they accuse President Obama of doing. Choosing winners and losers by creating and controlling markets through legislative fiat, tax law manipulations and regulatory engineering sounds awfully like something a conservative commentator might be writing about Obamacare.