NAACP Florida Conference President Adora Obi-Nweze was critical of Florida’s school voucher program in a WMNF story about next week’s Moral Monday event when he said “it’s very critical that we get a high quality education for our children. The dollars that are being cut as a result of dollars being siphoned off from the public school district is stopping our children from being able to have a quality education and pushing them into the jailhouse pipeline.”
Step Up for Students Ron Matus, the assistant director for policy & public affairs, took exception to the Obi-Nweze’s characterization and left the following comment:
Hello! My name is Ron Matus. I’m a former Tampa Bay Times education reporter who now works for Step Up For Students, the nonprofit here in Tampa that administers the state’s tax credit scholarship program. I have great admiration for the SCLC and NAACP (and WMNF) and share their concerns about the challenges facing low-income and minority Floridians. It is in that vein that I just wanted to note a few things about the program: * The scholarships are available to students who qualify for free- or reduced price-lunch. They do not hinge at all on whether the student is in a “failing school” – a term we do not use or favor. That description of the program has popped up in multiple media stories in recent days, so I just wanted to clarify. * The scholarship students are required by law to take a state-approved standardized test (thought it doesn’t have to be the FCAT) and we know from six years worth of test data that 1) the students were the lowest-performing students in the public schools they left behind and 2) in their new schools, they are making the same annual academic gains as students of all income levels nationally. * The program does not drain money from public schools, as noted by seven reports over the years from five independent and highly regarded agencies. This year, the scholarship amount is $4,880, which is roughly half the total spending per pupil in Florida public schools. I’m happy to answer any questions anybody out there has about the program. I can be reached at XXXXXXXXXX.
Matus is technically correct with respect to funding. He can blame republican legislators like Will Weatherford for inserting the “failing schools” meme as it helps them justify the tax redirect into a program which pays Matus’ salary and that of other top executives with SUFS. His claim that data shows voucher kids are doing better is dubious as their “learning gains” are not measured by the same standard.
But Matus apparently was able to deliver quite the Astroturf campaign as well. Within an hour, supporters of SUFS logged over 70 comments.