The Lakeland Ledger: Halt Voucher Expansion Until Public Schools Are Adequately Funded


From the editors of the Lakeland Ledger:

Now, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is calling for sales tax revenue to also be diverted to pay for the program. In addition, he wants to expand the pool of eligible students to include families whose incomes rise beyond required levels.

About 83 percent of students using vouchers end up at religious schools, the state reports. However, the Florida Department of Education says the schools are solely responsible for “all aspects of their educational programs.” That includes the curriculum. While one would expect religious activity at a religious school, teaching religion as part of the curriculum is inappropriate. The Legislature should prohibit use of state funds for that practice.

Private-school students also avoid having to take the FCAT. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has called for standardized testing to be required for scholarship students if the program is expanded.

Further consideration of such an expansion should be halted until lawmakers first ensure that public schools are receiving adequate resources. Florida ranks 48th in the nation in per-pupil public school funding, reports the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Legislature should also put a pause on implementing school grades until the successor to the FCAT is determined and tried out.

It’s hard to argue with the perception that public education is under attack in Florida. If state lawmakers want to show they’re interested in improving rather than slowly killing public schools, they will require the same accountability for private schools before considering diverting more resources toward to them.

The expansion of voucher funding to include sales tax revenue was expected, especially with a federal voucher bill being proposed by republican Tim Scott of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander from Tennessee.

If universal vouchers is the ultimate goal, then perhaps its time to point out that proponents are proposing a massive entitlement program in which the government – through the taxpayer – is paying for universal school choice.

And where does oversight come from? The 2011 McKay Scholarship scandal failed to impress upon republican lawmakers any need for closer scrutiny. Florida’s current voucher system has no oversight either. John Kirtley’s Step Up for Students who administrates the program is hardly an honest broker as the taxpayer money which come their way ensures their existence. And they fight accountability, too,  by insisting they don’t want voucher kids tested the same way as are public school kids.

Will Weatherford’s “massive voucher expansion” promises less oversight and  less funding for public schools and services. Its passage out of the blind, hyper-partisan House is a certainty. The Senate will apply much more scrutiny as Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) has influence with republican leadership and six independent republicans have serve as a significant bloc of conscience.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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