My recent Twitter duels with voucher advocates have revealed a change in their own talking points. Out of one side of their mouth, they vigorously insist that its perfectly OK for state voucher schools to take different tests than public school kids as proof of accountability. Out of the other side of their mouth, they say that they will trade accountability for universal school choice. Paid for by the taxpayers, of course. But then again, Florida’s tax credit cash, they say, is “private money.”
Its hard to keep a score card with this crowd. Why all the conflicting statements? Maybe because they know how much it costs – and what it really entails. Consider this from an editorial in the St. Augustine Record:
Vouchers are touted by supporters as a “choice” issue for parents. If, for any reason, they’re not satisfied with public schools, vouchers pay for private schools. And it is a choice. What concerns us is how these choices are paid for.
What’s important to understand is, that bry most accounts, fully 80 percent of voucher schools are religious institutions. We’re not constitutional scholars, but wonder out loud how public dollars end up supporting faith-based education. Separation of church and state is a pretty basic tenet in our country. And it was meant to protect the bedrock of faith fostered in churches from political chicanery and whim. And churches have enjoyed that protection for centuries.
But you really can’t have it both ways. Separation means separation — and that means funding as well.
The way vouchers work is a complicated thing that skirts the issue of having tax dollars supporting religious institutions. Basically corporations front the money — reportedly around $268 million this year — and then get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on the back end. So are sales tax dollars funding private religious schools? Certainly. Because the tax credits that the corporations are receiving aren’t entering state coffers. And that shortfall would be available to public schools, or roads, or affordable housing.
But beyond the issue of secular separation and a big hole in Florida’s tax till, there’s more.
Superintendent of Schools Joe Joyner agrees that the tax issue is huge. He says the bill would cost the state $1 billion over the next five years.
A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. But don’t worry your pretty little head, Florida. Will Weatherford – the guy who is pushing voucher expansion, wants to increase K-12 spending – even more than Rick Scott, that benevolent defender of public schools wants. What’s up with that?
Most Florida voters have probably forgotten they essentially voted against religious school vouchers by defeating Amendment 8 in 2012, but they should have realized the republican legislature would find a way to circumvent them. And now religious leaders with schools want in on the cash bonanza, and that their cheerleaders don’t want them held accountable with those burdensome tests they want public schools to have.
The same people who appear to be willing to say anything or take any position on taxpayer-funded “school choice” gained the bully pulpit with “failing school” memes justified by test scores. Defending voucher schools now with different test data than public schools use doesn’t rise to even being laughable. Switching their own standards for accountability to “just choice, baby, ” even less so.
Small wonder the editors of the St. Augustine Record conclude by asking, “how’s that (accountability) work in a school where decisions are made out of the public eye without checks and balances — and student achievement is measured on sliding scales?”