Miami Herald: “Vouchers Please a Few, But Undercuts the Many”

The Miami Herald became the latest large state daily to criticize the republican legislatures’ latest expansion of its school voucher program:

Florida’s school vouchers, called the Tax Credit Scholarship program pays for about 60,000 students to attend private schools, of which more than 80 percent are religious. However, this is money that, in effect, has been denied to the public-school system and the state’s general revenue.

Florida’s school-voucher program has a Catch-22 aspect: Vouchers were created to allow parents unhappy with their local public schools’ performance to enroll their children in private institutions using money contributed by corporations, which then get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit; in turn, this means fewer state tax dollars collected that could have been spent to improve ailing public schools, giving parents ever more reasons to keep seeking vouchers.

Almost 10 years ago, the Editorial Board saw the increased competition as a good thing, admonishing public schools to improve the quality of education they provided. And, to a large extent, that is what happened, as school grades in many districts attest. As a result, parents should be less inclined to pull their kids out of public schools — and the state should be less inclined to give away to private schools even more millions of dollars that could benefit state revenue.

But, given the money and clout behind the proposed increase, scantly funded opponents face an uphill battle. Supporters include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and think tanks — James Madison Institute and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future — among others. These groups and others have thrown a lot of persuasive power and money into election campaigns to get their point across. The Florida Federation for Children, a political action committee, has raised more than $2.3 million since 2010 and has invested most of it in ads and direct mailings to support candidates who favor vouchers.

And big money talks loud in Tallahassee. A House committee last week voted along party lines to approve an expansion plan that would also include removing some eligibility restrictions for students seeking vouchers and offering partial scholarships to families earning more than $60,000 a year. So much for the “disadvantaged” qualification.

Other proposals in similar bills would allow businesses that contribute to earn credits on their sales taxes, opening up a new revenue stream for the program, and to require students in schools receiving vouchers to take the same standardized tests as students in public schools. This is the one proposal that makes good sense.

Vouchers have their merits, according to the parents whose students use them. Supporters also say that vouchers save the state money because the cost per capita is less in the private schools in the program. But vouchers only account for some 60,000 students in the state, whereas the public schools serve millions of children. Though some funding cuts during Gov. Scott’s first year in office have been restored, public schools are still underfunded. Goosing the voucher program may please the few, but it undercuts the many at the same time.

Republicans are big on triggers when it comes to education policy. They know that concerns about raising the income ceiling are valid, and don’t care that expansion will “undercut the many.”  Jeb Bush’s vigorous push for a community-dividing parent trigger during the last two sessions is a clear indication that both he and his republican acolytes don’t mind the chaos their privatization zealotry can ignite in Florida.

The reality that voucher money from sales tax are “state revenues” was airily dismissed this week by CATO Institute scholar Jason Bedrick on Twitter in that sales tax was “private money” and that it wasn’t “government money until it reached the treasury.”

But the “choice” mantra means everything now and trumps the once dominate theme of “accountability.”  So much so that top Bush advisor Matt Ladner also tweeted that he’d give up testing for universal choice. Step Up for Students public affairs manager Patrick Gibbons tweeted a similar view in that “parental choice was accountability.”

Such shrill rhetoric reveals that current resistance by the  Choice-above-all-else crowd to voucher kids taking the same tests as public school kids is a façade. Senate President Don Gaetz astutely asked earlier this month, “”is educational choice leading to educational advancement?”  Both Choicers and Gaetz already know what the end game on voucher expansion will include the state test requirement, but that the former will get everything else they want.

So what if the rest of Florida gets “undercut.”




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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2 Responses to Miami Herald: “Vouchers Please a Few, But Undercuts the Many”

  1. Mama Bear says:

    Here are my purple views:

    Idea #1: mandate charter school children to take publicly-administered tests given by proctors assigned by the school system or the state. Take a portion of the per-student-allotment for charter students and allocate that to fund this function. Send composite scores to the parents so they know how their charter school holds up to the local public school and to state standards. One thing is for certain, if we have standardized testing for kids in public schools, these publicly-funded charter schools should also be subject to the same testing, administered in a controlled way that assures no cheating.

    Idea #2: No cherry picking. This only puts you on a path to Prison Schools and Charter Schools. There should be a lottery for any child who wishes to attend a charter school. It should be administered by a third party that is not privy to school records in a blind or double blind method. Children wishing to attend a charter will apply for this lottery. Standards for keeping a student should also be the same as public schools. There should be no culling of the crowd once a student is attending a charter school. A charter school is not a private school. Let’s always remember that.

    Idea #3: Let parents choose. They may have complex agendas (safety, convenience, demographics, sports, cultural issues).

    Idea #4: Trust choice and competition, but promote quality. If the playing field is level (and that is not happening today) good schools will succeed and bad ones will fail. If a local charter puts the pressure on a local public school to better their outcomes, so be it. If a local public school has a better sports program, the charter will then know it needs to find ways to set itself apart and compete on different levels. Unfortunately, Florida has created a boom town for charter schools. We were rewarded with a shameful 24% failure rate that was publicized in the Stanford Study in 2007 (?). Your bad, Governor Bush. Governor Scott dealt with that by loosening, not tightening, the requirements. Your bad, Governor Scott. If we really want charter schools, we have to be willing to fight for the best Charters we can have and we must be willing to accept failures. Parents can decide where they want to be in that mix.

    Idea #5: Provide more data to the public: high school graduates, test scores, college board data, college bound, college graduates, etc. Report, report, report.

    Tough standards, level playing fields, transparency and parent-involvement …. that’s my view. My kids went to private and public schools and college universities. I’m purple on this one, but I’m no push over for crony capitalism either, Eric Fresen.

  2. Pingback: School Vouchers, Workman, Dwarf Tossing, Extremist Muslim Cleric: Connections | Reclaim Reform

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