Gaetz, Senate Republicans Lose Credibility on Accountability in Voucher Deal


Senate president Don Gaetz once acted as if accountability really mattered.

After a legislative career built upon the education chops he earned as a former school superintendent who was an accountability hawk, his opinion mattered. Gaetz demonstrated real leadership when he admitted before the 2013 session that Florida’s education accountability system was “in danger of imploding. ” Folks believed him this year when he asserted that voucher schools should have to take the same tests as do public schools. It turns out that Gaetz only intended to lead people to believe that’s how he felt. This week’s voucher deal in the senate confirms it. What’s especially troubling is the reality that he chose to mislead his own constituents on the matter in his own press release:

Tallahassee–Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) today praised the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Negron (R-Stuart), for adopting strong academic and financial accountability standards for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

Under a provision approved by a bipartisan majority of the committee, students receiving Florida Tax Credit Scholarships will be subject to annual academic testing using the same Department of Education-approved assessments that are in place for this program. Scholarship funding organizations will be audited annually by the Auditor General to track how funds are spent and to ensure that no state dollars are used for lobbying or political purposes.

“Speaker Weatherford and I jointly committed to expanding school choice through the Tax Credit Scholarship Program,” President Gaetz said. “The question we have been working on is how to include meaningful accountability so parents, teachers and the public will be able to assess student performance.  I am very pleased the bill passed today accomplishes those objectives and makes this legislation acceptable to the Senate

It’s hard to imagine how Gaetz could spin more. His definition of ‘meaningful accountability so parents, teachers and the public will be able to assess student performance” has turned out to be a completely different test from a completely different vendor. Writing in the Lakeland Ledger, Lloyd Dunkelberger explains:

The Senate bill would not require voucher students to take a state assessment test — like the FCAT — although it does provide that option to the parents of the students.

It would require more reporting on the norm- referenced tests that the voucher school students must take. The data, most of which will reflect statewide results, will be compiled by the Learning System Institute at Florida State University. But schools, which have more than 51 percent of their students receiving vouchers, will have to report results on school- by-school basis.

Scathing Purple Musings realized that Gaetz was never really serious about holding voucher schools accountable at the end of last month. His press release confirms those suspicions. For Gaetz, this final legislative act on education will be his legacy.

Was there really ever any desire among the GOP senate caucus to hold voucher schools accountable to the same suffocating standards they’ve imposed on Florida’s public schools?

Apparently, no.

The perceived hesitancy of senate republicans on this voucher bill was the only thing standing in the way of their party losing what credibility it had left as an honest broker on education accountability. House republicans lost it a long time ago.  The double-standard of Florida legislative republicans on testing shows them to be unafraid to demonstrate they have chosen voucher schools as winners and public schools, the losers.

 

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 Gaetz, Senate Republicans Lose Credibility on Accountability in Voucher Deal

  1. Ken Wackes says:

    You have missed the whole point. Student assessments are only valid to the degree that they measure mastery of required skills, concepts. The whole point of having independent education in America is freedom from government imposed curricula. Hence, to impose new Florida Common Core assessments on students who study under an independent school curriculum, are ill-served and the results are highly skewed. There is already an accountability feature that has been in place for several years. All Tax Scholarship students must take an approved standardized achievement test and report those grades annually to a researcher at the University of Florida. The school is free to choose the standardized test from a list of approved tests that most closely aligns with its curriculum.

    So, please don’t make it sound as if there is no accountability!

    • Bob Sikes says:

      I’m afraid you are the one missing the whole point. “Assessments” in public schools weigh most heavily on schools, teachers and administrators. While taxpayers are sympathetic to choice options in general, their interests aren’t served when voucher schools take different tests. The same people who have pushed “accountability via test data” are the same who want voucher schools to take different tests. Standardized tests were initially intended as your “mastery of required skill, concepts,” but the education reform movement has decided to use them differently. As Florida’s voucher/tax credit program is paid for by taxpayers, they are entitled to know how all schools are doing – and on the same playing field.

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