Reprinted in its entirety with permission from Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg
In respond to my columns, Julio Fuentes, President & CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options and board member for Step Up for Students (SUFS), has filled up a remarkably large number of pages but has not and cannot deny the truths I’ve presented on any of them. (See Mr. Fuentes comments at http://voxxi.com/2014/05/01/success-stories-voucher-schools/)
I deal in information. The information I brought to the discussion has not been contradicted. Instead, I’m accused of being unfair for bringing up inconvenient facts.
The central and totally uncontested fact is that Florida law does not require voucher schools to comply with the state’s body of law and rules for students in English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL) Programs. That means that students learning the English language, known as English Language Learners (ELLs), have no guarantee they will receive in voucher schools the services and benefits they are entitled to only in traditional public schools. (See partial lists of benefits here http://voxxi.com/2014/04/24/esol-programs-charter-schools/ and here http://voxxi.com/2014/04/29/esol-students-in-voucher-schools/)
The second major issue is the voucher schools’ insufficient accountability for ELL’s progress in academic areas and in acquisition of the English language.
During the course of my 40 years in education I have conducted several major evaluation studies from the institutional to the international levels and prepared the final documents for them. I report with total confidence that nowhere in Dr. David Figlio’s 2013 evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Program is there any test performance information broken out by ELL subgroup. There is no summary of ELL test results with which to compare ELL’s achievement in any of the 1,400 voucher schools in Florida. Neither is there information on ELL results for the 88 schools included in that report (Dr. Figlio’s report is here http://www.floridaschoolchoice.org/pdf/FTC_Research_2011-12_report.pdf) .
As I’ve pointed out, information guides action and consumer choices, if it is available. Florida law does not provide parents of ELLs this means for informed selection among options.
These are the unvarnished facts. Mr. Fuentes now complains this exposition of the previously hidden tradeoffs parents of ELLs are forced to make is absurd. I leave it to the readers to decide what’s silly and what’s reasonable.
As of this writing, the bill to expand the voucher program is moribund. Whether the bill passes tomorrow or not, existing law increases the program cap to $874 million over the next five years and authorizes a 3% fee for administrative costs. The 3% fee to the scholarship funding organization (SUFS) amounts to $8.6 million this year and could reach a whopping $26.2 million by 2019. It is fortunate that the program administration has at its disposal these resources, and political capital as well. (For a video that explains how these resource were acquired, see http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/voucher-advocates-take-heat-over-2011-video/2170798).
The SUFS treasure chest could be put to good use to eliminate the disparity in the laws that disadvantage ELLs who go to voucher schools.
The Tax Credit program that funds voucher schools has been in operation for over a decade. During that time, have ELL parents been provided with full disclosure regarding the rights they must sacrifice in exchange for their vouchers?
If ELL parents were informed, then the organizations that manage the tax credit program have known all along about these issues. Yet, there has been no resolution for the problems detailed in this series of columns in any of the years voucher expansion bills were considered in the legislature.
If they knew and kept the information from the parents, that would be shameful and dishonorable. So I assume they did not know. However, if they didn’t know, the interests of their parent and student clients were not well served.
Whatever the case, they know now. And so do the parent and civil rights groups who advocate for ELLs. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/blogs/school-zone/os-voucher-bill-florida-senate-tax-credit,0,3560944.post
Best wishes to Valentín and to all our children in all our schools. We expect much of them in the future and should work together now to ensure that incongruent laws don’t present obstacles to their progress.