At some point, the Republican-dominated Florida senate was going to be able to impose their will on expanding Florida’s voucher system. Few legislators have fought against what’s now become a clear effort by Republican lawmakers to eliminate public schools as has Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami). During debate Friday, Bullard made an astonishing objection. This from Orlando Sentinel reporter Jason Garcia:
Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, was upset at the unexpected introduction of a sweeping education bill that, among other provisions, would expand the state’s corporate-tax credit scholarship program, which finances private-school vouchers. Democratic senators, who are control only 14 of the Senate’s 40 seats, thought they had successfully defeated the issue yesterday, when they blocked it on a procedural vote, but GOP supporters resurrected it as an amendment to different legislation (SB 850) today, the final day of the legislative session.
In his debate, Bullard claimed that an organization that supports the voucher expansion has been offering lawmakers jobs if they vote for the bill. He did not name the group, but his remarks signaled he was referring to “Step Up for Students,” the Tampa-based non-profit that administers the program.
“We’ve had individuals from that organization going around these halls offering jobs to other people in the process as incentive for voting for this bill, and that’s not the way we should be doing business,” he said. “But it’s happened and by voting on this bill and voting yes on this bill, we’re basically saying, ‘Guess what?’”
“Sen. Bullard, you’ve made a very, very critical statement, and I’m going to ask you, in the presence of the rules chair, to repeat what you said before the Senate moves forward. You made a statement of people being offered jobs in exchange for votes…Would you repeat the statement and then, sir, would you prove it?”
Bullard quickly apologized, saying he was being vague because the claim “was shared with me ….by members of the other chamber that job offers were placed on the table by the agency that administer these scholarships.” He would not identify that House member.
Gaetz responded, “Senator, you’re an officer of the state of Florida, you took an oath to preserve and protect the laws of this state. If you have knowledge of a crime that has been committed or an attempt to commit a crime, sir, you need to report that to the state attorney today.”
Even in the event that Step up for Students (SUFS) was offering jobs for votes, it would be nothing new in the sordid education for profit cabal that has infected Florida. But worst of all, even a state’s attorney cannot be considered an honest broker. They all answer to Attorney General Pam Bondi who has been accepting campaign contributions from SUFS CEO John Kirtley and his wife, Kimberly since Bondi’s 2010 run. For the past decade, the Kirtley’s have put almost $500 million into Florida political campaigns.
Miami Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory’s revealed that SUFS admits paying for influence.
….the non-profit that runs the voucher program came under fire Tuesday for a 2011 video that was posted to YouTube.
In the video, Step Up for Students President Doug Tuthill outlined the organization’s political strategy. He talked about the role of an affiliated political committee.
“One of the primary reasons we’ve been so successful we spend about $1 million every other cycle in local political races, which in Florida is a lot of money,” Tuthill told a group at the University of California, Berkeley. “In House races and Senate races, we’re probably the biggest spender in local races.”
It’s unclear if Tuthill includes the Kirtley’s contributions in his total. Even if it does, it doesn’t come close to the entire amount. So how does Tuthill account for the rest? Is it in the form of lucrative consulting or lobbying?
Don Gaetz doth protest too much, methinks. So does Sen. John Thrasher (R- Orange Park) who admonished Bullard, too. Both are aware of SUFS’ shenanigans as both signed off on the controls that Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) put into the bill. Gaetz and Thrasher aren’t ignorant of the Kirtley’s campaign cash nor about SUFS’s political activities.
A real investigation of SUFS cannot be expected from any entity controlled by Florida republican politicians. Kirtley even invests in the up-and-coming like Bondi, Jeff Atwater and Alan Putnam. Floridians can’t expect federal relief either as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan swept Michelle Rhee’s Washington DC cheating scandal under the rug. The education reform movement protects it’s rock stars.