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“Massive Expansion” of School Vouchers Would Fund Private Education at Public Expense

| February 20, 2014

Florida is gradually making museums of public schools. (Joe Wolf)

Florida is gradually making museums of public schools. (Joe Wolf)

The “massive expansion” of Florida’s de facto voucher system promised by House Speaker Will Weatherford was filed Thursday, setting up what is expected to be one of the most-contentious education battles of the 2014 legislative session.

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Under the proposal (PCB FTSC 14-02), retailers could divert sales-tax payments to the system; middle-class families would qualify for partial scholarships; and each scholarship would cover more of the cost of attending a private school.

The bill would also increase a cap on the program’s fundraising; drop for many students a provision requiring those in middle school or high school to have attended public schools for at least one year before qualifying for a voucher; and toughen standards on organizations that provide the scholarships.

In an interview last week with The News Service of Florida, Weatherford said his goal was to make sure the program was available for more students.

“I’d like to get to a place where there never has to be a waiting list,” said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “If there’s a single mom who’s got a son or a daughter who’s stuck in a failing school, and she wants to go into the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program to give her kid a better chance in life, I would never want to say, ‘Our door is shut to you because we hit the cap and we don’t have enough room for your child.’ ”

Unlike in past years, the only scholarship organization did not keep track of a waiting list for this school year, a spokesman said. But about 60,000 students were given scholarships, and another 34,000 started the application process before the program cut off the process because it was full, according to Jon East of Step Up For Students.

“We think that suggests that there is a fair upside still to families wanting this scholarship. … I think it’s fair to say that there’s quite a bit of unmet need,” East said.

One of the most sweeping changes to the program would be the authority for sales taxes to be sent to scholarship organizations instead of the state, which would provide tax credits to retailers that do so. Until now, the program has been largely funded by credits against taxes paid by corporations, including corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes.

But the partial scholarships would also change another characteristic of the program. Currently, families qualify for the scholarships if they are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches — for example, a family of four making no more than $43,568.


The new formula would be tied to the federal poverty level and would allow students to qualify for at least partial scholarships if their family incomes are no more than 260 percent of that level, or $62,010 for a family of four, according to Step Up For Students. Full scholarships would top out at $47,700 for those families.

The bill would also provide an additional boost for the scholarship cap, which would already have increased to $358 million for the 2014-15 school year. The bill would boost the cap to $390 million for that year, and keep the limit about $30 million above what it otherwise would have been for several years.

The program’s cap already increases by 25 percent every time it hits a predetermined growth trigger set by the Legislature.

An expected Senate measure will likely include a provision requiring students who receive the scholarships to take state standardized tests. Students in the program are already required to take a standardized test, but not necessarily the same one used in public schools.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also serves as chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, appeared hesitant Thursday about the possibility of allowing the program to access sales taxes.

“The net result is a reduction into the general fund, which means there would be a reduction in what is spent on education and health care and across the board,” he said.

A spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the group was still reviewing the bill.

“We don’t understand why some lawmakers in the state continue to fail to understand that their primary obligation is to our public schools, not to creating and expanding a parallel system,” spokesman Mark Pudlow said.

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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31 Responses for ““Massive Expansion” of School Vouchers Would Fund Private Education at Public Expense”

  1. Anonymous says:

    While I completely understand any parent’s desire to secure the best education they can for their child, I do not necessarily want my tax dollars to fund a parent’s decision to indoctrinate their child into the religious instruction of their choice on the public dime.

    • I/M/O says:

      You immediately jump to the conclusion that parents would pick a religious based parochial school.

      Hate to burst your bubble but non sectarian private schools lead the list of the better schools in this nation.

      So would you have an objection to parents picking those types of schools?

    • BR says:

      Not all of these schools would be considered religious indoctrination. Those same taxpayers may not want their children to receive public school “government” indoctrination. Many taxpayers do not agree with what the public schools are serving up yet they must pay taxes to support them. Bottom line is this is a small program and if the results are good many children and thus society will benefit. I personally do support public schools but there should be options.

      • A.S.F. says:

        @BR says–Let me know when you plan to stop driving on those terrible “government” roads or using any other part of our horribly oppressive “government” infrastructure that allows you to live the comfortable life all American citizens enjoy. There are bigger monsters out there to fight than “the government” but you wouldn’t know it from reading some of the posts on this forum. “The government” has become the boogeyman in the closet for some people, I fear, and their favorite dog to kick when they are frustrated by forces they don’t even begin to actually understand.

        • BR says:

          @a.s.f. Where did I mention anything about public roads? The debate is about education vouchers. There must be some things you agree with and other things you disagree with about government services. I support public schools, went to them myself and my child attends public school. I am perfectly happy with her school and educational environment and would not move her if given the option to use a voucher. That being said, a pragmatist is willing to look at other options as a matter of public policy. Not everyone agrees with the content of our public education system and I have no problem with some parents using a voucher to offset the cost of educating their child elsewhere. They too are taxpayers. Let the marketplace of ideas lead us to greater achievement. I am confident the public school system is up to the challenge of a little competition. After all we did have a charter school or two close their doors. I do not believe the government is the boogie man as you wrote. Far from it, I am a big fan of good policy making at the government level. Those who are afraid to compete are usually afraid for a reason so let’s be willing to be pragmatic.

          • A.S.F. says:

            @BR says–I believe your exact sentence read; “Those same taxpayers may not want their children to receive public school GOVERNMENT (my italics) indoctrination.” There are many people on this forum of a Conservative bent who refer endlessly to “the government” as being the source of all America’s ills. They seem to resent it as an intolerably intrusive force, even as they take advantage of everything it has to offer. They do not seem to want to work towards improving it as much as they wish for it to magically “go away” to a point of imagined perfection. I am glad to hear that you are not one of those people and applaud the fact that you support our public schools. However, the money that would be diverted to private schools by these vouchers is money that our public school system needs to function at the level that you say your own child benefits from now. Here’s a common sense question: What do you think will happen in the future once that money goes away?

  2. Edman says:

    No objective studies have shown charter/voucher schools to be more effective than public schools but conservatives never want to do what President Jefferson envisioned and support public schools that educate and prepare all citizens so they can take full advantage of our great country. Use our public funds to provide better support of our public schools and not private experiments.

    • Genie says:

      @Edman: Conservatives are not the only people who would like the opportunity to send their children to charter schools.

      Do you know that the majority of schools in the New Orleans area are now charter schools? Schools should be competitive. This has absolutely nothing to do with politics.

  3. barbie says:

    That last sentence is a pretty good summation:

    “some lawmakers in the state continue to fail to understand that their primary obligation is to our public schools, not to creating and expanding a parallel system”

    They don’t get to shirk the responsibility to public education that they have, just because someone isn’t making enough profit. This endless attempting to privatize our schools for that purpose-and that’s exactly what it is-has to stop. We don’t have enough resources for one, let alone both systems.

    Their primary obligation is to the existing system, which must be available to all. There’s no way to make this any clearer.

    • Bill says:

      I also see the opinion/last line of Mr Pudlow as a good summation ~ “We don’t understand why some lawmakers in the state continue to fail to understand that their primary obligation is to our public schools, not to creating and expanding a parallel system,” ~ this just screams out that he/they care about the burreacracy of the Government schools over the best intrest/education of the KIDs.

  4. gia says:

    Wrong idea NO VOUCHERS

  5. Jim Massfeller says:

    I am a retired public school teacher. Funding Private Education at Public Expense is mostly “hype!” In fact what would happen is that as a student moved from the Public Schools System to a Private School, the States funds for that student would leave the Public School System and migrate to a private school.

    What is ignored is the fact that while state funding is reduced, the student who departs the public system lowers the costs for teaching that the public system no longer has to pay.

    In summary, the Public Schools are still getting the same amount of dollars per student from the state but they have fewer students and as a result, less State money as their number of students is reduced.

    So when the Public Schools complain about losing state money, keep in mind that their student count, costs, and workload have been significantly reduced!

  6. Flatsflyer says:

    Kochsucking Tea Baggers continue the plan to destroy public education, restore legal discrimination, transfer all taxes to residents giving business a free ride and driving down worker wages and benefits resulting in a diminished standard of living for all except the criminally insane 1%’ers.

  7. Mike says:

    They have created failing schools and now wonder why people have no faith in our public education sysytem. Our school board is a perfect example, they are paid politicians and not volunteers who truly do not care about the children, they over spend then wonder why they cannot balance a budget.Eliminate the school portion from the property taxes in cities and towns and send all kids to private schools, the government has not proven that they should be in the education business

  8. Schottey says:

    Jim Massfeller makes the perfect point above.

    The amount a private school gets to educate a child is less than what it costs to educate that child in a public school. The general fund goes down because private schools (thanks to less bureaucracy) are able to educate a child for much less.

    It HELPS local school districts—especially those in dire financial straits—to unload a bunch of their kids to private schools.

    • Edman says:

      The fact is that not enough students move out to reduce staffing and schools’ overhead remains. 26 or 28 instead of 30 in a class won’t let you fire a teacher and the schools still need to be maintained. Stop wishing for pie-in-the-sky answers to the problems public schools are facing.

      • Mark W. Tress says:

        I have been an educator for 33 years, and have spent many years working in the area of school finance. The problem with your post is that you use an extremely small sample size. Across the board, if the school choice program can potentially benefit upwards to 100,000 students statewide (at a lower per student voucher amount than what is provided by the state to the public school), it reduces a significant amount of overhead and facility cost, greatly reducing tax dollars necessary to operate a quality educational system. Bottom line is that it costs “x” dollars to educate each student no matter where they are educated. The people pay the taxes. Let’s provide for the needs of the “public”! Let parents choose!

  9. Anonymous says:

    The BIG problem with having the $$$$ follow the Kid instead of the otherway around is that in the Government (pubilc) schools you will be left with the kids whos parents dont give a cr** about their education. They will send them to the Government for schooling because it is easyer on them.

  10. Steve Smith says:

    Taxpayer funding of private for profit or religioius schools should not even be considered. That money would be better spent on fixing the public school system. If public schools are so bad then they should be brought up to acceptable standards. The real issue is that there is too much politics going on in the school sytem funding. poor towns and neighborhoods can not afford the same level of resources as better off neighborhoods. The sate should get off it’s but and fully fund all schools with the same resources and curriculum acress the state.

  11. Franklin says:

    If I am paying taxes to educate my children I should have a the choice to send them to public or private schools. Getting a voucher does not mean that other tax payers are paying for my child’s education after all it was my money paid into the system by me. As far as quality of education look up the percentage of graduates from public high schools going into college versus graduates of private high schools pursuing college education and you will know the difference..

    • Out of Curiosity says:

      By that rationale those without children should not have to pay for schools at all, right?

    • A.S.F. says:

      @Franklin says–Wrong! All of us pay taxes and some of us don’t even have children in school. If you want to send your child to a private school, I suggest you start saving for it personally. No one is stopping you from sending your child to any school you wish…I simply do not wish to pay for YOUR child to go to a private school with the taxes I pay to maintain a public school system that will suffer badly if those tax dollars are diverted.

  12. confidential says:

    My school taxes should be to fund public schools and to educate our children and not to thicken the wallets of well connected private education corporations. Want private education pay for it from your own pocket. My school taxes should not fund it! Most talking in favor of “for profit charters” ignore or denied the failure of most of them:
    http://www.dispatch.com//content/stories/local/2014/01/12/charter-failure.html
    http://articles.latimes.com/2013/oct/01/opinion/la-oe-ravitch-charters-school-reform-20131001
    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-10-21/news/fl-editorial-charter-schools-failing-dv-20131021_1_traditional-public-schools-charter-school-founder-trayvon-Mitchell
    Why then these bozos in Tallahassee enact more useless vouchers…? To satisfy the greed for profit privatization of everything that have been working fine until now and they can get their paws in.

  13. Pogo says:

    Different day – same old crap. Vouchers violate the separation of church and state. Vouchers are a tool to bust the teacher’s unions. Troubled public schools should die, but failed bankers should increase their bonuses?! Oh that’s right – crooks who take the Fifth 75 times – should be promoted to the top office in this state, and re-elected too!!

    Vouchers are the snake oil and weasel words of the same people who want everyone to obey the laws they, and their god, like – while demanding to be excused from the laws they, and their god, don’t like. Do as my god says – while I do as I please.

    • BR says:

      @Pogo, most private schools are not religiously based. Especially the charter schools. I am not religious but your hostility towards others who are is rather scary. I have yet to run across anyone “religious” who threatens me in any way. People who trash those of any faith scare me more. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed in our Constitution. Many people of faith find people like you “teaching” in our public schools. That kind of hostility is a motivating factor for some to get their children out of public schools. Second to religion, schools fundamentally shape our children’s lives and their beliefs. How about we show some respect for others. Imagine a school system going hardcore in favor of unrestricted gun rights. I bet a few liberals would be pretty upset.

      • Pogo says:

        “Pogo, most private schools are not religiously based. Especially the charter schools…”

        Please cite some basis for your words.

        “…I am not religious…”

        So you admit that. It would be nice if Rand Paul, his daddy, et. al., would admit it too. What do you say to the fundamentalists who consider the Flintstones superior to the entire history of all science? You’re willing to acquiesce to their nonsense for some greater good? What?

        “…but your hostility towards others who are is rather scary. I have yet to run across anyone “religious” who threatens me in any way. People who trash those of any faith scare me more. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed in our Constitution. Many people of faith find people like you “teaching” in our public schools. That kind of hostility is a motivating factor for some to get their children out of public schools…”

        Do you take the time to express your ‘fear’ of the ‘scary’ people who, e.g., favor ignoring science, executing the innocent, murdering doctors and their staff in womens’ clinics (including shooting one to death in his Christian church?! The entire history of mankind is soaked in the blood of those murdered by the faithful in the name of their faith.

        As i said before: the same people who want everyone to obey the laws they, and their god, like – while demanding to be excused from the laws they, and their god, don’t like. Do as my god says – while I do as I please.

        Now, I’ll add this: their lack of faith, in their faith, to win a fair contest, i.e., comparing and contrasting two things with each other in a marketplace of ideas speaks volumes. After all, aren’t their god – and “the marketplace” – perfect?

        “…Second to religion, schools fundamentally shape our children’s lives and their beliefs…”

        Second to? What happened to, “… I am not religious…”? But anyway, compare time spent in school to time spent in church. Ratio and proportion – they still teach that?

        “…How about we show some respect for others…”

        Yes, let’s. But without taking ourselves too seriously – or worse – sacred!

        “…Imagine a school system going hardcore in favor of unrestricted gun rights. I bet a few liberals would be pretty upset…”

        I don’t have to imagine it. The NRA and its blood money are doing it.

        BTW, I appreciate a pre-64 Winchester, or Ruger No.1 rifle as much as anyone – and know who the Kieth-Style SWC is named after. Do you?

        But – hell yes – I’m disgusted by gun nuts who defend high capacity magazines; oppose background checks, the preserving of the records of same, etc. Not even 20 small children shot to pieces is enough to shame them. I pray that if their hell is real, they’ll be barking there for eternity.

        Amen. Pass the gravy…

  14. Anonymous says:

    I am troubled by people who don’t seem to understand the concept of Separation of Church and State–or, even worse, think they can twist that concept around to have it mean that the church must be protected from the state–when the historical root of the problem was the other way around. What if your tax dollars went to support a midrash…or a coven? Those are religious institutions that are quite capable of building their own “private schools.” Would you like to fund vouchers to them? My guess is, if such an institution applied for the same coverage under the voucher system as any other religious-based school, you’d be hearing Conservatives howl from one end of the street to the other. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Be careful what you wish for! And, as for secular schools, there are plenty of schools, and government politicians in the Southern states especially, who have been quite loud about what books they would allow in their local school libraries, how they will only allow “creationism” to be taught in THEIR classrooms (because, of course, evolution is a liberal/communist/socialist plot to meant to send our children straight to hell)..They have NO problem restricting the options of children to learn only what makes them THEM feel comfortable in their little worlds. Talk about hostility…How about the hostility of some people towards change and open-mindedness? How will our children ever be able to operate and compete in the real world if their optortunities to do so are closed off by the intolerance of the adults around them? There is nothing wrong with faith–unless it is used as a fence to try to keep reality at bay or attack the ideas and freedoms of others. Then it becomes objectionable–and not something our tax dollars should be supporting. The place for religious instruction is in the home or at a house of worship. If you want to send your child to a religious school, pay for it out of your OWN pocket, not mine and every other tax payer’s.

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