Two weeks ago, state Sen. Bill Galvano withdrew a bill that would have funded 50,000 more Florida Tax Credit (FTC) vouchers for private schools. Last week, Rep. Erik Fresen reintroduced the issue, folding it into SB 1512 — a bill to create “personalized learning accounts” for families to purchase services for students with severe disabilities if they leave the public schools.
Now the bill would: increase FTC allocation to $388 million in 2014, with annual increases of 25 percent; increase FTC vouchers to 82 percent from 80 percent the per-student public school operational cost; add partial scholarships for families above 200 percent of the poverty level up to incomes of $62,010 for a family of four.
We are concerned because: Private schools do not administer the FCAT and are not graded. Teachers are not required to be certified; 73 percent of FTC students attend religious schools, some of which teach creationism; 43 percent of new FTC students come from public schools with A grades — 9.3 percent come from schools receiving D/F grades; Florida funds McKay private school scholarships for students with disabilities. The inspector general’s audit reported that most private schools “were not in compliance with important program requirements;” voucher programs do not decrease the achievement gap between students from lower and higher income families. They just draw resources away from public schools.
Plus, how can the state effectively monitor 50,000 family accounts and the quality of services? SB 1512 will be heard Wednesday in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. Contact committee members and urge them to do right by Florida’s students by voting No.
Merrett Stierheim, former superintendent, Miami-Dade Public Schools, Miami
Maribel Balbin, president, League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade, Miami