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Ending school choice for 68,000 low-income kids? “That’s just wrong”

A new video spotlighting a former Florida tax credit scholarship student is urging the Florida teachers union and Florida School Boards Association to drop its lawsuit against the nation’s largest private school choice program. It appeared in some Florida TV markets last night during the gubernatorial debate between Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.

Financed by the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the video features Denisha Merriweather, who became the first member of her family to graduate from college and is now headed to graduate school. The 13-year-old scholarship program serves more than 68,000 students this year, two-thirds of them black or Hispanic. It’s administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.


Rubio: Attack on school choice in FL should concern parents everywhere

From an op-ed on today authored by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio:

Sen. Rubio

Sen. Rubio

Last year in my home state of Florida, over 40% of children educated with taxpayer funds didn’t attend their zoned public school. They attended district run magnet schools, charter schools, virtual schools and dual enrollment programs with colleges. This customization has enabled Florida to have great achievement gains for its lower-income and minority children over the last decade.

For 13 years, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program has played a critical role in this progress. The program provides tax credits to companies that donate to scholarship-granting organizations. It’s been so successful in Florida that I used it as a model for federal legislation I’ve introduced.

Today roughly 68,000 low-income parents use the program to send their child to a school that better fits his or her unique learning needs. Test scores show that these children were the lowest performers in their public schools when they left but now see learning gains equal to children of all incomes.

Incredibly, in spite of this clear success, the Florida teachers union and the Florida School Boards Association filed suit in August to shut down the program. 

Should the suit succeed, these 68,000 needy children – 70% of which are either African-American, or of Hispanic or Haitian descent – will be evicted from their chosen schools. Further, hundreds of private schools in Florida serving minority children will be forced to close their doors.

Although this is happening in Florida, it should concern all parents across the entire country who want and deserve the freedom and opportunity to give their kids better education options.

Full op-ed here.


Civil rights leader: FL school choice program strengthen public education

Rev. Matthews

Rev. Matthews

Last month, Rev. H.K. Matthews, a civil rights leader in Florida who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma, pleaded with Charlie Crist to publicly denounce the lawsuit against the tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. Crist would not do so, but Matthews has not given up his fight against the suit.

In an op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat, Matthews called the lawsuit filed Aug. 28 by the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association, Florida NAACP and other groups “hard to stomach.”

“The truth is that wealthy children have always had choices, whether to neighborhoods with favored public schools or private schools that only money can buy,” Matthews wrote. “The union cries foul when that privilege is extended to those of meager financial means.”

Matthews is part of a politically diverse coalition opposed to the lawsuit that includes a number of prominent black ministers like himself. Nearly 70,000 students are being served by the program this year, more than two-thirds of them black and Hispanic. The program is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

In the op-ed, Matthew said he and other school choice supporters are not knocking public schools, calling them “the lifeblood of education.” “But the world is changing, and education needs to change as well,” he continued, noting the proliferation of other school choice options, including magnet schools, charter schools, virtual courses and career academies.

“The scholarship is not an educational miracle,” he concluded. “It’s simply an option that can work for some students but not all. The fact that it grants opportunities to economically disadvantaged students and those of color is something that gives hope to an old civil rights warrior like me.” Read the full post here.


Charlie Crist: I switched on school choice because of Rick Scott

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Where does Charlie Crist, the now-Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, now stand on tax credit scholarships for low-income students?

As governor, Crist signed the largest expansion of the scholarships into law, but as a candidate he has mostly avoided the subject. A few weeks ago, when asked by a Miami Herald reporter, he refused to condemn the lawsuit that the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other groups filed Aug. 28 to end the program. On Sunday, on a Miami TV program, he acknowledged he has changed his views on the scholarship.

Below is a transcript of the exchange (at roughly the 5 minute mark) between Crist and the Channel 10 anchors.

Channel 10: “In 2010, when you were governor, you signed an expansion of the private school tax vouchers. That was something you were very supportive of. Now that’s in litigation with the Florida Education Association, with the union. And now you have said you are against those private school tuition vouchers. What was that change?”

Crist: “Yeah. Of course. It changed because of Rick Scott. As I said before, when he decided to cut $1.3 billion – actually it was worse, he tried to cut almost $4 billion out of education – but he actually cut $1.3 billion out of it. We can’t talk about vouchers, we can’t talk about charters, we can’t talk about diverting money from education, public education, until we get those cuts restored. That’s why I oppose it. I think it’s so important that we get focused, laser focused, on making sure we restore the cuts that, you know, had to have teachers be fired, laid off, after school programs cut. I mean, I talk to teachers every single day. I’m sure you do, too. We have a lot to do to get education back to where it needs to be.”

Channel 10: “So it’s a financial issue. And if the money is there, you would favor tuition vouchers, if the money for public schools is put back?”

Crist: “I’m not even going there now. What I’m saying is we have to get focused on restoring the cuts. And getting education back to where it had been when I was governor. And had the highest per pupil spending, even in the Great Recession. That’s what teachers deserve. That’s what our students deserve. If they’re going to be able to get good jobs when they get out of school, we have to give them a great education while they’re in school.”

Channel 10: “Charlie, you have sided with the Florida Education Association in this voucher fight. But there are a lot of African-American families, and especially clergy, in the state who believe that school vouchers have been a very good thing for black kids. Because it’s given them school choice. They’re allowed to go to a charter school, even a religious school. And there could be some blow back for you from black voters who say you’re wrong on this issue. What do you say to that?”

Crist: “That’s always possible. I don’t think you’re going to see that, though. Not in this race. Because what Rick Scott has done in the African American community and in the Hispanic community, in particular, especially when you look at Bright Futures scholarships. He has cut 50,000 of them out of the program. 50,000 scholarships gone. That’s like wiping out the University of Florida and it’s been most damaging in the African-American and the Hispanic communities in the state. Because they need the help the most to get a higher education.”

Editor’s note: Florida’s tax credit scholarship program is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.


Leading black minister calls on FSBA, FEA to drop school choice suit

Bishop Curry

Bishop Curry

An especially notable voice has joined the chorus calling on the Florida teachers union and Florida School Boards Association to drop their lawsuit against the nation’s largest private school choice program: Bishop Victor T. Curry, one of Florida’s leading black ministers.

In an op-ed today for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Curry, who leads the New Birth Baptist Church in Miami, called it a “cruel irony” that the FEA and FSBA would file against the tax credit scholarship program on Aug. 28 – the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech on the Washington Mall. The 13-year-old scholarship program is serving nearly 69,000 low-income students this fall, about 70 percent of them black or Hispanic.

“I have the highest praise for our public school teachers and administrators. Their task is almost inconceivably difficult, and their results are truly heroic,” Curry wrote. “But here in Miami-Dade, we have a student population of incredible diversity — more than 100 languages are spoken in our public schools — and an economic diversity of staggering proportions. Expecting all children to thrive in a school assigned to them by their ZIP code is just not realistic, even with the best teachers.”

Curry mentioned the private school run by his ministry serves 120 children who use tax credit scholarships to cover the cost of tuition, books and supplies. “In turn,” he continued, “these scholarships allow our families to use their limited incomes to put food on the table and turn on the lights.”

The scholarship program is administered by nonprofit scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Curry’s stand comes as drop-the-suit efforts continue to mount (see hereherehere, and here). This morning, a “save our scholarships” coalition of faith and community leaders is scheduled to announce a campaign urging FEA and FSBA to reconsider their position. Check the blog later for more info.


More FL Republicans urge FSBA to drop school choice suit

Republican leaders in a second Florida county are condemning the Florida School Boards Association and other groups for filing suit to end the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students.



A resolution passed late Monday by the Republican Executive Committee in Clay County, in suburban Jacksonville, calls on registered Republicans to oppose the suit and urges Republican school board members to “take all appropriate measures to force the Florida School Boards Association to remove itself as a litigant.”

The move follows in the footsteps of a similar resolution passed by the REC in neighboring Duval County last week. And it’s especially noteworthy given that the chair of the Clay County Republican Party, Leslie Dougher, is also chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

The 13-year-old Florida tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the nation. It is administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The program is serving 68,450 students this fall (as of the latest count Wednesday afternoon), about 70 percent of them black or Hispanic.


Florida schools roundup: Testing, tax credit scholarships, Satanists & more

Charter schools. The Plato Academy charter schools in Pinellas are academically knocking it out of the park. Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. Senate President Don Gaetz, who pushed for stronger accountability and transparency in the program, says in an op-ed that as a former school board member he is “ashamed” of the Florida School Boards Association suit against tax credit scholarships. Northwest Florida Daily News. “An end-run around the will of the people,” writes Walt Gardner in Edweek. Howard Fuller’s call for the fight in Florida to go national gets some ink on Gradebook. Whitney Tilson says its sad to see Charlie Crist sell out Florida kids.

Common Core. Jeb Bush directs criticism to President Obama. Washington Post.

Satanists. They’ll be handing out material in Orange County public schools this year. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart drops a requirement for FAIR testing for students in K-2 after an Alachua County kindergarten teacher refuses to administer it. Tampa Bay Times. Miami HeraldGainesville Sun. Florida TodayAnswer Sheet. Continue Reading →