Editor’s note: This post originally ran as an op-ed today in Florida Today, in response to a column by former state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. It’s authored by former state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, who is a member of the Step Up For Students board of directors. The state’s tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.
The most significant expansion of Florida’s scholarships for low-income children came in 2010, and the bipartisan spirit was so strong I was allowed as Democratic leader to make the closing argument in a Senate controlled by Republicans.
We found common ground because the Tax Credit Scholarship Program is focused on economically disadvantaged students in a way that strengthens public education.
So it is with considerable disappointment to see the partisan fractures this year, as the Legislature considers more modest improvements. And it is hard to miss the extent to which the Florida Education Association is driving the wedge.
But it is wrong to cast a $4,880 scholarship for 60,000 underprivileged children as an attack on public education. It is, to quote public educator and former House Education Policy Council ranking Democrat Bill Heller, “in the greatest tradition of our collective commitment to equal educational opportunity.”
With 12 years under our belt, we know a great deal about how this scholarship works.
The program serves children whose household income is only 9 percent above poverty. More than two-thirds of them are black or Hispanic. These children struggled academically in the public schools they left. Most importantly, their annual standardized test scores have shown they are consistently achieving the same gains in reading and math as students of all income levels nationally.
Whether these students should take the state, rather than national, test is a fair question. But let’s not pretend as though we have no measure for how well they are performing. We know how scholarship kids are doing at individual private schools, as the schools must report their learning gains if they have a minimum number of scholarship recipients.
Let’s also call an end to the deceit that this program hurts public schools financially, and that “money used for vouchers is taken away from basic public school needs,” as syndicated columnist Paula Dockery stated in her recent column in FLORIDA TODAY. Continue Reading →