Add Florida Senate President Don Gaetz to the list of legislative leaders who are stepping up criticism of the Florida School Boards Association for filing suit against the state’s tax credit scholarship program, and potentially forcing 60,000-plus low-income students back into public schools.
During last spring’s legislative session, Gaetz was among the program’s toughest critics, initially pushing for scholarship students to take the same standardized tests as their public school peers and insisting on more oversight for scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.
But in an op-ed over the weekend for the Northwest Florida Daily News, his hometown newspaper, Gaetz takes even stronger aim at the FSBA for attacking a “a national model of voluntary school choice” that “gives lower-income children what we all want for our children – a chance to learn and succeed.”
“This is what angers the plaintiffs in this lawsuit the most,” he wrote, “that families are in charge of their own children, that caring parents willing to make sacrifices can choose their children’s schools and, most troublesome of all, that resources follow not the needs of educrats but the interests of children.”
Florida’s 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the country, with more than 67,000 students enrolled this fall, nearly 70 percent black or Hispanic. The FSBA, Florida Education Association, Florida PTA and other groups filed suit against it on Aug. 28, sparking fear among scholarship parents and outrage from school choice supporters throughout Florida and beyond.
In his op-ed, Gaetz noted the oversight changes made to the program in SB 850, which the Legislature passed last spring, and the financial repercussions if scholarship students are “forced back into traditional public schools at twice the cost to taxpayers.” He also noted that, “As a former school board member, I’m ashamed of the Florida School Boards Association.” Read his full op-ed here.