Editor’s note: Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, helps to administer the tax credit scholarship program in Florida. Tampa businessman John Kirtley is chairman of the Step Up board of directors and is also chairman of Florida Federation for Children and Florida Voices for Choices.
With the Florida School Boards Association on the cusp of filing suit against the state’s popular scholarship for low-income students, its president and president-elect were upset Tuesday in local elections that bore the imprint of school choice organizations.
Karen Disney-Brombach, a two-term Indian River School Board member who is the new FSBA president, was defeated by a former science teacher and political newcomer, Shawn Frost. Diane Smith, a two-term Volusia County School Board member who is the FSBA president-elect, was beaten by a physician’s assistant and political newcomer, Melody Johnson.
At least two choice organizations were involved in the races. Florida Voices for Choices, a new 501(c)(4) that organizes parents and supporters of all school options, spread word about the incumbents’ expressed opposition to many choice programs. The Florida Federation For Children, an electioneering organization tied to the American Federation For Children, issued a statement saying that it invested money in state school board races for the first time in its history. Its chairman, John Kirtley, said bluntly: “If the FSBA proceeds with the suit, FFC will be heavily invested in these races around the state for years to come.”
“Parents talked a lot about how they felt bullied by a school board association that, through the lawsuit, wants to take away their scholarships,” said Voices for Choices executive director Catherine Durkin Robinson, a former Step Up employee. “So we talked about what to do with bullies.”
Scripps Media reported today that Indian River County Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, sent out emails on Friday retracting her support of Disney-Brombach after learning that she voted to sue the scholarship program. “Disney-Brombach said her ties with the Florida School Board Association may have led to her loss,” wrote Colleen Wixon.
Gary Chartrand, chairman of the state Board of Education, also issued a statement today opposing a lawsuit. It said, in part, that FSBA “is acting without consideration for this population by filing a lawsuit against this program. This is surprising and disheartening, and I call on them to rethink their position and withdraw the lawsuit.”
At issue is a vote by the FSBA board of directors on June 11 to move forward with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the tax credit scholarship program, which is now in its 13th year and is expected to serve 69,000 economically disadvantaged students. The action followed a presentation by FSBA attorney Ron Meyer, who also represents the Florida Education Association teacher union and filed a lawsuit last month challenging the process by which the Legislature enacted a bill this year expanding the scholarship and creating a new program for students with significant special needs.
Sources say the FSBA is planning to file the suit on Thursday. FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton could not be immediately reached for comment.
The reaction among parents and private school leaders has been swift. Continue Reading →