Editor’s note: This post initially appeared as an op-ed over the weekend in the Pensacola News Journal. The tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.
Thanks to Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, nearly 60,000 low-income students in grades K-12 attend 1,425 participating private schools, including 19 in Escambia County. That’s 1,425 options those students would not have had otherwise. That’s 1,425 options that are embracing the students who struggle the most.
So how jarring, then, to read a Florida teachers union leader saying “vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.”
The piece by Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, (Viewpoint, “Vouchers don’t offer a real choice in a child’s education,” March 23) took plenty of liberties with facts about the program and a bill that would strengthen and expand it. But more concerning were the notions that anchored it:
• That expanding choice for low-income students comes at the expense of district schools.
• That low-income parents don’t know whether their schools are high quality.
Let’s start with the indisputable: taxpayers pay about half as much per tax credit scholarship ($4,880 this year) as they do per pupil for public schools. Five independent groups looked into concerns of scholarship money being “siphoned” from public schools and all reached the same conclusion: not true. Rather than hurting public schools, the program saves money that can be invested in them.
McCall would also have readers believe the program exists in a regulatory Wild West. This is also not true. Scholarship students are required, by law, to take state-approved tests. The results are analyzed by a researcher whose work is highly regarded by all sides in the choice debate. The average gains or losses for schools with more than 30 tested students are posted publicly.
The evidence shows scholarship students were the lowest-performing students in the public schools they left behind – a finding at odds with McCall’s suggestion that private schools are cherry picking. Continue Reading →