More union leaders, parents debate Florida tax credit scholarships

Travis Pillow

The fallout from a 10,000-person rally in Tallahassee continued this weekend, with another set of dueling newspaper columns on the lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarships.

In Florida Today, Brevard County teachers union leader Richard Smith argued private school choice programs actually harm students.

Why are vouchers bad for Florida’s students?

Note that I didn’t say public-school students. All students. Recently, representatives of private schools (I believe to be well-intentioned but misled) asked the Florida Education Association to drop its lawsuit against the most recent attempt to get around separation of church and state. FEA has not and will not drop this lawsuit because FEA is committed to the education of all students.

Voucher schools are largely unregulated, don’t follow the state’s academic standards, don’t have to hire qualified teachers and don’t have to prove to the state that they are using public money wisely.

Read the whole piece here.

This year, 78,000 private school students use Florida’s tax credit scholarships, comprising the largest private school choice program in the nation. The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog.

Olivia Huron-Schaeffer, a parent with children on scholarship who is helping defend the program in court, responded to Smith on Sunday:

Mr. Smith’s column pretends parents aren’t in the picture. Worse, he threw out misleading statements, the same kind we’ve heard for years. I guess the union thinks if they repeat falsehoods enough, they’ll become truth.

Believe me, I know how much my children’s scholarships are worth – $5,677 each – because I couldn’t afford their school without it. I also know that’s a fraction of what it costs public schools to educate my children. So how does that add up to money being taken from public schools? It doesn’t. Every single study that has looked at this issue has come to the same conclusion.

Mr. Smith says schools that accept scholarships don’t have to prove they are using the money wisely. Wrong again.

The state requires schools that accept more than $250,000 in scholarship money — like Wade Christian Academy, my kids’ school – to submit annual reports from CPAs showing they used the money properly.

Read the whole piece here.

Meanwhile, Jeff Bergosh, an Escambia County School Board member and past president of a coalition of school board members who support school choice, weighed in on an earlier exchange between a parent and a teachers union leader in the Tallahassee Democrat.

The FEA and other groups behind the lawsuit filed their latest round of legal briefs in appellate court last week. The First District Court of Appeal will likely hear oral arguments in the case later this year.

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