Behind the scenes, this year’s bill to expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program (which passed the House and Senate and is awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature) sparked a bit of a stir in the choice community. The reason: It opens the door for private schools that accept tax credit scholarships to voluntarily administer the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test – the state’s main standardized test.
Some private school supporters fear the requirement in HB 859 will pave the way for an FCAT mandate on private schools. But state Rep. Richard Corcoran, the bill’s sponsor, says in this podcast that he doesn’t see that happening. He also explains why he did include the provision – and it’s an interesting argument given that many critics of the program think the lack of an FCAT requirement gives private schools an unfair advantage over public schools.
“When you talk to some of these private schools, a lot of them are losing enrollment during these difficult economic times because parents have to cut somewhere with their salaries being so devastated,” Corcoran said. “And one of the things they’re doing is, they’re pulling their kids out of private school and putting them in public school, and they’re saying to these private schools, ‘Well, we really like the Christian aspect or the parochial aspect, but the academic stuff, we don’t know if it’s much different, so we’re going to do this (go public).’ “
“And I think one of the things these private schools would like is to be able to say, ‘No, if you look at our scores on the FCAT versus your (public school) scores on the FCAT, there’s a tremendous difference.’ And hopefully that will increase enrollment, not decrease it.”
Corcoran’s thoughts on testing requirements, which he goes into more detail about in the podcast, should be of interest to school choice observers everywhere. As vouchers and tax credit scholarships get considered in other states, there is plenty of debate about where the lines should be drawn so the interests of students, families, schools and taxpayers are balanced.
On a different note, Corcoran makes a prediction about the parent trigger bill that the Florida Senate shot down last week on a 20-20 vote: “I’d be shocked if parent trigger doesn’t pass next year … and I’d be shocked if it doesn’t pass with bipartisan support.”