No essay titled the “Voucher Rabbit Hole” needs to be treated as though it were a search for academic truths, but Grand Prairie educator Jerry Burkett would better contribute to the current debate in Texas if he weren’t so fixated on Georgia.
To be sure, Georgia’s tax credit scholarship has been insufficiently accountable to taxpayers and has invited some abuses the Legislature took an important step toward fixing last week. But we should no more judge the fitness of all private scholarships based on the law in Georgia than we would judge the integrity of all public schools based on the cheating scandal in Atlanta.
In the same 2011 Southern Education Foundation report from which Dr. Burkett quoted so extensively, the foundation contrasted the practices it criticized in Georgia with a program directly to the south.
“The neighboring state of Florida,” the foundation wrote, “offers an example of a tax‐credit educational program that has evolved and improved over the last few years. As a public‐private venture, it has begun to require more effective measures for public accountability and educational performance from all entities and all private schools that take tax‐diverted funds to support student learning.”
Florida is now serving 51,000 low-income students with the largest tax credit scholarship program in the nation and, more importantly, offers an extensive public record on educational and financial impact as it completes its 11th year. Since I work for the nonprofit that oversees the scholarship and since Dr. Burkett mostly neglected it, let me offer some independent findings that could ease his fear of falling. (In Florida, we fear sinkholes instead of rabbit holes.)
First, we know the students who seek the scholarship are among the poorest and lowest-performing students in the state. The Florida law restricts the scholarship to students whose household income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunch, which is 185 percent of poverty, and the average this year is only 6 percent above poverty. We also know through five years of state-contracted research that the students who choose the scholarship are the lowest performers from the public schools they leave behind.