Florida school voucher proponents overwhelmingly won their elections in November. Avid supporters like Governor-elect DeSantis, likely Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and leadership in the Florida Legislature are poised to usher in an expansion of the controversial voucher programs that funnel tax money to private schools with little to no accountability.
The award winning Orlando Sentinel series, “Schools Without Rules“, found that private voucher schools will collect nearly $1 billion from the state this year “through a system so weakly regulated that some schools hire teachers without college degrees, hold classes in aging strip malls and falsify fire-safety and health records.”
Unlike public schools, private schools, including those that accept the state scholarships, operate free from most state rules. Private school teachers and principals, for example, are not required to have state certification or even college degrees…Nor do private schools need to follow the state’s academic standards. One curriculum, called Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, is popular in some private schools andrequires students to sit at partitioned desks and fill out worksheets on their own for most of the day, with little instruction from teachers or interaction with classmates.
A similar program in Arizona seemed likely to expand yet again until grassroots opponents stopped it in its tracks.
Lawmakers last year approved expanding the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program to all 1.1 million public students by 2022, broadening eligibility from special-needs and foster students, as well as those in poor-performing schools.
In response, a grass-roots group of parents named Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures to refer the new law to the November ballot. Proposition 305 asks voters if they want to scrap or keep the program that gives tax dollars to families to subsidize private school tuition or other education expenses.
Over 65% of the electorate voted to block the expansion of vouchers in their state. Save Our Schools was founded by six women and powered by a volunteer network of 3,000 people who fanned out to collect the signatures required to put the voucher issue before the voters. They were up against a well-funded voucher lobby and lawyers from the Goldwater Institute but they prevailed.
They had no money behind them. No organization. Just six women and a belief that that creating a universal school voucher program would be another step in undermining Arizona’s already-underfunded public school system.
One year, 111,540 signatures and one Supreme Court ruling later, Save Our Schools Arizona has turned this state’s political establishment on its ear.
Florida public school advocates face similar odds and a political establishment that controls the governor’s mansion, the Board of Education, the state house and senate. In spite of a massive expansion of so-called “choice schools” like charters and vouchers, over 85% of Florida’s children attend traditional public schools. Yet, Florida’s politicians fund education at pre-recession levels and the state’s teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. With the new administration and leadership, Florida’s public schools should expect additional constraints on their budgets.
As Orlando Sentinel columnist, Scott Maxwell, proposes, if the Florida Legislature refuses to add accountability- there might be another way:
It seems like Florida could instead do the obvious — crack down on bad actors and add standards to ensure that tax dollars aren’t being wasted and children aren’t being robbed of an education.
But since Florida leaders are unwilling, maybe it’s time to see what voters have to say.