Fla. school voucher program accountability a myth?

By Mike Vasilinda, Reporter, Capitol News Service
Published On: May 06 2014 04:35:14 PM EDT
School Budget Money
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Florida lawmakers waited to their last day to pass a 140-page rewrite of the state's school voucher program, and much of the promised accountability may not be in the legislation.

There are 60,000 students in Florida getting corporate scholarships. That will grow to 68,000 this fall. On the final date of the legislative session, supporters of choice passed a 100-plus page amendment expanding who is eligible for the program.

"We haven't had the opportunity and I think we should have had to read this 100-and-something page amendment," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

Families making $55,000 are currently eligible; The number grows in 2016. The Florida Education Association is still sorting out everything in the bill.

"I'd say it was a quick procedural maneuver in order to push through something that the general public's really not after," said FEA Vice President Joann McCall.

On the session's final night both legislative leaders praised the accountability in the legislation.

"We've got the accountability: academic and financial," said Senate President Don Gaetz.

But the accountability doesn't cover private school student performance, only how the scholarship organizations spend their money.

"If the requirement for public schools are good for public schools then they ought to be good for private schools," said Joyner.

Gov. Rick Scott said Friday he hadn't read the bill, but said, "I believe in school choice."

The legislation also removes a provision that to be eligible for vouchers, you had to have attended a public school in the previous year.

The legislation also stops the testing of students with disabilities. That became an issue after testing opponents filmed these students being tested.

Under the corporate scholarship program companies donate tax revenue they would otherwise owe the state to a scholarship organization, which transfers the money to parents.

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