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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Debunking Florida's needs for vouchers

The crux of John East’s argument for vouchers is different children learn in different ways. He however never takes the time to explain how private schools that take vouchers teach any differently than their public school counterparts. He seems to just take it on faith that we will understand what he means. Do private schools have some miraculous instruction delivery system that public schools should emulate? He seems to imply that when he talks about how well they students who take vouchers are doing. The truth is whether it is a private school, charter school or a public school; they all have the same basic set up, a teacher giving instruction to their students.

Public schools however have to have certified teachers, recognized curriculums and are required to engage in accountability measures. The private schools that take vouchers don’t but somehow Mr. East expects us to believe they are doing just as well and people are clamoring to get into them.

Recent revelations that Step up for Students undoubtedly uses public money to lobby for even more public money and they don’t actually keep a wait list of families that have applied for a voucher, other than on the back of an envelope, John East’s own words on a post on his blog ReDefined ED, one of their assertions about why they should be allowed to expand, should make one skeptical about everything about the organization. In his own letter to you he mentions that the increase to vouchers would only be 90 million over the next three years but fails to mention that the aggregate loss to public schools would be about 1.6 billion and in 2016, Step up for Students administrative fees would jump from 8 to about 24 million dollars. Also where does it stop? How much siphoned away from public schools is enough?

Of the 1,425 schools that take vouchers, over 160 teach creationism as science and none have to have certified teachers or a recognized curriculum. He also takes liberties with his assertions. Research shows that “some” were struggling academically in the schools they left behind, some however were doing very well and some left great schools to take vouchers most likely for religious preferences.  As for taking a standardized test they don’t take the same tests public school students do, something East has lobbied against them doing, so how can we make an apple to apples comparison?

I spoke with David Figilo the states experts on vouchers and he said as a group students in private schools that take vouchers don’t perform any better than their public school counterparts. He went on to tell me there were some really excellent private schools that take vouchers, mostly religious schools, but there were some very poor ones too. I would like to add private schools that take vouchers can pick who they take and keep and can put requirements on parents something public schools can’t do.

Then there are lots of reasons why people might oppose the expansion of vouchers too. First for religious reasons, it doesn’t just blur the line between church and state it obliterates it. Then there is accountability, that John East and many voucher supporters’ fight against. They may take a test but there is no direct comparison between how voucher kids and public school kids are doing. Then it annually siphons hundreds of millions out of public schools, which are already starved for resources, and out of the tax base that goes to pay for other state services.

Vouchers undoubtedly do help a few students but if we are being honest how many students couldn’t get the same services in their public schools. Should the public really be forced to fund someone’s religious choice, distrust of “gov’ment” schools or irrational hatred of teacher unions?  Should we really be handicapping the many to help a few?

Given the recent revelations about Step up for Students, the facts that they resist accountability and don’t provide better education outcomes, instead of being allowed to expand, the program should be put under a microscope to see if something of this scale is truly needed.

To read John easts's self serving piece in the Gainesville Sun, click the

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