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Monday, December 13, 2010

Public and Private school officials concerned about Gov.-elect Rick Scott's student voucher plan

By Isabel Mascarenes

Palm Harbor, Florida - Governor-elect Rick Scott's education reform plan calls for a radical change school vouchers for all students, except Scott's plan calls it an "education savings account."

The state now offers two voucher programs: the McKay voucher for students with disabilities and the corporate tax credit voucher for low income students. About 3,300 students take part in the programs.

Westlake Christian School takes part in both programs and would accept students under Scott's plan if they meet the school's admissions criteria. "We don't want to opt out. We feel families in North Pinellas who want a Christian-based education. We like to be that school," says principal Rick Pucci.

Westlake Christian School takes pride in its student performance. "For the last many years, Westlake students have scored top 10 percent of the nation in standardized testing," says Pucci. Westlake boasts about its small class size, a 16-to-1 student/teacher ratio.

Enough reasons for some parents to jump on Scott's proposal to offer student vouchers to attend a school of their choice, private or religious.

According to the National Council of Independent Schools, many private schools do not opt into the voucher programs. Pucci says his school is at 92 percent enrollment and could not handle many more students.

I think it's a bold idea. I don't know how practical it is," says Pucci.

Scott's voucher would total $5,500, not enough to cover most private school tuition. Westlake has eight students under the McKay voucher program and three students under the corporate tax credit voucher program. Pucci says the voucher is not enough to cover tuition; families pay the difference.

"I don't think the idea of draining the treasury of public education is practical. There's a place for public schools, they do great work in the community," says Pucci. He adds, "This plan may rob public schools of the things they need. I'm not in favor of it."

Hillsborough school board member Doretha Edgecomb says she has real concerns about Scott's voucher plan. "I think it takes away the whole quality of education we are committed to giving our students. When you deplete our budget, you deplete our ability to give high quality services for students and attract high quality teacher for our classrooms."

Governor-elect Scott has some challenges ahead, first and foremost being the law. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled using vouchers for students to attend private schools unconstitutional. During the campaign, we pressed Scott on this legal issue.

Scott said, "I'm setting out the idea how I want our students to get the best education they can. The Legislature will worry about that when we get there."

Educators from both the public and private sector have this advice for Scott. "Choice for the sake of choice, I don't think is the answer," says Edgecomb.

Pucci adds, "He needs to listen to educators in the state of Florida. He needs to listen to parents, needs to do a lot of listening the next few weeks."

What's next? A bill would have to be drafted and need approval from both the House and the Senate.

Taken from

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