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Monday, December 20, 2010

Scott's plan doesn't add up

From the Palm Beach Post editorial board. Where is the Times Union's take? -cpg

Gov.-elect Rick Scott wants to provide every student in Florida a voucher to be used at any school, public or private. His push for "education savings accounts" exalts the idea that competition is key to educational improvement, empowering parents to control their children's education as never before.

Push just a little, though, and the idea of universal vouchers falls apart.

Start with cost. An early version of the plan suggests giving a voucher worth about $5,500, which is 85 percent of current per-pupil spending. So why isn't that a 15 percent savings right off the top? Because about 313,000 Florida children attend private schools. Giving all of them a voucher would cost more than $1.7 billion.

To keep all those students from jumping into the plan at once, the state probably would make the vouchers available to students who had spent the previous year in a public school. But that tactic would prove disruptive as parents swapped kids into public schools for a year before claiming their $5,500-a-year vouchers, which then would be good for the remainder of private school.

Mr. Scott's idea comes as revenue estimates predict a shortage in next year's state budget of more than $2.5 billion. This comes as Mr. Scott has talked about reducing the portion of property tax the Legislature requires counties to assess if they want state money for their schools. Candidate Scott pledged to cut that tax by $1.4 billion statewide.

Supporters might argue that some private schools can educate students for less. Consider some of the reasons why their costs might be lower. There is no requirement that private school teachers be certified. There is no requirement that private schools provide transportation. There is no requirement that private schools meet the needs of all applicants, such as students with physical, emotional and mental disabilities.

Private schools also do not have to meet the same accountability requirements as public schools. They don't have to give the FCAT, which Mr. Scott says has helped education in Florida. So there's no way to compare the education from private schools to the education from public schools.

Gov.-elect Scott told The St. Petersburg Times, "The way I look at it, we're allocating dollars to students, and the parents ought to figure out how to spend those dollars because they can figure out what their child needs more than anybody else." In fact, a significant number of parents don't have any idea what their children need. It isn't fair to expect public schools, which can't refuse a student as private schools can, to make up for parental failures. Neither is it fair to hand such parents a voucher and let them send their child into what could be a voucher mill that gives "feel-good grades" with limited academic or financial accountability.

Some of Jeb Bush's former education aides are advising Mr. Scott. Ironically, though, right up to last week's announcement of improved high school grades the advocates of Bush-style reforms have credited the FCAT with driving public school improvement. Yet the state does not hold private schools to the same standards. The vouchers-for-all approach would blow up the heart of Mr. Bush's accountability system that Republicans claim has benefited the state.

Then there's the constitutional question. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court threw out a voucher program serving students who had attended failing public schools because it violated the requirement that Florida provide a free, uniform system of education. Two other voucher programs - one serving low-income students and one serving students with disabilities - have not been challenged in court.

A universal voucher system allowing students to attend religious private schools or online charter schools without accountability would not be a uniform system of education. It would be an attack on a free, uniform system of education. That, of course, would be the whole point.

- Jac Wilder VerSteeg,


  1. Results are what counts. Private schools, in general, far surpass graduation rates for the disastrous public school system. This article is filled with sophistry e.g. the inference that private schools have no alternative testing. They do. Many details have to be worked out but smokescreens like this article are to be expected from the those who continue to enslave Florida's children in a failed system.

  2. Private schools pick and choose who they both take and keep and they don't play by the same rules as public schools. Are kids getting good educations at many private schools? Undoubtbly but at the same time there is no study I have seen that they do any better than public schools. How about instead of taking precious resources away from public schools we develop sensibile policies to fix them first.

    I appreciate your comment.