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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Florida's latest plan to privitize public education? Expansion of the tax credit program

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

So says Seminole schools Superintendent Bill Vogel:

Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students is “a travesty” and “part of the agenda” to weaken public schools, Seminole County education leaders say.

Their main complaint: There’s little known about what the nearly 38,000 students in the program are learning in exchange for the $175 million spent this year to send them to private — most often religious — schools

Such public criticism of the scholarship program, which is very popular among conservative Republicans running the state, is rare.

But education leaders in Seminole, with its high-performing schools, have been more vocal lately as they struggle to find ways to cut more than $22 million from next year’s budget. Already, the district has closed one school and is expected to shutter perhaps three more, in addition to other cutbacks.

They blame the tax-credit scholarship program for siphoning off taxpayer dollars just when school districts across Florida most need the money.

Under the program, low-income parents dissatisfied with public schools can send their children to private school at taxpayers’ expense. Taxes that are otherwise due to the state instead go to the scholarship fund, which is projected to hit $250 million next year.

Seminole school-district officials also see a double standard that other school leaders across Florida object too as well.

The state, they contend, has created a huge gap in its education-accountability system by largely exempting the scholarship students and the schools they attend from the academic standards that public schools face.

“They are taking the lowest-performing students and putting them in a situation where you don’t evaluate how they are doing,” said Marjorie Murray, director of special projects for Seminole County public schools. “This is a travesty.”

Seminole schools Superintendent Bill Vogel takes the criticism a step further by calling the tax-credit program “part of the agenda” to weaken the public-school system, and School Board members agree.

“There is no accountability to taxpayers, and tax dollars are going to private schools,” School Board Chairman Tina Calderone said.

According to Orlando-Sentinel reporter Dave Weber, officials in Orange and Volusia county that ” private schools are getting public funds without providing proof that the money is well spent.”

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