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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Florida Public Money goes to Private Schools

From the Palm Beach Post, by John Kennedy

The Republican-ruled House agreed to expand the state's corporate-tax-credit private-school-voucher program, with Democrats decrying the move to pull dollars from the state treasury that could go to public schools.

Businesses get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donating to the program, which began in 2001 as a centerpiece of then-Gov. Jeb Bush's drive to give parents options to leave troubled public schools and instead send their children to private schools.

The program began by making as much as $50 million a year eligible for tax credits statewide, but it has grown steadily since then, including a sliding scale passed two years ago that would allow the cap to climb to $219 million this year.

The measure approved Wednesday would expand the total amount available for credits to $229 million next year.

Democrats fiercely fought the proposed increase, which still needs to clear the Senate.

"This bill is about private schools," said Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston. "Please don't take any more money out of public schools."

Lawmakers actually set aside an additional $1 billion for public schools this year, although critics have cautioned that the boost fails to cover the $1.3 billion that Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature cut from schools last year, bringing per-pupil spending to its lowest level in six years.

But the House sponsor of the corporate-tax-credit voucher bill (HB 859), Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-New Port Richey, said the money redirected from taxes to private groups that provide vouchers helps students leave "failing schools." He rattled off state Education Department statistics suggesting the performance of such students improves after they move on.

But students who take public vouchers to go to private schools are exempt from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) that is required of public school students. The House bill does authorize participating schools to administer state assessment tests, and orders public school districts to provide the material and whatever support the private schools need.

The House passed the bill on the same day that a unanimous vote in the Senate sent a House bill (HB 870) to the governor that would cut funding for public schools scoring below the state average on certain end-of-course tests.

That's just one provision in the wide-ranging education bill, but it drew the most discussion Wednesday. It applies to tests in algebra I and biology I and would not go into effect for another three years. The bill also calls for more advanced courses and early high school graduation.

Some senators public schools will be punished despite making efforts to bring their test scores up. Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who is in line to become Senate president in November, promised to help those schools.

As of November, 1,181 private schools participated in the corporate tax voucher program and scholarships were awarded to 37,578 students, records show. The scholarship amount per-student is about two-thirds what the state spends on public school students.

The Associated Press contributed to this story


  1. What would prevent a corporation from setting up dummy sub-par a for profit charter school in a strip mall and use all the money they would have paid in taxes to be diverted into their shadow charter organization. As the money earmarked for the education of Florida's children is diverted for profit, the meager left-overs provide little capital to provide a quality education to unsuspecting students enrolled in their charter school. Each year the charter school will earn an F, as does well over 50 percent of charters in Florida. They will get more chances and more tax money like KIPP year after year. Their stockholders will give more donations to the super pac or donate directly to the politicians which gives them the power to perpetuate this government for sale to the highest bidder. It is simply money laundering to avoid taxes in a state that has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the nation. It begs a larger question which should be addressed. If all these tax incentives diversions are so great, and supposed to lure corporations to move here, and improve the quality of education in Florida through "competition" and unequally applied "accountability", why aren't more high tech corporations moving to Florida? It may have something to do with the statistics that indicate we are nearly last in many academic performance indicators such as NAEP, SAT and ACT scores. Additionally, other quality of life indicators include but are not limited to; Infant mortality, child poverty, violent crime, and homelessness do not paint a pleasant image of the state. It's okay for vacation, but I wouldn't want to raise my kids here. I think it is safe to say that Oracle, Microsoft and Intel will not be moving to this academic Mecca anytime soon. These corporations will stay in states that have triple or quadurple our corporate tax rate. Their behavior speaks volumes of what well educated, intelligent professionals who are on the cutting edge of innovation value in their community. Watch out institutions of higher ed. You are next. Can't you see it coming? Look at all these online for profit schools. They remind me of an era when you could get a degree through mail order correspondence courses. This was pervasive from the late 1800's to the 2nd world war. They were as ubiquitous as the Sears Roebuck Catalog. They were a joke then, and society knew it. Everyone quickly figured out that you could get someone to fill out the books for you just as you can get anyone to sit in front of a PC and fill the screen. We know it is happening but we choose not to think about it or, were we wiser then? Is history repeating itself?

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