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Peter Greene: Republicans in Florida Seek to Gut Public Schools Entirely

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Peter Greene here disentangles the latest move to expand vouchers in Florida and the latest attempt to demolish public schools in a state where 80 percent of students attend public schools. Florida’s voucher schools currently are not required to take state tests or to have any standards for teachers or principals or to adhere to the state curriculum. Most of the voucher schools are religious, ignoring the State Constitution which explicitly prohibits public funding of religious schools and ignoring a 2012 state referendum that rejected vouchers. There are schools where the “educators” do not have college degrees, where racism is okay, where gay students and staff are barred, and where students are using textbooks that teach hate. No matter. The Orlando Sentinel published a three-part investigation called “Schools Without Rules.” Florida wants more of the same.

Greene writes:

Florida’s legislature is at it again, joining in a national trend of using the pandemic crisis to fuel school voucher initiatives. 

Manny Diaz, Jr., (R-Hialeah) has spent his career chip chip chipping away at public education in Florida, and yesterday he returned with another bold idea. 

Florida has allowed choice programs to grow like an unweeded garden, but Diaz’s new bill proposes to collapse five “scholarship” (aka “voucher”) programs into just two Education Savings Account (ESA) programs. So Family Empowerment, Hope, Florida Tax Credit Scholarship–all under one roof now, along with the newly condensed Gardner-McKay programs for students with special needs...

So here comes SB 48, designed to expand the eligibility for programs, combine them, and put them under ESAs and folding in Tax Credit Scholarships. There are a few other wrinkles as well.

It also reduces oversight by the state–previously the outfits overseeing the tax credit scholarships had to be audited annually, to make sure they were spending public tax dollars appropriately; now they would be audited only every three years. That’s important, because an ESA is like a debit card given to parents, and history tells us that without some oversight, the tax dollars carried by that debit card can end up spent on….well, in Arizona they discovered about $700,000 in ESA money on beauty supplies, clothing, and even attempts to just grab the cash.

Publicity touts “adding flexible spending options” as well. The vouchers can be used for the following: instructional materials (including digital devices); curriculum; tuition for full or part-time for everything from postsecondary courses to a “home education program” to private school to virtual school; fees for tests (SAT, AP, industry certification); Florida’s prepaid college savings programs; contracted services, including classes from public school; part-time tutoring services (from someone who has certification or has just “:demonstrated mastery of subject area knowledge”); summer school or after-school ed fees; transportation (under $750). So, a whole lot of things other than just a voucher to go to school somewhere...

This, for many choice fans, is getting close to the end game. The dream– rich people pay fewer taxes and only support the schools they want to support. Wealthy people still have access to all the choices they want, while everyone else gets to pick through a free market morass in search of do-it-yourself education for their children. Education becomes mostly privatized edu-business, and the public schools remains in some markets to do their underfunded best with the “customers” that nobody wants. But hey. Lower taxes. Less paying for the education of Those People. Put Jesus back in charge of more education, even if that means the education is not very good, aggressively exclusionary, or even abusive.

We’ll see what happens. Pay attention. Because Florida remains on the cutting edge of disrupting public education into oblivion, the model which other states that hope to be the very worst still aspire to follow.

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