The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed: HB15, Sullivan. School choice can no longer be ignored. The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children. Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money. Look at the numbers; you decide. Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?
The bill will increase funding and eligibility for Gardiner scholarships and revise MacKay scholarships. A similar bill was filed in the Senate SB 902, Simmons. It will also increase the amount of money for tuition for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. The elementary school scholarship would increase from 82 to 88% of the FEFP awarded to public schools, 92% for middle school and 96% for high schools.
Under the provisions of this new bill, the cost would sky rocket next year. The individual tuition payments represent a six percent increase for elementary students and a fourteen percent for high school students. Total funding for the FTC scholarships in 2016 was $418.6 million for 78,664 students. Eighty-tw0 percent of the children with FTC scholarships are enrolled in religious schools. Enrollment has nearly doubled since 2011-12, and the cost has more than doubled. The money comes from corporate income taxes that are diverted to private schools.
The public perception of the FTC program is that it is geared to low income, minority students who are ‘trapped’ in struggling schools. The reality is different. Most students are Hispanics who live in the Miami Dade area (~38%). Twenty-six percent are white and thirty percent are black and live in regions across the State. A family of four earning $48,600 qualifies for a full scholarship ($5,886). The same family earning $63,180 qualifies for a 50% scholarship. These are not low income families.
Why is the state doing this? What is the public good? Why send children to private schools that do not meet state curriculum standards, teacher certification requirements, and accountability measures? This is not about money. It is not about student achievement. What is it about?