Frontline

More choice?

The House Education committee heard a presentation from Adam Miller, Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice within the Department of Education. Miller began his presentation focused on the voucher programs in Florida, their history, rapid increase in participation and the number of students currently using a private school voucher.

Here’s some data to think about: More than 370,000 students are receiving vouchers to attend religious and private schools, with the majority getting Florida Tax Credit vouchers — 108,098. Under the McKay program, 31,044 students are receiving a voucher, while the Gardiner voucher goes to 10,258.

Two new vouchers were approved in the 2018 session: the reading voucher and the Hope voucher for students who say they have been bullied. The Hope voucher program has siphoned off more than $8.9 million in auto sales tax revenue since July 1, gotten only 127 applicants and issued 66 vouchers as of January 9. The $500 reading voucher intended for students with low reading scores, has awarded 4,500 of the 19,000 vouchers available based on funding appropriated from the Legislature.

Miller also reported that the number of students attending a charter school has risen now to 11 percent of the total school population. He also reported that there are 621 charter schools to 3,001 traditional public schools. Interesting factoid to store for later as charter schools gets a lopsided three times the amount of capital outlay funding, which was not mentioned.   

Lastly, Miller shared that more than 262,000 students have taken advantage of open enrollment, which means they are currently attending a public school that they are not zoned to attend.

Governor’s policy proposals

Perhaps you’ve seen in the news or read in the past few Frontlines that the governor has proposed changes to public education that have us paying close attention, including tweaks to the “Best and Brightest” bonuses and his proposal for more kids to receive vouchers (maybe you also saw this awesome editorial from the Tampa Bay Times regarding the wrong position the governor is taking on public education). While his past announcements have been in the form of press conferences, last Friday the governor released his policy language proposal for these and other policy ideas. Here’s a breakdown for you:

Best and Brightest bonuses: One of the most controversial and hair-brained so-called teacher recruitment tools is the Best and Brightest bonus scheme the Legislature put into place several sessions ago. The program is fraught with discrimination, so much so that FEA has a lawsuit pending against it.

The governor’s proposal eliminates the ACT and SAT scores, and instead would provide a bonus for any teacher rated highly effective who works in a school where the school grade rose by at least 1 percentage point. Bonus awards would be up to $10,000, depending on the Legislature’s appropriation for that fiscal year. The catch is fewer teachers would be eligible.

Best and Brightest Teacher Talent Pipeline Student Loan Forgiveness and Tuition Reimbursement Program: (Phew! That’s a long name!) This program in theory would help recruit and retain teachers by repaying student loans or reimbursing for the cost of undergraduate tuition and fees, including room and board, for four years of undergraduate education – both in an amount not to exceed $25,000 – for any new teachers who teach in a critical shortage area and remain teaching for at least five school years. This is also based on an appropriation by the Legislature. But what about teachers currently in the classroom struggling to make payments on their student loans? So far, not a thing to help them is in this plan.

Equal Opportunity Scholarship (Voucher) Program: Creates yet another voucher in Florida, for eligible students who spent the previous school year in a Florida public school, or a student entering kindergarten, whose family household income level does not exceed 265 percent of the federal poverty level. Funding for this voucher, however, appears to come from an appropriation from the general treasury.

As with any proposals put forth by this governor, we all have to remember that they are just that, proposals. The governor can recommend a policy idea or budget, but it’s up to the Legislature to pass and send bills to the governor to be signed into law.

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