TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Education Association (FEA) is disappointed, but not surprised, that the Legislature continues to move in the direction of giving away tax dollars to unaccountable private and religious schools.
The “Family Empowerment” voucher in Senate Bill 7070 is virtually identical to the “Opportunity” voucher that was found to be unconstitutional just over a decade ago after then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law, but that is not the only reason the FEA opposes this voucher expansion. Though the Legislature loves to talk about “accountability,” their actions reflect just the opposite. Today’s vote will funnel taxpayer dollars to schools whose diplomas may not be accepted by “the receiving educational institution or employer,” according to the Florida Department of Education’s own website. We know that the majority of students who use the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship return to public schools within two years, and when they return, they perform worse than their peers who never left.
“It’s clear that this expansion of vouchers is not about what it is best for students, but what is best for private schools and for scholarship funding organizations,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “This program will divert hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from our neighborhood public schools.”
In addition, SB 7070 includes language that was never heard in a Senate committee and was placed into the bill just hours before its final vote. The expansion of the Schools of Hope charter program via Opportunity Zones was never fully vetted by the Senate, which is not only a serious breach of protocol but a slap in the face to all voters who expect their legislators’ due diligence before a vote. As if that wasn’t enough, this same amendment further erodes local control from school districts in determining where, when, and under what circumstances new schools can open.
While Senate Bill 7070 creates a series of new problems, it does nothing to help solve one of the largest problems facing Florida’s students: the ever-growing teacher shortage, which is predicted to soon reach 10,000 vacancies. Since the Florida Legislature began appropriating money for teacher bonuses in 2006, Florida’s teachers have fallen from 28th in the nation in average pay to 46th. Too many educators who would love to keep teaching in our schools simply cannot afford to do so. Despite this, the Legislature doubled down on providing bonuses instead of funds for competitive salaries. The new version of Best and Brightest is just the latest in a long string of failed bonus programs that will do nothing to recruit and retain qualified teachers.
CONTACT: Joni Branch, (850) 201-3223 or (850) 544-7055
The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational staff professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.