When you hang a pivotal and controversial piece of legislation
allocating nearly $1 billion in tax credits to a program based on a
waitlist, shouldn’t you be able to consistently specify the exact number on a waitlist? Florida lawmakers sponsoring this massive voucher expansion bill cannot seem to do that.
Voucher Waitlist: Fact or Fiction?
wish Florida Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) would make my bank account grow
as fast as the magical voucher waitlist grew last week! In three
weeks, this elusive waitlist fluctuated from — literally — “We didn’t keep track of a waitlist this year,”
to 10,000, to 25,000, to 34,000, to 50,000 and then the number
skyrocketed to 100,000 students on their waitlist. Say what? The
totals fluctuated up and down daily — sometimes even from the same
spokesperson as you’ll see in a timeline below.
Vouchers Are Becoming The Great Escape
the recent House hearing, Rep. Fresen, in lieu of the bill’s sponsor,
championed the bill and spent an hour describing how the House merged it
with a special needs voucher student bill. In his characteristically
fast-talking pace, Fresen acted as if he was selling our state an elixir
to fix public education. He is an excellent salesman. Some speakers
followed and spoke with pride about their voucher schools. Some proudly
mentioned last week and today that their schools don’t ever “teach to
the test” and are devoid of FCAT-type tests. Public school teachers,
students and parents must have drooled while listening to this
testimony imagining the dream of not having to contend with high stakes
tests! Wow. Sign us all up.
Rep. Fresen and Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr are proposing nearly a $1 billion
of tax funding to be allocated to religious institutions and other
schools. Along with this program comes inferior teacher qualifications,
no oversight on standard curriculum and the students need not take the
FL designated standardized tests. Come again? (Note: I’m not stating
that voucher schools have inferior teachers but they need not have a
degree in teaching nor a certification to teach. Is this a prudent use
of our tax dollars?)
Parents ask why don’t these lawmakers care
about the academic growth of voucher students? Or, are they just paying
lip service to this much ballyhooed accountability model? Whatever the
case, we still have unscrutinized tax dollars depleted from existing
neighborhood schools. Voters don’t appreciate not knowing if their
dollars are being put to good use.
From the speeches I’ve heard
the past three weeks, these tax credit scholarships are viewed by the
general public as the “Great Escape from Standardized Tests” and not
what they were originally intended to be. Vouchers have their place to
serve special needs students. They were never meant to replace the public school system.
The Truth Behind the Waitlist
This huge waitlist was
the precipitous for this bill. The bill’s sponsor should produce it.
It’s a public record which was submitted as testimony and represents the
basis of this bill. It’s also a document the courts will subpoena, I
imagine, if they must rule on the constitutionality of sending public
dollars to religious institutions.
Voucher Waitlist Mentions
Feb 14 Step Up for Students President- 50K –“to completely eliminate those on the wait list..need to fund 50K more students.“
Feb 20 Step Up For Students, VP, Jon East- 34K – “we have 34K who started the application process” waiting for funding.
Feb 27 House Speaker Weatherford -30K “30K on wait list but only 6K students will benefit in near term if this bill passes.”
Mar 4 House Speaker Weatherford’s opening speech – “tens of thousands longing to send their children” to voucher schools.
Mar 4 Senate President Gaetz’ opening speech– 10K – “10K students waiting in line for vouchers.”
Mar 5 Rep. Manny Diaz- 50K -Diaz must not have heard opening speeches because he told Miami Herald – “50K students are waiting”
Mar 6 Jon East, VP, Step Up For Students- 25K – lowered his figure from two weeks priot to now “25K students waiting”
Mar 7 Rep Manny Diaz, Jr -25K “25K were not able to receive vouchers this year because we ran out of money.”
Mar 28 Rep Erik Fresen- 100K at House Education Appropriations Hearing– “We have 100K students on the wait list for vouchers.“
Right to Know
— What was the waitlist for vouchers on the day HB 7099 bill was filed?
— Where is this list?
— Who presides over this list?
Catch Me if You Can – Voucher Waitlist
tried pinning down an answer to that perplexing question. Let’s follow
the bouncing ball here: School districts referred us to the Florida
Dept. of Education. The FL DOE said without hesitation, “we don’t have
that list, we never did.” They referred us to the “sole voucher
agency,” Step Up For Students and authoritatively stated that “Step Up
for Students maintains the wait list.” That’s where we hit a roadblock.
The most perplexing answer came from this document,
which said “Unlike in past years, the scholarship organization did not
keep track of a waiting list for this school year,” from a spokesman
for Step Up For Students (presumably Jon East, who was later quoted in
the article) to the AP News Service, Brandon Larrabee on February 20. If
that quote is true, that means that Step Up for Students knew on
February 20 that they did not keep track of a waitlist. I’m reluctant
to ask. Does a controversial bill with a billion-dollar price tag hang
on a waitlist that might not even exist? I sincerely hope not.
The Florida Senate has the right to know the truth before they climb out on that limb with the Florida House.