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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Are Florida vouchers good or bad for English-language learners? The sides take shape



As Florida lawmakers enter the final week of the 2014 session, the issue of whether to expand the state's school voucher program remains contentious.

The debate has mostly focused on the area of accountability, and whether students in schools that accept vouchers must take the same test as students in traditional public schools.

Now some leaders in the state's Spanish-speaking community are turning the conversation to the topic of academic options for children who are still learning English.

Former Miami-Dade School Board member Rosa Castro Feinberg contends that the voucher program might shortchange ESOL students. She notes in a column for VOXXI that students have set rights in the public schools, such as state-approved programs for English-language learners, required teacher training and regular assessments.

"When your child goes to a school where vouchers are used for payments, all bets are off when it comes to these rules, and it’s because these schools are private," Castro Feinberg writes. "Voucher schools are not required to comply with state ESOL rules. Though some voucher schools may provide similar services, they are not required to report if they do or don’t. They are not subject to state ESOL law. Unfortunately, neither are charter schools."

Julio Fuentes, chairman of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Education Options, begs to differ. In a VOXXI response, Fuentes, who serves on the board of the voucher manager Step Up for Students, suggests that Spanish speakers struggle in spite of state mandates.

"The real injustice is blocking options that may give students a better footing on the path to success," he writes. "Our ELL kids need all hands on deck. The scholarships add a few more hands."

Check out the arguments in this growing discussion, and stay tuned as to whether they influence the outcome before the Legislature closes out.

[Last modified: Monday, April 28, 2014 12:06pm]


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