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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

About vouchers or not about vouchers? That is the question on Amendment 8



Amendment 8 on Florida's November ballot is raising concerns among public school leaders. Their worry is that the proposal to eliminate the constitutional ban on using public funds to aid private religious institutions will lead to an increase in state-funded private school vouchers. 

The Palm Beach and Alachua school boards are just the latest to voice their opposition to the measure.

"It's the very death of public schools," Alachua board member Eileen Roy said. "That's not overstating it, in my opinion."

The growing voice given to that position has led the group that runs Florida's corporate tax credit scholarship (aka voucher) program to challenge the notion. In an op-ed piece in today's Tampa Bay Times, Step Up For Students vice president of policy and public affairs Jon East (a former Times editorial writer) says the school leaders opposing Amendment 8 miss the boat:

"These are provocative arguments, to be sure, but they are basically irrelevant. The amendment was placed on the ballot by two legislators — Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, and Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood — who have said repeatedly they want to protect religiously based social services. Their interest was piqued by a lawsuit, Council for Secular Humanism vs. McNeil, that challenges a prison ministries program, and by the fact that the New York-based council has called it "a springboard to mounting other challenges." ...

"Now it is certainly true that voucher advocates have previously pushed to alter the no-aid clause. But it is just as clear that they played no role in getting this amendment on the ballot and, most telling, have raised not a penny for the campaign. Their reasons are pragmatic, not philosophical: Federal and state court decisions in recent years have rendered the no-aid clause all but moot as it relates to school choice."

Naples Daily News columnist Brent Batten finds the debate confusing and even a little misleading. Of course the issue will impact education, he suggests. But maybe not in the way that either side is claiming.

"The problem with vouchers isn't so much that they cost the public schools money. The problem is they cost public schools students whose parents care enough about education to actively look for alternatives. They lose parents even willing to pay extra to get a better outcome for their child.

"The loss of too many involved parents poses a real risk to public schools, since parent involvement is one of the key factors in educational success.

"It is a concern, to be sure, but why should a child's one chance at an education be sacrificed on the altar of "public" education when viable options exist?"

Without much to go on but words, who can say for certain what the real intention of Amendment 8 is? The outcomes seem less disputable, as the guidelines for vouchers have been spelled out fairly well in federal court precedents. But it sure makes for compelling politics, though. Who can resist a good argument about religion and schools? Watch for more as Election Day nears.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 20, 2012 9:47am]


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