"The bottom line has to be the child"
First, 8-foot alligators start showing up in kitchens. Now Florida Democrats are voting for vouchers?!
It's no surprise the bill to expand corporate-tax-credit vouchers is on the verge of passing the Republican-dominated Legislature. But it is something of a shocker that 13 House Democrats voted for it, including Rep. Bill Heller (left) of St. Petersburg and four others from Tampa Bay.
Heller told The Gradebook he was torn. But after voting against the bill in committee, he visited the Yvonne C. Reed Christian School in St. Petersburg and talked to some of the parents who use vouchers to send their kids there. One mother him her son was failing in public school, but is doing better now. Heller was convinced she was right.
"I'm a strong advocate for public school education, and I'm not necessarily a strong advocate for vouchers," Heller said. "But if this gives a parent a chance to provide a different education, it's hard to argue against it. You can't put a price on that. What's the price on a child who turns himself around?"
Heller did not entirely dismiss the arguments, often made by fellow Democrats (30 of whom voted against the CTC bill), that vouchers divert money from public schools. But he said those concerns were outweighed by the benefits. "The bottom line has to be the child," he said. "If good things are happening for the child, then you can justify it."
The other Tampa Bay-area Democrats voting for the bill were Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa and Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa.
- Ron Matus, state education reporter