Debate over school vouchers and tax credit scholarships intensifies, with Florida as a focus
The national debate over vouchers and corporate tax credit scholarships has intensified in recent weeks as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has made the call for broadening the scope of such choice programs. The NY Times, for instance, published a piece on the growing move to create such scholarship vouchers for poor families, singling out Florida as perhaps the most strictly controlled system.
Education Week also took a look at the tax credit programs (subscription required), which send public funds to private schools, thus generating criticism among many Democrats who complain the program harms the public school system.
Don't include the Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP chapter, among the critics. In an op-ed piece for the Tampa Bay Times, Sykes praises the scholarships as a hand up to families and children who otherwise have limited choices, few of them good:
"In Florida and across this nation, many die-hard Democrats and hard-core public education advocates are standing up to insist that our most disadvantaged schoolchildren are provided with every tool available. We see it as a moral imperative.
"Look around. A tax credit scholarship proposal in New Jersey is being led by a Republican governor and an African-American mayor from Newark who is viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party. Expanded vouchers and a new tax rebate scholarship in Louisiana were passed with bipartisan support. A similar bill just filed in North Carolina includes four Democratic sponsors and is being pushed by a racially diverse, politically progressive parental advocacy group. In Florida, the Tax Credit Scholarship was expanded in 2010 with the support of nearly half the Democrats, a majority of the black caucus and all but one of the Hispanic caucus.
"This is not liberal or conservative, public or private. It's common sense. Different children learn in different ways, and for too long we have tried the same cookie-cutter approach with tragic results, especially for black children."
Some leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott, have suggested they might support vouchers for all children, regardless of income. So far, though, Florida has kept its program focused on low-income children. If the effort remains on that trajectory, is it worth supporting and expanding? Should the receiving private schools be required to offer the FCAT or whatever test public schools end up with? Does the state need to give tax credits to corporations that donate to public schools too, as some lawmakers called for? Or should the whole idea of vouchers go away?
Where do you stand on the spectrum in this conversation?