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Florida's universal voucher bill includes private school parents too



brandes.Home school and private school parents would also get a chance to obtain an "education savings account" or voucher under the legislation filed in the Florida Legislature last week by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

Private school parents are "paying twice for education," Brandes told The Gradebook this morning. "Once in the form of taxes. Once in the form of tuition."

"We have parents who are police officers who are making huge sacrifices to send their kids to private school," he continued. "How can we tell these parents, 'Sorry, if you're kid was in public school, you could participate'?"

The original proposal, written by Jeb Bush aide Patricia Levesque, did not include private-school parents. The new bills do. But there is a trade-off: The value of the account/voucher drops from 85 percent of per-pupil funding to about 50 percent in the Brandes bill and 40 percent in the Negron bill.

Students would be eligible for the account/voucher if they're eligible to enter kindergarten or first grade; or were in the public school system the previous year; or if they're the sibling of a student in the program and reside in the same household; or if they're a home school or private school student and randomly selected by the state through a lottery.

According to the bills, the number of spaces available for the home school and private school students would equal the number of students in the program who were in public schools the previous year.

Brandes said his bill will help create jobs in Florida by attracting business: "This tells the employers and employees that, look, we have great public schools, we have great charter schools, and to the extent that you choose not to participate in any of those we'll have an education savings account waiting for you."

Key lawmakers have said they don't think education savings accounts will get serious consideration this year, and even Gov. Rick Scott has seemed to tamp down his initial fervor. Brandes' response: "I think there's a lot on the House and Senate plate this year. Whether this will get real traction, I don't know."

But, he added, "I want it to be part of the conversation. If we don't get a serious conversation this year, we'll talk about it next year. ... If our goal is to make Florida a cutting edge, world class education state, then this would move us light years ahead of other states."

[Last modified: Monday, March 7, 2011 11:46am]


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