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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Former teacher union leader to head voucher group



Warning: The following news may cause whiplash.

Voucher supporters in Florida have some surprising new blood in their leadership ranks.

Doug Tuthill, a former Pinellas County teachers union president who once said vouchers were based on "false assumptions and faulty logic," is the new president of the Florida School Choice Fund, the leading voucher organization in the state.

And if that wasn't holy-smokes enough, the group's new communications director is Jon East, a former member of the St. Petersburg Times editorial board who, until his retirement last week, sharply criticized vouchers for years.

Among other activities, the choice fund raises money for the state's $118 million, corporate tax-credit voucher program. Until Tuthill's hiring, it had been led by John Kirtley, the Tampa businessman who rivals former Gov. Jeb Bush as the most influential voucher advocate in the state.

"I don't think the enemy is educators or parents or public schools or private schools," Tuthill, who also helped set up the IB program at St. Petersburg High, told The Gradebook today. "The enemy is ignorance and poverty and hopelessness and despair."

Tuthill said he has long supported school choice and increased opportunities for low-income families, and that his past opposition to vouchers was based on proposals for "universal vouchers" with no accountability or government regulation.

East told The Gradebook his position has evolved. "My core values are the same," he said. But "I feel sincerely that (CTC vouchers) don't compete with or undermine public education, which is different than the way I used to feel."

Told where East was now working, Mark Pudlow, the usually affable spokesman for the state teachers union, groaned then declined comment.

Read more soon in the St. Petersburg Times. And for a Q&A with Tuthill, check out The Gradebook this weekend.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:56am]


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