Indiana's take on testing voucher recipients in private schools: An option for Florida?
Florida's move toward increased accountability for voucher recipients has taken incremental steps over the years.
The private schools receiving the students have agreed to offer a national norm-referenced test not the FCAT, to gauge performance. Early this year lawmakers passed a bill, now law, that would allow the private schools to opt into the state testing system. Most recently, Gov. Rick Scott has floated the idea of having all students who receive a tax credit scholarship take the same tests as their public school peers.
Asked his view on the issue, incoming Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett told the Gradebook he never had to contemplate testing of voucher students in Indiana when it adopted a broad ranging voucher program.
"In Indiana, if a private school takes one voucher student, every student in that school takes the state assessment so that school gets a letter grade based on the same calculation as everyone else," Bennett said.
We wondered if Florida should do the same thing. Bennett responded:
"It's really funny you ask me that question. Part of our issue is that our private schools volunteered to do that. Our private schools chose a number of years ago to do that. Part of the reason they chose to do that ... is because the Indiana High School Athletic Association requires schools to be accredited in order to participate in this very important thing we do, which is play high school sports. And part of the accreditation is taking the state assessment. And the other reason the schools did it is, frankly, they felt they could illustrate they were doing a very good job. The truth is, I never had to confront the issue of whether or not you should have to do it, because in Indiana it was already very much part of the landscape. I do believe this philosophically. I do believe we have a responsibility, be it at a public school or whatever, when we are spending taxpayer dollars - and I go back to what I believe we should do, set expectations, set standards and hold people accountable - that we should be able to prove that schools perform for the money they are given."
Bennett is an unabashed supporter of vouchers and other school choice options. We asked him about the critics who suggest that vouchers remove money from public schools at a time they are trying to improve, and hand it to the competition. He didn't share their concern.
"I believe this. And this goes to a purely philosophical perspective, and I acknowledge that. And I acknowledge there are very smart people who may see this differently," he said. "I believe the state collects taxes to educate children, not to fund schools."