Traditional public school advocates shuddered Friday morning at news that Florida's incoming governor was considering a voucher-like program that would be available to all students.
Called "education savings accounts," the proposal would allow state education dollars to follow students to the schools their parents choose, whether public or private. Although there are few details, such a program could dwarf the state's existing voucher programs, which are limited to either low-income or disabled students.
"An awful idea," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the state teachers union.
"There goes public education," said Pinellas school board member Janet Clark.
"There had been talk of expansion of the (voucher) program," said state Rep. Kriseman, R-St. Petersburg. "But that's not an expansion. That's a takeover."
"If what the (incoming) governor wants to happen occurs," Kriseman continued, "public education as we know it ceases to exist."
Gov.-elect Rick Scott told about 900 voucher students in St. Petersburg Thursday that he wanted to "give every child in the state every opportunity that you've had, to make sure that you go to whatever school you want to." In a interview later with the St. Petersburg Times, he said he wants a program that allows parents to use state education dollars at the school of their choice.
Key lawmakers and the Foundation for Florida's Future, an influential think tank founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, are also talking about the idea. And Scott said he expected the Legislature to consider such a plan when the next legislative session begins in March.
Florida has offered private-school vouchers since 1999, and they've always been controversial. But they've also been limited. One program serves about 21,000 disabled students. The other serves about 33,000 low-income kids.
To essentially offer vouchers to all families "would be disastrous," said Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough teachers union.
One reason: The cost of paying for several hundred thousand students who are now in private schools.
"If suddenly all the children who are in private school are now going to have the citizens, the taxpayers, of Florida paying for that private school, or at least a good portion of it, that's money that's going to come straight out of the public school budget," Clements said. "And public schools that are already strapped are going to be seriously hurting."
"I think it's laudable that (Scott) wants to do something and wants to do it differently," she continued. "But I really hope and pray that he will spend some serious time and deliberation with those of us who know public education inside and out."
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.