Sunday, May 27, 2018
Education

Sen. Marco Rubio's school voucher plan shows strong Jeb Bush ties

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio immediately followed his rebuttal to the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night by releasing a "school-choice" bill to allow taxpayers to subsidize private-school education for poor kids.

By putting legislation where his mouth is, Rubio wanted to reinforce the theme of his speech — that conservative policy is good for the poor and working class.

The legislation, which revolves around tax credits, also makes good on a 2010 Rubio campaign pledge, and reinforces his strong ties to former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, his friend and mentor whose nonprofit education foundation helped shape the legislation.

Bush passed a similar school-choice voucher program in 2001, which Rubio voted for while he served in the Florida House.

If Florida's experience is any measure, though, Democrats, teacher unions and some church-and-state separatists will oppose the scholarship-voucher program, saying it indirectly uses tax money to fund private, and often religious education.

"It's not about unions. It's not about school administrators," Rubio said in an interview. "This is about parents. The only parents in America who don't have a choice where their kids go to school are poor parents."

Though Rubio's rhetoric adopts longstanding Democratic talking points about the disadvantaged, the legislation will have a tough time in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

Across the nation, Democrats and teacher unions have faced off with Bush and his nonprofit foundation as it pushes for more school-choice legislation. Rubio's legislation, in conjunction with Bush's lobbying efforts, could bring the fight to Capitol Hill.

It can be a good wedge issue as well for Republicans; black lawmakers, who tend to be Democratic, often support school-choice laws aimed at poor kids.

The legislation also highlights the closeness of Rubio and Bush amid Washington speculation that the two might have a rivalry as each eye a White House bid. Associates of the two say it's far more likely Rubio will run than Bush; and there's no real rivalry between them as both take leadership roles in the national immigration debate.

Rubio's involvement in rounding up conservative support for immigration reform was a key factor in his selection by GOP leaders to rebut President Obama's speech. Rubio, however, doesn't want to be limited to immigration policy — a reason he announced his Educational Opportunities Act right after his speech. The legislation should be introduced Wednesday.

Before his Tuesday night national address, Democrats accused him of supporting "extreme" budget policies that would cut social-welfare programs.

Democrats are sure to zero in on a potential irony of his legislation: it could technically increase the debt at the same time Rubio is talking about debt reduction.

Rubio said he doesn't know how much the legislation could cost the federal treasury. It has not been analyzed yet, or scored, by the Congressional Budget Office. About 11 states have similar tax-credit programs with about $405 million in tax credits for 148,300 students.

Under Rubio's legislation, corporations or individuals could annually donate a maximum $100,000 or $4,500, respectively. The money, for which the donor receives a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, flows to a nonprofit "Scholarship Grant Organization," which then distributes money to private schools on behalf of thousands of students.

The students who qualify for the scholarship would come from families who earn 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $58,875 in a four-person household. The Florida median income for families of four: $65,728.

Florida has a similar scholarship voucher program, although the particulars of the write-offs and income levels are different. It also caps the amount each student receives at $4,533. That's about 63 percent of the statewide average of tuition and fees, which vary by county, school and grade level. Florida has about 50,821 students who receive $229 million in tax credit benefits.

When he ran for Senate in 2010, Rubio called for a series of reforms, including the federal tax-credit program he's proposing. The legislation was largely his brainchild, not Bush's, and Rubio's office reached out to the former governor's foundation to help with some aspects of the drafting.

When Bush left office in 2007, Rubio was starting to serve his first year as Florida's House speaker. He hired a large number of former Bush staffers, including one-time speechwriter Alberto Martinez, who works for Rubio today along with political advisor Todd Harris, Bush's 2002 campaign spokesman.

Rubio also hired the husband of top Bush education wonk Pat Levesque, later appointed by Rubio to a state constitutional tax-and-budget reform commission.

Levesque is executive director of the nonprofit political group Foundation for Florida's Future, which lobbies the Florida Legislature, and serves as CEO for the nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education, which weighed in on Rubio's proposed legislation. Bush chairs both foundations.

The policies of Bush's foundation have political risks and could have played a role in the downfall of Indiana's schools chief, Tony Bennett, in the November elections.

Bennett soon got a new job as education commissioner in Florida, Rubio and Bush's home state.

Comments
Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

TAMPA — Somebody got into Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively’s Facebook account, copied her messages and gave them to a newspaper publisher who is a friend of her rivals on the board.The posts discussed politics and power struggl...
Published: 05/25/18
Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student who was critically injured last weekend during an accidental fall on campus shortly before she was to graduate died today, the school announced.Rebecca Ryan "Becca" Lavin-Burgher would have graduated with a ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Published: 05/24/18
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

TAMPA — The company hired by the Hillsborough County School District to fill more than 170,000 substitute teaching shifts every year is defending its record, saying it works to get to the bottom of allegations against employees, treat them fairly and...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18