Saturday, January 20, 2018
Education

John Romano: The House's hypocrisy on school vouchers — accountability

Give them credit, your representatives in the state House. They don't know the meaning of the word "quit."

They also don't seem to know the meaning of shame. Or hypocrisy. Or fairness. Or equality.

Yes, after the state Senate was ambivalent about radically expanding the school voucher system, the House simply repackaged the same idea with a new sales pitch.

And — surprise! — failed to address the gigantic flaw.

Before going any further, let's once again acknowledge there are valid reasons to support the concept of school vouchers. The tax credit scholarship program diverts public funds to low-income families so their children can attend private schools.

In theory, this is a commendable attempt to break the cycle of poverty. In practice, it falls short.

Why?

Because, after more than a decade of micromanaging public schools to ensure uniform accountability across the state, legislators are zealously pushing an agenda to hand over your tax dollars to private schools that are completely immune to accountability.

Is this fair? No.

Is it logical? No.

Is it an example of fiduciary responsibility from the most conservative members of your state Legislature? Heck no.

Supporters of vouchers will point out that scholarship students at private schools have been taking a standardized test similar to the FCAT, but that argument is hollow.

Unlike public schools, a poor score on the test does not necessarily mean a student at a private school is in danger of being held back. It doesn't mean the student's teacher is in danger of a poor job evaluation and possible termination. It doesn't mean the school is in danger of losing funding because of a low mark on the state's school grading system.

A standardized test with no ramifications is not accountability. It's window dressing.

Of course, the problems do not end there.

When the state Supreme Court ruled Gov. Jeb Bush's original voucher program unconstitutional in 2006, Justice Barbara Pariente pointed out private school teachers are not held to the same standards as public school teachers. Bachelor's degrees are not required, and neither are teacher certifications or background checks.

Curriculum, which our legislators think is their responsibility to monitor, is also unregulated in private schools.

Before this legislative session began, House Speaker Will Weatherford said teacher evaluation, standardized testing, curriculum standards and the school grading system were "the four horsemen'' of education in Florida.

Yet, when it comes to private schools, those horsemen are still standing in the corral.

Just to be clear, none of this is meant to disparage private schools. I have no doubt that many private schools are providing educational outcomes superior to public schools. And there are highly qualified and effective teachers at private schools across the state.

The point is the state cannot treat public and private schools differently. Not when you're writing more than $1 billion worth of checks to private schools in the next few years. And certainly not when you're trying to write legislation to increase that spending.

You can't be fanatical about the impact of standardized tests in public schools, then act as if they're inconsequential when it comes to private schools.

It's disingenuous. It's deceitful. In the end, it's unconstitutional.

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