Friday, December 15, 2017
Politics

Parent, teacher groups urge Scott to veto school voucher bill

TALLAHASSEE — Parent and teacher groups are turning the pressure up on Gov. Rick Scott to veto a proposed expansion of the state school voucher program.

Members of the Florida PTA, grass roots parent groups, the Florida Conference of NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the statewide teachers union have launched a campaign against the bill, which they say will drain taxpayer dollars from already cash-strapped public schools.

"We stand united in our opposition to voucher expansion," said Mindy Gould, who oversees legislative affairs for the PTA. "The governor needs to know that."

Scott has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the proposal, though he has been generally supportive of school choice bills. Spokesman John Tupps said the governor's office would review the legislation.

The bill (SB 850) arrived on Scott's desk Friday. He has until June 28 to act.

Scott will also have to weigh feedback from private school parents and teachers who support the expansion. Hundreds have expressed support for the measure in calls and emails to the governor's office.

What's more, the voucher provision is tied to a separate policy that allows students with profound disabilities to access state dollars for tutoring, educational materials and therapeutic services. The so-called personal learning scholarship accounts are a top priority for the Foundation for Florida's Future, the powerful education think tank founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

The voucher program, also known as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, provides private school scholarships for children from low-income families. The scholarships are funded by businesses, which receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for their donations.

Early this year, Republican lawmakers unveiled a plan to grow the program, by both increasing the cap on tax credits and allowing more children to qualify for scholarships.

A watered-down version of the bill passed on the last day of session, largely along party lines.

Lawmakers did not increase the cap on tax credits. They agreed to increase the amount of the scholarship beginning in 2016-17, allow some children from higher-income families to receive partial scholarships and remove some of the barriers to participating in the program. They also designated an independent research organization to provide annual reports on the program.

The bill's passage on May 2 prompted immediate backlash.

Other groups involved in the campaign against the proposal include the Florida School Boards Association, the League of Women Voters, the Spanish American League Against Discrimination, and the Sant Le Haitian Neighborhood Service Center in Miami, according to the PTA.

Over the past month, Scott's office has received at least 1,080 calls and emails in opposition to the bill, records from the Office of Citizen Services show.

Some opponents predicted the voucher bill would be used against Scott in his campaign for re-election.

"It is hypocritical to support private schools as you plan to run on a platform of assisting public education in Florida!" Pasco County teacher Amity Gallaher wrote in an email.

Eric Dwyer, a professor of foreign language education at Florida International University, said expanding the voucher program would hurt students who are learning English as a second language. He noted that public schools must follow specific guidelines for teaching ESOL students, while private schools do not.

Supporters of the bill have also made their voices heard. Over the same time period, Scott's office has received at least 659 calls and emails in support of the bill.

Abul Azad of Pompano Beach said the school voucher program enabled two of his sons to attend private school.

"For a family like us (with) a limited income, (it) was like a dream to put our kids into private school," he wrote in an email. "This program made that dream become a reality."

Luis Leon, a father of seven from Hernando County, urged the governor to support the expansion.

"This bill needs to be signed or my children will be forced to wait ANOTHER YEAR of political red tape!" he wrote.

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A..That’s the messa...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The meta-soap opera of Omarosa Manigault’s White House exit

The meta-soap opera of Omarosa Manigault’s White House exit

WASHINGTON — As the spooling drama of Omarosa Manigault Newman’s White House departure spun into its 36th hour, Washington began asking itself: "Does it actually matter whether Omarosa quit or was fired?"Dumbest story ever," tweeted John Harwood, the...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Know your candidates: Florida State House | District 58

Know your candidates: Florida State House | District 58

A hard-fought Republican primary ended with the nomination of Lawrence McClure in October during a whirlwind special election cycle to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who is stepping down for health reasons. The GOP winner faces face three less wel...
Updated: 2 hours ago
House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s not leaving Congress soon

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s not leaving Congress soon

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he’s not leaving Congress anytime soon, trying to squelch rumors that he will walk away in triumph after the Republicans’ treasured tax bill is approved. Politico and the Huffington Post published re...
Published: 12/14/17
Pence to delay Mideast trip as tax deal nears vote

Pence to delay Mideast trip as tax deal nears vote

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is delaying his weekend departure for the Middle East as Congress nears completion of a tax overhaul, his office announced Thursday. White House officials said Pence now plans to leave for Egypt on Tuesday so he...
Published: 12/14/17
Senator: Comey’s remarks on Clinton probe heavily edited

Senator: Comey’s remarks on Clinton probe heavily edited

WASHINGTON — A draft statement former FBI director James Comey prepared in anticipation of concluding the Hillary Clinton email case without criminal charges was heavily edited to change the "tone and substance" of the remarks, a Republican senator s...
Published: 12/14/17
William March: AG candidate Ashley Moody called ‘liberal;’ bill takes Orlando money for Tampa transit

William March: AG candidate Ashley Moody called ‘liberal;’ bill takes Orlando money for Tampa transit

Ideological divides in Florida’s Republican attorney general primary race are producing some early negative campaigning, with a strong Tampa Bay area flavor.State Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, one of four candidates, has attacked the early frontrunn...
Published: 12/14/17
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Nationally, the word "evangelical" has become in recent years nearly synonymous with "conservative Republican" and Alabama is one of the most evangelical states in the country. But in Alabama, there is a difference: black Christians.While in many par...
Published: 12/13/17
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to fill fellow Democrat Al Franken’s Senate seat until a special election in November, setting up his longtime and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018...
Published: 12/13/17