Monday, June 18, 2018
Opinion

Column: Tax credit scholarships don't hurt public education

Throughout my public career — as a City Council member, state representative and secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice — I worked to help children follow a path to success in life and, in particular, to restore hope for young black men. That explains the Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, which I sponsored in 2006 as a legislator, and my strong support for public education as a linchpin for a child's overall success.

The education facts are painfully clear. In Pinellas County last year, only 28 percent of black students read at grade level, and only 26 percent performed math at grade level. The latest Schott Foundation report is numbing, placing the graduation rate for black males in the county at 28 percent.

This is the kind of social crisis that should bring us all together, cause us to roll up our sleeves and pitch in to help. So it is good news that a circuit judge in Tallahassee recently tossed out a constitutional challenge to an education option that is helping 70,000 of Florida's most underprivileged students — a disproportionate percentage of whom are black.

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is helping 2,621 poor children mostly of color to attend 74 private schools in Pinellas this year, is not a substitute for the kind of great public schools that I have spent my life supporting. But it deserves a seat at the public education table, and let's hope the legal challengers to this program will listen to what the judge has had to say.

From where I sit, this is not a competition, and this scholarship is not an attack on traditional public schools. The truth is that different students learn in different ways, and there is no reason we can't offer them a range of learning options that includes magnet and fundamental schools, online courses, dual enrollment, charter schools — and even scholarships to private schools for those who can't afford tuition.

Some of the children I know as a pastor in St. Petersburg suffer from a form of educational despair, and these scholarships also open the door to faith-based schools that help them read and write in part by lifting their spirit. These are community-based schools that know the lives of their children and families, and, together, have built a bond that can translate into academic achievement. Where there is trust and hope, there can be learning.

The numbers so far tell that story. This state scholarship program is entering its 14th year this fall, and the students live, on average, in households that are only 5 percent above poverty. Two-thirds are black or Hispanic, more than half live with a single parent, and test scores show they were the lowest performers in the schools they left behind. For six straight years, though, these same students have been achieving the same standardized test score gains in reading and math as students of all incomes across the nation.

This is not to suggest the scholarship is some type of educational panacea. It's merely one tool that can help some children who can't otherwise afford it. Modern public education is being strengthened by the choices we empower parents to make, and we should embrace learning wherever it may occur.

The judge who dismissed the lawsuit made an important point in doing so. He said no one had proved the scholarship is harmful to public schools. He's right. The scholarship is a partner with public education, and it is just one more commitment we can make to children who desperately need our collective help.

Frank Peterman Jr. is pastor of the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg and a government relations director. He has served as a member of the St. Petersburg City Council, the Florida House of Representatives and as secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

Comments

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

This fall voters will have 13 constitutional amendments to wade through on the ballot, but Amendment 4 should get special focus. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes t...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

The Trump administration just can’t stop sabotaging Americans’ access to health care. Instead of giving up after it failed to persuade Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it continues to quietly undermine the law in ways that would reduce acc...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18