Former House Speaker Allan Bense is doing his distinguished reputation no favors as he becomes a mouthpiece for the school voucher movement. Bad enough that as chairman he allowed the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission to be hijacked by the voucher agenda. Now he is engaging in a type of obfuscation that cheapens the political debate.
In November, voters will face seven amendments proposed by the commission that Bense led, and two have nothing to do with tax and budget reform. They instead were the handiwork of commissioner Patricia Levesque, who is the director of two foundations created to protect the education legacy of former Gov. Jeb Bush. They aim to reverse two different court rulings, in 2002 and 2006, that invalidated Bush's "opportunity scholarships."
That's not how Bense described the amendments in a recent commentary in the Times, though. He wrote that they "deal with the budget," that one "removes an antiquated provision barring government from spending state funds with religious institutions" and the other "improves the quality of education for all Florida students." He further argued that the current Constitution threatens "hundreds of programs that provide a myriad of services to millions of Floridians" and acknowledged that one of the amendments "also enables the state to create more school choice options."
Note that the word "voucher" is as conspicuously absent from Bense's explanation as it is from the ballot itself. The actual ballot title for Amendment 7 is "religious freedom," and the closest Amendment 9 gets to revealing its intent is "state's duty for children's education."
Whether or not voters should provide constitutional protection for school vouchers is a fair enough debate, even though the tax commission was not the proper venue for it. But Bense, as commission chairman, should leave the exaggerations and distortions to the pro- and antivoucher groups that are sure to spend millions on fall campaigns. His job is to inform voters, not to trick them.