School teachers, administrators and parents said Wednesday that Jeb Bush's idea to use public money to pay for private school tuition will cripple public education in Florida.
"If you take dollars out of public schools, you hurt children, you hurt our communities and both of them will suffer," said Volusia County Schools Superintendent Joan Kowal.
She and others in a coalition of education groups have given Bush and his running mate, Tom Feeney, an "F" for what they called "extremist education proposals that would steal from Florida's public school children."
"The Bush-Feeney ticket would have taxpayers foot the bill for private education of a privileged few," said Aaron Wallace, president of FTP-NEA, the state's largest teacher's union.
The coalition included former Education Commissioner Ralph Turlington, the two major teachers' unions, the Florida Association of School Administrators, PTA members, parents and school board members.
The coalition criticized Bush's plan to give private school vouchers to students in public schools that fail to meet a minimum standard. In that way, Bush says, those in the worst schools would benefit first. The threat of closing a school and transferring the money to private schools would force public schools to improve, Bush says.
Opponents say it's impossible to give public money to some private school students without covering the tuition for everyone in private schools. They say Bush's plan will force the state to spend $741-million on private school tuition.
"It will hurt the children in the state of Florida," said John Mixon of the Florida Association of School Administrators.
Bush says he understands that his proposal will be challenged in court but expects it will be upheld without having to pay private school tuition for everyone.
Turlington, the colorful former education commissioner, said Chiles has reduced education bureaucracy by cutting or shifting 2,500 position from the Department of Education.
"When you look at the opponent's proposal, we have to shift our eyes in many directions because it is slippery, likened to an eel," he said.
Other coalition speakers applauded Chiles' efforts to make schools safer and to set up after-school programs for at-risk middle school students. Bush opposes some of those intervention programs.
Abandoning those "would put children out on the street or home alone," said Bob Lee, of FEA-United, a teachers' union. "They are problems waiting to happen, and that's not something we can tolerate."