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GOP lawmaker opens the door to use FCAT for students using vouchers at private schools

For years, one of the biggest criticisms of Florida's corporate tax credit scholarship program has been that the students who take their vouchers to private schools don't take the FCAT, so we don't know how they're doing.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-New Port Richey, has taken the first step toward eliminating that concern.

In his bill to expand the scholarship program, Corcoran has proposed amendments that would permit the private schools to "choose to offer and administer the statewide assessments to all students who attend the private school in grades 3 through 10."

"I believe in the FCAT," Corcoran told the Gradebook. "I think it's a good measurement tool. I personally believe it's a better measurement tool than the norm-referenced tests. This year my wife and I are home-schooling our kids, and we have signed our children up for the FCAT."

He figured that once the door is open, schools would see the value in offering the FCAT.

"I would hope the private schools would look at this as an opportunity and say, 'Now that we can take it, let's go out there and take it and show people we are an excellent institution.' That's the way the market works," he said.

Corcoran didn't propose requiring the FCAT, though, suggesting that would not likely pass. His bill goes to the House Finance and Tax Committee today. A companion Senate bill does not include the language, but sponsor Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said in past hearings on the bill that she might be amenable to such an idea.

UPDATE: The House Finance and Tax Committee supported this bill, with several Democrats joining Republicans to back it.

Some of the Democrats said they would not support the bill so long as it looks to expand the FCAT. "Anything that continues to promote the FCAT I can't vote for," said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee. If the initiative would eliminate the FCAT for everyone and instead adopt an international or national test, "then I'd say okay."

Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, said he wasn't a fan of the program and also voted against it. However, he said, if FCAT is the measure Florida uses to gauge performance, offering access to the private schools makes sense. "Everyone has to be on the same playing field," he said.

Rep. John Patrick Julien, D-North Miami Beach, focused on the bill's primary goal of providing educational choices to low-income minority children. "I say let's do it," he said, adding he would back the legislation even if not reelected in August.

Posted by Jeff Solochek at 2:30:05 pm on January 26, 2012