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Florida school choice advocates seek to bust ‘myths’ on vouchers, charters and more

They aim to speak to the ‘people in the middle’ who don’t follow the issues so closely.

Regular Tallahassee watchers would have to deem 2019 a banner year for school choice proponents, who won clear legislative victories in establishing vouchers, expanding charter schools and streamlining tax credit scholarships.

Still, many choice advocates see their successes as the beginning of a more thorough revamp. And they consider the vocal opposition to their positions as unfairly, sometimes falsely, depicting the programs they promote.

“A lot of these are myths that people hear over and over, that influence the middle,” said Erika Donalds, a former Collier County School Board member who now helps create charter schools and leads School Choice Movement.

Donalds, whose husband serves in the Florida House, also was a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission, which attempted to enshrine some school choice priorities in the state constitution.

Her organization now aims to address the “myths” and convince the people who don’t have a loyalty to either of the extremes, but want to have solid information to help them take positions on the ideas.

It is not alone. Step Up For Students, the state’s largest scholarship funding organization, also has taken to guest columns and social media to tackle the opposition.

In an Ocala Star-Banner op-ed, Step Up staffer Scott Kent endeavored to knock down the “fallacies” one by one.

Even some of the most well-known advocates have joined the full court press, with state Senate Education Committee chairman Manny Diaz Jr. and former Gov. Jeb Bush penning commentaries challenging editorials such as one in the Tampa Bay Times calling the passage of a new voucher plan the “death sentence for Florida’s public schools.”

“Hyperbole and fear-mongering are the desperate signs of people who have lost conviction in the power of their ideas,” Bush wrote to open his piece.

Donalds acknowledged that the most fierce critics might never be convinced. But the people who follow them, and others who carry influence, might hear or see enough information to at least take a second look.

“They might support charter schools but not scholarships once they get the information. That’s fine,” she said. “So long as they have the right information. So long as they’re not making decisions based on dogma and rhetoric.”

For more decisions are likely to come, as items such as an alternate charter school authorizer and a parental rights statute, which didn’t make it to the end of the legislative session, are expected to be back in 2020.

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