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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Voucher expansion doubles down on separate but unequal schools

Published May 3, 2014

There are common hypocrites. There are spectacular hypocrites. And then there are Florida legislators.

A more shameless group of panderers, fabricators and deceivers the world may never know. Just when you think they might be developing a collective conscience, they do something so indefensible it is practically breathtaking.

Behold the case of private school vouchers.

Never mind that the state Supreme Court ruled vouchers unconstitutional eight years ago, and the Legislature later concocted a back-door method to fund them.

Forget about the implications of tax dollars going to private schools where teachers do not have to be certified and religious instruction can trump scientific fact.

Ignore all the other disturbing details and focus on one remarkable inconsistency:

Lawmakers are obsessively fanatical about accountability in public schools, and yet disturbingly unconcerned about accountability in private schools.

Ain't that a kick in the class?

Students, teachers and administrators are seemingly held captive by standardized tests in public schools, and yet tax revenues flow into private schools with few checks and balances and virtually no oversight.

Vouchers were sold as a way for poverty-level students to attend private schools with public funds, but legislation passed Friday will dramatically expand the program into middle-class territory.

"This is a sad day for public education,'' said Mindy Gould, the Florida PTA legislative chair. "This is just part of a much larger plan to privatize public education in Florida.''

Let me pause for this obligatory disclaimer:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with private schools. A lot of private schools provide an educational experience that is far and away better than many public schools.

So what's the problem?

Just fairness. And consistency. And the safeguarding of public money.

You cannot have over-the-top dependency on standardized tests in public schools, and under-the-rug disregard when it comes to private schools. Not if you plan on funneling more and more taxpayer funds toward those private schools.

Look at it this way:

Florida has micromanaged public education to the point of absurdity. The state's entire educational experience, including curriculum, revolves around the results of a handful of standardized tests that are far from infallible. These exams are so danged important, legislators even insist that profoundly disabled children are not always exempt.

This testing devotion is so disheartening to so many parents, they are seeking any type of alternative for their child's education.

And … surprise!

That plays right into the Jeb Bush-mindset of creating a separate-but-unequal educational choice system that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.

And do not buy the Legislature's cockamamie argument that it has introduced accountability to the voucher system. Students will not be taking the same Common Core-inspired test given in public schools, and there will be no state ramifications for students, teachers or school funding for low scores.

That's not accountability, it's a ruse.

Lawmakers keep talking about parental choice, and yet they have over-legislated public schools to the point that there is no room for choice, variance or innovation in classrooms. There is one overzealous, state-mandated way to learn in public schools, and it is being pushed by the same people crying crocodile tears about parental choice.

The bottom line is public schools in Florida will suffer.

This continued obsession with state-mandated testing will lead to more students fleeing, and that will lead to more tax dollars flowing into private pockets.

If that seems disturbing, you might want to tell your legislator:

Either stop micromanaging public schools, or hold private schools to the same standards.

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