Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Column: Evicting poor children from their schools will hurt public schools as well

State Board of Education chairman Gary Chartrand
Published Aug. 21, 2015

Nearly a year into a lawsuit to evict 78,000 poor, mostly minority schoolchildren from their schools, we tend to forget that these students aren't the only ones who will suffer if the teachers union wins. Perversely, so will public school districts.

They'll get nailed in the pocketbook.

The financial impact is undeniable. After adding 38,469 new students last year, Florida public schools are projected to grow by another 100,000 over the next five. Now, imagine returning 78,000 scholarship students in one fell swoop — students who are disproportionately black, Hispanic and urban. Some 187 ZIP codes across the state contain at least 100 scholarship students each, 16 have more than 500 each, two side-by-side ZIP codes in west Orlando have more than 1,600 combined.

Building new schools to handle all these scholarship children would cost $2.6 billion. Even if school districts had enough spare room to absorb half these students in existing classrooms, the tab would exceed $1.3 billion.

That's not all, either. The scholarship is worth only 80 percent of what the state and districts spend per public-school student in operating costs, which means they would have to come up with an additional $111 million every year to make up that difference.

This potential financial jolt worries me. As a state Board of Education member who has fought to increase funding for public schools and who has personally donated more than $5 million to public school initiatives, I don't want to impede the budgetary progress we have made over the past five years. Given the academic success of these scholarship students, shutting down the program also makes no educational sense.

Our educational landscape is changing for the better in Florida, and parental choice is a central part of that transformation. Students can now choose from an abundance of learning options — neighborhood schools, magnet schools, career academies, International Baccalaureate, online courses, dual college enrollment, charter schools, special-needs scholarships. Last year, nearly 1.5 million out of 2.7 million students chose to attend a school other than the one to which they were assigned by their ZIP codes.

In filing the legal challenge last August to the Tax Credit Scholarship, Florida Education Association vice president Joanne McCall said that "Florida's voucher programs are a risky experiment that gambles taxpayers' money and children's lives." What she didn't say is that the FEA was selectively suing only one of the five different education programs that serve roughly half a million students in privately operated schools.

The tax credit scholarship is aimed at students of limited financial means, and the average household income last year was roughly $24,000, only 5 percent above poverty. More than two-thirds of the students are black or Hispanic, more than half live in single-parent households, and research shows they were the lowest academic achievers in the public schools they left behind.

With the scholarship now entering its 14th year, we don't have to guess about how it is performing. Standardized test scores show us these students are consistently achieving the same academic gains each year as students of all incomes nationally. Just as important, the public schools most impacted by the scholarship are themselves making commendable test-score gains.

As for the financial impact, multiple independent evaluations reassure us that the scholarship actually saves tax money that can be used to enhance funding for traditional public schools. The state Office for Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability found in 2010 that it was saving taxpayers $1.44 for each $1 lost in tax credits. So the scholarship helps, not hurts, traditional public school funding.

These facts suggest the lawsuit is not only cruel but self-defeating. No wonder the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of School Administrators have dropped out. A Leon County circuit judge dismissed the case in May, a ruling which the FEA has said it will appeal all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, even though three different state Supreme Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld the constitutionality of tax credit scholarships.

Maybe the FEA was angry with lawmakers when it decided to file this lawsuit, but lawmakers won't be the ones who get hurt. If the FEA wins, economically disadvantaged children will lose. And so will school districts.

Gary Chartrand is executive chairman of Acosta Sales and Marketing, a current member and former chairman of the Florida Board of Education and a director of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is poised to play a key role in advancing three civil rights protections. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
    A federal judge and the governor send positive signals on restoring rights for felons. But the state has more work to do.
  2. Medal of Honor recipients Retired Army Maj. Drew Dix, left, and Ret. Army Sgt. Maj. Gary Littrell pose for a portrait during the start of the Medal of Honor Convention held at the Tampa Marriott Water Street in Tampa, Florida on Monday, October 21, 2019.  OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Thursday’s letters to the editor.
  3. Former Ambassador William Taylor leaves a closed door meeting after testifying as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    William Taylor demonstrates how to stand up for integrity and national purpose, says columnist Timothy O’Brien
  4. Emmett Till, shown with his mother, Mamie, was murdered in 1955 in Mississippi at age 14.
    Courage is why Emmett Till’s legacy is bulletproof. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  5. Men and boys pose beneath the body of Lige Daniels, a black man, shortly after he was lynched on August 3, 1920, in Center, Texas.  This scene was turned into a postcard depicting the lynching.  The back reads, "He killed Earl's grandma. She was Florence's mother. Give this to Bud. From Aunt Myrtle." Wikimedia Commons
    Trump faces a constitutional process. Thousands of black men faced hate-filled lawless lynch mobs.
  6. Editorial cartoons for Wednesday CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  7. Scott Israel, former Broward County Sheriff speaks during a news conference in September. A Florida Senate official is recommending that the sheriff, suspended over his handling of shootings at a Parkland high school and the Fort Lauderdale airport, should be reinstated. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    The Florida Senate will vote Wednesday whether to remove or reinstate former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. Facts, not partisan politics, should be the deciding factors.
  8. An ROTC drill team participates in competition.
    Here’s what readers had to say in Wednesday’s letters to the editor.
  9. On Oct. 17, 2019, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney arrives to a news conference, in Washington. On Sunday, Oct. 20, on "Fox News Sunday," after acknowledging the Trump administration held up aid to Ukraine in part to prod the nation to investigate the 2016 elections, Mulvaney defended Trump’s decision to hold an international meeting at his own golf club, although the president has now dropped that plan. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    Flagrant violations are still wrong, even if made in public. | Catherine Rampell
  10. In this photo released by the White House, President Donald Trump, center right, meets with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, standing left, congressional leadership and others on Oct. 16 in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via AP) SHEALAH CRAIGHEAD  |  AP
    The House speaker is increasingly is acting almost like a prime minister. | Eugene Robinson
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement