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Campaign contributions, powerful groups propel debate over school vouchers

Nearly 200 schoolchildren greeted Senate President Don Gaetz last month when he visited a Catholic school in Pensacola to get a first-hand look at the impact of Florida’s controversial school voucher program.

Gaetz said he left St. John the Evangelist Catholic School convinced that the Florida Legislature should expand the program, which provides private-school scholarships to low-income children.

But the fate of the proposed expansion is not riding on the power of persuasion from students, parents and teachers alone. More powerful political forces are at work in Tallahassee.

Those forces include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and influential think tanks like the conservative James Madison Institute and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. All have thrown their considerable weight behind the expansion.

And then there is the money. The voucher program’s top supporter, Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley, controls a political committee in Florida that spent nearly $2.4 million to influence races in 2010 and 2012. He plans to spend at least $1.5 million in 2014, he said.

The efforts have made expanding the voucher program a top priority of this year’s legislative session, which began Tuesday.

Read more here.


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I hope everyone knows vouchers may sound good on the surface, but there are several problems with how the voucher system functions. I could go into some of them, but the post would become an at least five-page article. So, just one.

There's a good reason the money is capped, because too many vouchers will create a 'tipping point' problem that will severely hurt both the public schools (by taking away the tax dollars that would have gone to the education budget) and the private schools who accept voucher students.

An expanded voucher program will only exacerbate problems for the good private schools - at least those that choose to accept voucher students (most of the better, well-established schools will not accept voucher students or will only accept voucher students who would otherwise qualify for the school).

Private schools still have many largely unanswered questions regarding voucher students - such as do they have to accept every voucher student, or can they deny enrollment based on test scores/interviews/resume/essays? Can they 'expel' a voucher student? There's tons more of these legitimate questions that need to be answered before expanding a voucher program.

Now, understand that it is the good schools, the ones who care about the quality of the education they are providing, who want these questions answered.

There's unfortunately plenty of mediocre and bad schools who are salivating to raid the education budget for their own profit, and yes, even if the school itself is non-profit, look at the salaries the administrators are making.

Here's an older article about John Kirtley.



Standardized tests force the public schools into a 'one size fits all' program. Are private and charter schools just so good they don't need any oversight? I guess if they make a profit they are good enough.

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