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Can the House and Senate find a compromise on vouchers?

The House and the Senate would agree on the proposed expansion of the school voucher program, were it not for one sticking point.

Senate President Don Gaetz is insisting that children who receive the private-school scholarships take the statewide assessments or something similar. Gaetz also wants the private schools held accountable for the results.

But House leaders say that kind of testing provision is unnecessary. They point out that scholarship students are already required to take some form of standardized test, though the statewide assessment is not mandated.

This debate goes back to 2008, when Gaetz was sponsoring legislation to expand the voucher program. His original Senate bill would have encouraged participating private schools to have their scholarship students take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. But the House stripped the language out of its proposal, ultimately forcing the Senate to go along.

Flash forward to 2014.

Last month, House Speaker Will Weatherford said he would throw his weight behind a proposal to expand the tax credit scholarship program. Gaetz said he, too, would support the proposal -- so long as his provision about the state assessments was included.

Teachers union and parent groups say the new testing requirement makes the proposed voucher expansion a little more palatable, but they aren't exactly thrilled.

Why won't the House just agree?

Step Up for Students, the non-profit that administers the scholarship program, says it's not that easy.

For one, next year's state assessment will be a computer-based test. Many of the private schools participating in the tax credit scholarship program have neither the technology nor the bandwidth to administer an online test.

Private schools could send their scholarship students to nearby public schools for testing. But that would cost money, and there is no guarantee that the traditional schools could accomodate the extra test takers.

There is also a philosophical question. The state assessments measure how well students have mastered the state standards. But private schools, even those that accept scholarship students, are not required to teach the state standards. Many don't. Would it be fair to test scholarship students on standards they were never taught?

The compromise may be an incentive for participating private schools to teach the new state standards (now known as the Florida Standards) and administer the accompanying exams. 

We'll be watching.

Comments

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MarvinM

"Senate President Don Gaetz is insisting that children who receive the private-school scholarships take the statewide assessments or something similar."

I'm a little confused about the use of the word 'scholarship' here. I thought receiving voucher money was based on need and whether your kid was in a poor-performing public school. My understanding is if your student is in a C, B or A rated public school, you don't qualify for vouchers. I will happily take any correction ion that f I am wrong.

Calling them 'scholarships' is therefore misleading, I think.

But there is other very good info in this article that all on any side of the issue should pay attention to. An enforced, expanded testing (and how it will actually be accomplished, and what it would actually cost, and who would have to pay for it - the state or the private schools - is only one of the myriad issues).

Don't be 'all in" with something until you know the facts - what will be the ramifications? What will be the cost? Who will bear that cost?


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