This blog has moved.

Please visit our new page here

« For Charlie Crist, the fan is a mainstay | Main | Charlie Crist broke rules by insisting on fans, debate organizers say »

Pro-voucher group flexes political muscle


School voucher supporters said they would get involved in Florida statehouse races this year -- and they are deliving on that promise.

Some evidence: this new mailer from the Florida Federation for Children supporting state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.

The education-themed mailer gives Fresen an A+ in three subjects: approving a record-high education budget, lowering college tuition costs and creating "more options" for parents (i.e. voucher programs and charter schools).

The Florida Federation for Children is a political communications organization that supports school choice. Its chairman is Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley, who helped craft Florida's original voucher legislation in 2001. (Kirtley also chairs Step Up for Students, the non-profit organization that runs the state's largest voucher program.)

Here's how the Federation describes its work: "We identify election circumstances in which there is a discernible difference between the candidates on the issues of parental choice and education reform, regardless of any other factor, especially party affiliation. We then engage in electioneering communications to voters throughout Florida, making them aware of candidates and their positions on issues of the day."

Its major funders include Kirtley, the American Federation for Children, Broward-based school management company Charter Schools USA, conservative philanthropist Roger Hertog, North Miami Beach physician Allan I. Jacob and Jacksonville businessman John D. Baker, II.

Since July, the Florida Federation has spent more than $827,000 on political races, records show. 

Some of that spending has targeted statehouse races.

Fresen, who oversees the education spending for the House, is in a tight race against Democrat Daisy Baez and independent Ross Hancock. Both Baez and Hancock have made their support for public schools a central focus of their respective campaigns.

The Federation has also sent mail pieces urging voters to support Republican Rene Plascencia, who is challenging Democratic state Rep. Joe Saunders in Orlando; and Republican Bob Cortes, who is challenging Democratic state Rep. Karen Castor Dentel. Political observers in Central Florida say they have seen mailers from the Federation attacking Castor Dentel, too.

That's not all. Kirtley has also made good on his promise to get involved in school board races

The Federation took an interest in school boards after the Florida School Boards Association filed a lawsuit challenging the voucher program. 

Kirtley said he already helped unseat two school board members who who serve on the FSBA in the August primary. His political organization is now throwing its support behind John Hill, who is hoping to serve on the Volusia County School Board.