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Scott Reopens Door to School Vouchers

Surging enrollment offers lawmakers opportunity to pass a fiscal and educational upgrade
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: December 15, 2010 4:05 AM

Kenric Ward
As lawmakers wring their hands over an expected spike in K-12 enrollment, will they grasp an obvious, market-based solution?

An anticipated addition of 16,946 students next fall would require a $116 million increase in per-pupil funding. Though the teachers' union complains that Florida's per-pupil outlays are penurious, $116 million is nothing to scoff at.

With schools jammed by class-size reduction mandates and rising concern over the quality of public education, entrepreneurial GOP lawmakers should see this as an opportunity to revamp and expand the voucher program.

Yes, such a move would be challenged by educrats, who prevailed on the state Supreme Court in an unprecedented decision to curtail previous initiatives. But if vouchers remain good and legal for low-income and special-needs children, surely a way can be found to spread the wealth -- as more states are doing, with the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Vouchers yield a cost-benefit because the state can offer tuition checks at less than the current per-pupil rate, and families will seize them as an affordable way to remove their kids from crowded, dangerous or dysfunctional government schools. This takes the pressure off bulging classrooms and primes the pump for private education.

Florida's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability (OPPAGA) determined that the state's corporate school-voucher program for low-income students saved taxpayers $38.9 million in just one year.

Florida TaxWatch and the Collins Center for Public Policy at Florida State University conducted similar studies and reached the same conclusion --  vouchers save taxpayers money.

Right now, more than half of Florida's school districts face millions of dollars in fines for failing to meet class-size reduction edicts. If officials would stop circling the wagons long enough to do some basic arithmetic, they would realize that vouchers can help them manage class sizes.

Then there's the academic payoff.

Several studies have shown that parents who use vouchers are more satisfied with their children's education, and other research indicates that vouchers improve public schools through heightened competition.

Incoming Gov. Rick Scott -- unlike his predecessor -- is a strong advocate of school choice and competition. His education team has drafted a proposal to give parents 85 percent of the state's per-pupil funding figure, which is $6,843 this year.

Educrats are shocked at the idea -- just as they are stunned by Scott's call to cut $1.4 billion from the K-12 budget -- but education reformers hail the voucher initiative.

"I don't think it's radical at all,'' Lindsey Burke, education policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told McClatchy News Service. "At this point, the radical notion is to trap a child in a failing public school.''

Rep. Erik Fresen, who chairs the House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee, said Scott's venture could unlock an "educational marketplace."

"The parent would not be bound by an attendance boundary, but rather would have the ability to compete and put their child in whatever school they think will best meet their child's needs," said the Miami Republican, who also vice chairs the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

What do you say, lawmakers? How about putting your money where your conservative principles are presumed to be?

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Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or (772) 801-5341.




Comments (3)

BM
7:48AM DEC 24TH 2010
I say it is about time. Seriously, if anyone with half a brain would just stop and look at the situation they would realize this is a very good solution. Here is a prime example. Little Johnny moves to a new school. All of his classes are full. Now the school has to hire one new teacher and possibly an aide. Or how about if those students had the opportunity to go to a private or charter school? Would the classes still be overflowing? My bet is they would not. There is something I do think Mr. Ward missed. Parents who would take advantage of this program tend to be more involved in their child's education, thus the grades and their education would improve. This is a win for the child and a win for our state when the education level is raised.
DH
3:50PM DEC 28TH 2010
Vouchers have been found unconstitutional previously in our state. Even Mr. Coulson believes Mr. Scott's plan will not fly. Perhpas Mr. Scott will fly in the same direction of Mayor fenty next election...out of office.
DH
3:50PM DEC 28TH 2010
Vouchers have been found unconstitutional previously in our state. Even Mr. Coulson believes Mr. Scott's plan will not fly. Perhpas Mr. Scott will fly in the same direction of Mayor fenty next election...out of office.

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