Religious Minorities

Florida’s New Voucher Bill Threatens The Very Existence Of Public Education. Backers Want To Export It To Other States.

  Rob Boston

Yesterday, the “Wall of Separation” told the story of a principal of a public charter school in Tallahassee, Fla., who was forced out after some sixth-grade students were shown an image of Michelangelo’s famous “David” sculpture in class.

As outrageous as that situation is, things are about to get a lot worse for public education in the Sunshine State.

School Vouchers For Billionaires

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently signed legislation creating a universal school voucher program in Florida. Under the bill, any student can take part – there’s no income cap. Starting this summer, Floridians will be subsidizing private school tuition for millionaires – and even billionaires – who could easily afford it.

Participating private schools are allowed to discriminate in admissions, and oversight over private school curricula is minimal at best. Parents who engage in homeschooling are also allowed to participate.

Diane Ravitch, a writer who specializes in education issues and is a strong defender of public education, noted on her blog, “Voucher schools are completely unregulated. The students are not required to take state tests; the schools are not required to hire certified educators. Anything goes. Florida has tough accountability for public schools, but no accountability for voucher schools.”

And as is often the case with voucher plans, the amount offered doesn’t cover full tuition at many private schools. The plan – which could end up costing the state $4 billion annually – will essentially be a subsidy for upper-income families.

Fly-By-Night Schools

Voucher boosters say more affordable private schools will spring up once the voucher plan gets in place. But that’s not a good thing. Fly-by-night schools that try to do things on the cheap are in no one’s interest. The education of our children is not the place to pinch pennies.

The Orlando Sentinel has been conducting an in-depth investigation into Florida’s existing programs for six years. The newspaper’s series, “Schools Without Rules,” exposed a host of problems – private schools hiring unqualified teachers, religious schools that teach creationism over sound science, schools that ignore the legacy of racism in America, schools that ban LGBTQ students and schools that fire teachers for being gay.

Public Education Targeted Nationwide

Despite these problems, Florida lawmakers plowed ahead with a reckless plan that puts the entire existence of public education in that state at risk – and an unholy alliance of Christian Nationalists and extreme free marketeers who hate public education is eager to export this model to other states. Utah, Iowa and Arkansas have already passed similar voucher plans (although a voucher bill failed last night in Georgia). These voucher-adopting states are likely to experience the same problems with accountability that we’ve seen in Florida.

Voucher advocates’ plan is to privatize secondary education and take what has traditionally been a public responsibility and turn it over to a patchwork of religious and private interests that yearn to elevate ideology and profit over learning.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned, America.

P.S. Learn about the many problems with school vouchers at the website of the National Coalition for Public Education, which is co-chaired by Americans United.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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