Vouchers: Is this it?
Republicans in the House are still doggedly pushing forward this year’s educational “choice” initiatives, despite Senate enthusiasm for voucher expansion resembling the fevered excitement of a 12-year-old picking at a limpid beef bolognese.
On the eve of the final vote on HB 7167, what remains of Speaker Weatherford’s priority legislation is little more than a symbolic effort to save face. With the tax credit cap increase off the table, only an increase in per-student spending, now conjoined with a provision to create “personal learning scholarship accounts” remains active in the bill. The scholarship accounts, designed for special-needs students, would fund extracurricular services or private school attendance, outside of the public-school system. Yet another back-door attempt at diverting Florida tax-dollars away from public-schools, using once more as canon fodder, the less fortunate and underprivileged to pull Dems into a hard vote.
Erik “Ethics?” Fresen has the dubious honor of carrying this tepid water. His highly questionable connections to the for-profit charter company Academica have been chronicled here in past posts. Despite the impending death this bill awaits, he seemed to exact some small amount of pleasure in leading efforts to vote down, during the bill’s 2nd reading on Wednesday, the multiple, good-faith efforts by House Democrats to infuse a modicum of accountability and transparency to this wildly unregulated system.
Most surprising was the House’s steadfast refusal to approve Rep. Karen Castor Dentel’s amendment, which would have mandated public school-equivalent testing standards for voucher students. Senate President Gaetz has made it profoundly known over the course of this session that voucher expansion would only clear the Senate if a testing provision was included. Even Sen. Bill Galvano, despite receiving the largest single contribution from Charter Schools USA in 2014, spiked his own Tax Credit Expansion bill due to it lacking a testing/accountability provision.
While we at the Squeeze are busily attempting to run House Republican’s curious strategic decision making capacity through our Game Theory calculator, we’re going to chalk this up to a history of involuntary stubbornness by the Majority.
Yet we’re greatly encouraged by the tenacity the back row members embodied Wednesday. Led by rising Rep. Joe Saunders, the amendments were straightforward attempts at turning this lemon of a bill into something resembling lemonade. Also party to this effort were Reps. Danish, Stafford, Clarke-Reed, and Pafford, giving us a glimmer of a new progressive coalition within a caucus that has shown past difficulty in uniting over issues of voucher and charter school expansion.