School “choice” advocates continue to pour money into Democratic campaigns

We’ve spent a lot of time the past week discussing the dangerous school “choice” proposals making their way through the legislature this session. As the deliberations about legislation that would destroy Florida’s public schools continue we have continued to explore the operation behind the proponents of vouchers.

The Miami Herald’s Kathleen McGrory has exposed a great deal regarding the voucher movement via some excellent reporting  in this recent article as well as this one from late last session. They are worth a quick read or re-read to get some context on this story.

Since TFS launched we have repeatedly cited John Kirtley, a Tampa venture capitalist and the force behind the national pro-voucher group “All Children Matter” as a malign force that was able to use campaign contributions to possibly influence the thoughts of many Democrats on the school “choice” issue.  In 2012,  Kirtley and his allies poured money into the Democratic primary campaigns for State Senate of Rep. Ron Saunders and Rep. Mac Bernard. Fortunately for public school advocates, strong progressive voices Rep. Dwight Bullard and Rep. Jeff Clemens were elected to the Senate instead which blocked the push by voucher groups to gain a majority of support in the upper-chamber of the Florida Legislature.

Voucher advocates have had for years trouble corralling moderate Senate Republicans but recently have scored numerous successes in the House even among Democrats. As we discussed earlier this week, recently many Democrats in the House have sacrificed support for public schools in the last few sessions for various reasons, be they campaign contributions, to curry favor with the House GOP leadership or because of a lack of Democratic leadership on this issue.

Today it is critical that  all elected Democrats and those seeking election in Florida stick together on this fundamental constitutional issue. However, this cycle the aforementioned John Kirtley donated to the reelection campaigns of five sitting House Democrats, perhaps once again increasing his ability to influence the House Caucus deliberations on this issue.

Reps. Bruce Antone, Katie Edwards, Shevrin Jones, Bobby Powell and Clovis Watson all accepted  $500 checks directly from Mr. Kirtley in this cycle. These checks were accepted by the members just as voucher legislation was beginning to make its way through the process on the House side.

While we have seen Democrats previously accept money from Kirtley or other voucher interests and vote the right way on legislation relating to public education, generally those who have accepted contributions from either him or his associated group, All Children Matter have voted the wrong way on school “choice” legislation. We have no idea how four of the five Reps plan to vote on voucher legislation but earlier this week, Rep. Jones voted for an expansion of the voucher program at the committee level.

We would urge every Democrat offered money by Kirtley or All Children Matter to refuse these campaign contributions. We would also urge the House members listed above to return the  money that was given to them by Kirtley.

As school “choice” legislation continues to progress this session we will be closely tracking the votes and statements of Democrats on this matter of the greatest importance to our state and our children.


  1. Dems in 14 · ·

    This is actually no big deal. Well it is a big deal but I actually thought that the voucher people would be giving money to everybody in the legislature. They probably tried to which means most of the Democrats refused. That is a very good sign.

    Katie Edwards is a lost cause. But every other Democrat is winnable on this issue.


    1. Katie Edwards may be less a lost cause then some others believe it or not on this issue. She did hold firm last year on parent trigger. We’ll see though, given her general conservative tilt.


    2. Katie Edwards is one the few representatives who has the courage to publicly endorse Nan. She is also the most outspoken for Medical marijuana. She is my representative and is smarter than all of you put together.


      1. Then use your influence with her to ask her to start voting the progressive way on guns and environmental issues. On both issues she is the furthest right in the Dem caucus. I’d prefer she endorse Crist publicly and vote better then endorse Rich and vote the wrong way consistently.


      2. Dems in 14 · ·

        She’s the worst Democrat in Tallahassee. A republican for all intents and purposes.


      3. She plays the repubs. like a fiddle. She even has you two fooled.LOL


      4. So Joe Kreps screaming loud liberal shouting NAN RICH can win is also a Katie Edwards supporter. Hypocrite!

        Do you have any clue Joe? Seriously you’ve totally undermined your credibility saying how great Edwards is. Talk to any Democrat on the inside here in Tallahassee and they will tell you how nasty, toxic and conservative she is on the issues that matter most to us and supposedly to you!


      5. Tony, no personal insults please about other posters. I realize Joe is out of the mainstream with our readers RE: Katie Edwards but do not insult him personally. Thanks.


      6. Floridian · ·

        The same Katie Edwards that was the only democrat running for state house to get endorsed by the NRA and the same Katie Edwards that reads sugars talking points about the Everglades to anyone and everybody who will listen?

        By the way she also voted for the alimony bill last year that the governor vetoed. She’s no good. Maybe Joe was talking about another Katie Edwards.


      7. She’s the worst. Edwards that is.


      8. Now that I have all your attention where is your support for the only progressive running for Governor?


  2. Obviously I am against vouchers like any good Democrat but I am surprised it isn’t more. Half the caucus I think is suspect on the issue.


  3. Concerned · ·

    You need to double check those campaign finance reports cause there are a LOT more Democrats that have taken Kirtley’s money through several accounts he has than you reported!


    1. I know…I just pulled individual ones. I am sure their are TONS more. Just thought I would get this one up first and then keep looking at other entities he controls.


  4. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    And the teachers union doesn’t throw around just as much $$$?


  5. Um it’s more than just those five. Kirtley’s committee has given Rouson, Taylor, Rogers, Clarke-Reed and B. Reed money as well. Look it up.


  6. floridian · ·

    It is shame that the state allows vouchers to start with. But the fact that they go mainly to poor kids who sit in parochial schools learning the false science of creationism is a joke. Don’t Republicans want poor kids to learn REAL science? I am a church-going teacher who votes Democrat and I am completely against vouchers! Please keep us informed of this issue Kartik!!!! I am with you 100% on this!


  7. Patti Lynn · ·

    This is such a misunderstood issue!! Does the Democratic Leadership have the ear of the members? This Kirtley fellow tries to convince minority legislators that it’s the BEST thing to help them. In reality, the money isn’t enough to keep poorer, (financially), kids in the schools, and the funds drained from the public schools ensure that there aren’t enough resources in the eastern schools.


  8. K in St. Petersburg · ·

    Kartik Krishnaiyer and Others:

    Another Florida Legislative session means more political musings on the subject of public education reform. If you are going to criticize the school choice and reform movement, you at least owe us the courtesy of an explanation and so far, this year is no different from last year. You have published a series of complaints about who is spending how much money to influence public education reform. So what / who cares? As a parent to two (2) small children, I am only interested in results. Without a detailed analysis of the allegedly negative impacts of these reform proposals, your writings do nothing to advance the value of public and private education in the state of Florida.

    If you want to convert opinions, you have to first detail why specific school choice and reform proposals are doing irreparable damage to our youth and the public education system. May I suggest you spend more time outlining whether the impact is on reading and math comprehension scores, high school graduation rates, college preparedness, peer-to-peer violence, etc.? Who is the source, and what is the data to support your arguments? I support the competition these ideas create and the choices they give parents but my support is not absolute.


    Republicans, conservatives, constitutionalists and libertarians have transparently put forth a cache of education reform solutions. These reform solutions include, but are not limited to, charter schools, vouchers, virtual learning centers, parent trigger controls, collegiate partnerships, variable licensing requirements, longer days, year-round schedules, etc. Each of these proposals were initially designed to achieve maximum flexibility in execution, accelerate the response time to emerging problems, perfect measurements of accountability, and ultimately improve student performance despite a deteriorating family and social environment.


    For years, this political right coalition has tried to work within the existing framework of local public schools; however, they have been met with strong and consistent resistance from administrators, the unions (who do not always represent the opinions of the public school teachers) and their supporters.

    These reformers are not radicals. Many of them are hard-working, blue-collar parents frustrated by a public school system that is unwilling or unable to react as fast as the changing conditions require. In Pinellas County, it is the overworked mother, the single dad or retired grandparent who just spent more than two (2) months conducting school visits and faculty interviews. Soon, a random selection process (lottery) will reject many of them. The demand for high-performing (public) magnet and fundamental schools far exceed the number of seats provided by the public school district. Forget our opinions, this extreme shortage is an indisputable, qualitative measure of failure in the public education delivery model.

    While their desperation pushes parents into private alternatives, the political left mocks them for their attempt to access the best education possible. Instead of suggesting ways to increase the number of magnet and fundamental offerings, the political left wastes its talent and energy inventing straw men and insulting the investors and entrepreneurs who are willing to give these lottery losers a better chance.


    Since it is shameful to blame the victim, you’ll likely blame the messenger. So, let me introduce myself. My mother is a retired public school teacher, I was educated in the public schools, attended two (2) state universities for my collegiate education and recently committed my kindergarten son to a Pinellas County public school.


    School choice and reform does not necessary mean anti-public. However, parents are an impatient bunch. We have a small window of time to nurture and teach our children; we do not have time to wait for change. Either the public schools will adapt or we will adapt by engaging more responsive, private schools. The progressive reformers of the political right, despite their imperfections and occasional failures are on the winning side of history. Our children will be better for it!




  10. K in St. Petersburg · ·

    Amazing and somewhat unexpected! Is there anyone affiliated with, or who posts to, The Florida Squeeze that is willing to construct a detailed and comprehensive critique of school choice and reform proposals?

    Following a series of attacks on school choice before the 2013 Legislative session, Kartik Krishnaiyer noted in his response on February 26, 2013, “I will outline some of the solutions from other states in a future posting…” That never happened. Further, in the same response, Mr. Krishnaiyer concluded, “…the fact that [Florida Democrats] haven’t offered viable alternatives … says all that needs to be said about their competence for leadership.”

    Perhaps on this subject, there isn’t a lack of competence among Florida Democrats? Perhaps the only viable alternatives are the reform proposals that each of you are complaining about? Perhaps your unwillingness to put forward any reform proposals, as evidence herewith, highlights the deficiency of your complaints about who is giving how much money to whom? Perhaps the real leadership failure is not doing what’s right for the children but only doing what’s right for the Party?


  11. […] returning to its previously strong anti-voucher stands despite the attempts of pro-voucher groups to infiltrate the party’s political […]




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