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.