Despite a national mood that favors the Republicans, Florida’s GOP faces a potential final day in complete control of the legislature today. This is a final opportunity potentially for the Jeb Bush backed education “reformers” to have a clean bite of the apple after beginning the destruction of Florida’s Public School system in Bush’s first year in office, 1999. That session, Republicans had to twist arms to get Bush’s A+ plan through despite having large majorities in both houses. Further attempts to expand vouchers came and went, some successfully like in 2001, some unsuccessfully like in 2005 thanks to a handful of moderate Republicans in the State Senate.
Those moderate Republicans who blocked the 2005 vouchers expansion and then were critical in blocking the 2012 efforts to push Parent Trigger legislation were all out of the State Senate after the 2012 election. Fears that the Senate would simply become a rubber-stamp for the House were loudly articulated but thus far the Senate has held firm. Last session Parent Trigger returned and once again the State Senate stayed strong. This session, voucher expansion has had a difficult road in the Senate, a road we hope ends today in failure.
While this website has editorizled extensively about House Democrats and vouchers we understood that this session, much like the previous 15 sessions, that voucher legislation would not be stopped in the lower chamber. But strategically uniting Democrats on vouchers was important and we are proud of the House caucus for the strong and united voice they spoke with. However, we always understood the fight was in the Senate and that is where this website has focused its efforts and targeting the past two weeks on this issue we feel is as important as any in this state.
Today in the Senate concerns remain about three Democrats that could crossover on this vote providing key support to the school privatizers and leaving moderate Republicans with no cover to cast a vote against the latest attempt to expand school vouchers in Florida on procedural or substantive matters today. It is worth noting no state in the union has passed more school “choice” legislation than Florida since 1999, and yet the return on all of these voucher schemes has been negligible for the state as a whole.
Let’s establish something right here and right now. Despite the ability of Republicans to show poll numbers in support of their views on other hot-button ideological matters like guns, economic issues, and some women’s reproductive issues, vouchers is time and again a loser in public opinion surveys. Many Republicans know this but keep digging deeper thinking the more they expand the voucher programs the better education results will get and public opinion will eventually swing. Additionally, vouchers is the product of right-wing think tanks and foundations funded by some of the Republicans most influential donors and backers nationally. While Republicans in other states have been more careful about voucher expansion, in Florida the Republicans have thanks largely to Jeb Bush dug deep to push these dangerous proposals. So basically, the GOP in Florida has decided to govern based on ideological and personal interest rather than on public opinion and public needs on education.
Today Senate Republicans can decide if ideology and pleasing their former Governor Jeb Bush is more important than reflecting the will and sentiments of Florida’s parents, teachers and education professionals. Right now as I write multiple Democrats in the Senate are being pressured relentlessly to support vouchers today by the Republican leadership. By rule the Republicans need at least one Democrat to flip in order to bring the bill to the floor today.
With this being the possible final day of total Republican rule over the process, pushing this dangerous legislation the people of this state DO NOT want could be equated to the appointment of midnight judges and late pardons by an outgoing President.
It is reckless, it is irresponsible and it is flat out wrong.
10:30AM Update: We understand dozens of students being used as props for voucher proponents will be in the Senate Chamber today.
11:15 AM Update: The voucher proponents have the votes. For more information as the debate unfolds please follow our twitter feed at Twitter.com/Fl_Political_Sq