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Topic: [ncsm-members] Florida Squanders $1 Billion on "Schools Without Rules"
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Florida Squanders $1 Billion on "Schools Without Rules"
Posted: Nov 8, 2017 2:19 PM
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From Diane Ravitch's blog - A site to discuss better education for
all, Friday, October 20, 2017. SEE
Florida Squanders $1 Billion on "Schools Without Rules"

By Diane Ravitch

This is a story about vouchers in Florida, where the state
constitution forbids the use of public funds "directly or indirectly"
for religious schools. Message to school-children: Ignore the state
Constitution. It is meaningless.

The Florida state Constitution forbids the use of public funds in
religious schools.

Article 1, Section 3 of the state Constitution says:

"Religious Freedom

"There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or
prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious
freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals,
peace or safety. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision
or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury
directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious
denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

Jeb Bush wanted to amend that language so Florida could provide
vouchers for religious schools. So, he got an amendment on the ballot
in 2012 called the Religious Freedom Amendment, or Amendment 8. What
clever wording! How many people would vote against "religious
Enough to defeat Amendment 8. Fifty-five point five percent (55.5%)
of voters said NO to vouchers.

But that didn't stop Jeb and his friends from cooking up ways to
bypass the State Constitution and the clear will of the people.

They proceeded to develop voucher programs masquerading as something
else: tax credits, scholarships, whatever.

The Orlando Sentinel just concluded an investigation of Florida's
voucher programs and concluded it is an unregulated sector that
enrolls 140,000 students and costs taxpayers $1 Billion per year. All
in a state whose Constitution prohibits vouchers and whose voters
opposed changing the Constitution.

The series begins like this:

"Private schools in Florida will collect nearly $1 billion in
state-backed scholarships this year through a system so weakly
regulated that some schools hire teachers without college degrees,
hold classes in aging strip malls and falsify fire-safety and health

"The limited oversight of Florida's scholarship programs allowed a
principal under investigation for molesting a student at his Brevard
County school to open another school under a new name and still
receive the money, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.

"Another Central Florida school received millions of dollars in
scholarships, sometimes called school vouchers, for nearly a decade
even though it repeatedly violated program rules, including hiring
staff with criminal convictions.

"Despite the problems, the number of children using Florida's
scholarship programs has more than tripled in the past decade to
140,000 students this year at nearly 2,000 private schools. If
students using Florida Tax Credit, McKay and Gardiner scholarships
made up their own school district, they would be Florida's
sixth-largest in student population, just ahead of the Jacksonville
"The scholarships are good. The problem is the school," said Edda
Melendez, an Osceola County mother. "They need to start regulating
the private schools."

"Melendez complained to the state last year about a private school in
Kissimmee. The school promised specialized help for her 5-year-old
twin sons, who have autism, but one of their teachers was 21 years
old and didn't have a bachelor's degree or experience with autistic

"I feel bad for all the parents who didn't know what's going on
there," she told the state.
"Last year, nearly a quarter of all state scholarship students -
30,000 - attended 390 private schools in Central Florida. The schools
received $175.6 million worth of the scholarships, which are for
children from low-income families and those with disabilities.

"During its investigation, the Sentinel visited more than 30 private
schools in Orange, Seminole, Lake, Osceola and Brevard counties,
reviewed thousands of pages of public records and interviewed dozens
of parents, private school operators, state officials and policy
"Unlike public schools, private schools, including those that accept
the state scholarships, operate free from most state rules. Private
school teachers and principals, for example, are not required to have
state certification or even college degrees.

"One Orlando school, which received $500,000 from the public programs
last year, has a 24-year-old principal still studying at a community

"Nor do private schools need to follow the state's academic
standards. One curriculum, called Accelerated Christian Education or
ACE, is popular in some private schools and requires students to sit
at partitioned desks and fill out worksheets on their own for most of
the day, with little instruction from teachers or interaction with

"And nearly anything goes in terms of where private school classes
meet. The Sentinel found scholarship students in the same office
building as Whozz Next Bail Bonds on South Orange Blossom Trail, in a
Colonial Drive day-care center that reeked of dirty diapers and in a
school near Winter Park that was facing eviction and had wires
dangling from a gap in the office ceiling and a library with no
books, computers or furniture.

"However, scholarships can be appealing because some private schools
offer rigorous academics on modern campuses, unique programs or small
classes that allow students more one-on-one attention, among other
benefits. Bad experiences at public schools also fuel interest in

"Parents opting out of public schools often cite worries about large
campuses, bullying, what they call inadequate services for
special-needs children and state-required testing. Escaping
high-stakes testing is such a scholarship selling point that one
private school administrator refers to students as "testing refugees."

"But the Sentinel found problems with Florida's programs, which make
up the largest school voucher and scholarship initiative in the

. At least 19 schools submitted documents since 2012 that misled
state officials about fire or health inspections, including some with
forged inspectors' names or altered dates. Eight of the schools still
received scholarship money with the state's blessing.

. Upset parents sometimes complain to the state, assuming it has
some say over academic quality at these private schools. It does not.
"They can conduct their schools in the manner they believe to be
appropriate," reads a typical response from the Florida Department of
Education to a parent.
. The education department has stopped some schools from taking
scholarships when they violated state rules, from the one in Fort
Lauderdale led by a man convicted of stealing $20,000 to a school in
Gainesville caught depositing scholarship checks for students no
longer enrolled. But the department often gives schools second
chances and sometimes doesn't take action even when alerted to a
. Florida's approach is so hands-off that a state directory lists
private schools that can accommodate students with special needs -
such as autism - without evidence the schools' staff is trained to
handle disabilities."

Since Betsy DeVos considers Florida to be a national model, you
should read this series and learn what's heading your way and stop it
before it gets into your state.
Jerry P. Becker
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
College of Education and Human Services
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
625 Wham Drive / MC 4610
Carbondale, Illinois 62901

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