School Voucher Debate Continues in Florida Legislature

Republican lawmakers are working to change the constitution to make them legal again, but the outcome is anything but a sure bet.

As the state Senate went into session, the question of whether the state would continue sending kids from failing schools to private schools was up in the air.

Voucher legislation was first on the agenda and got quickly passed over. In the gallery, sleeping kids who made an overnight trip from south Florida brought by proponents to serve as a visual reminder. Mom Lynette Esponsa came to fight for vouchers.

Lynette said, “As a parent, the parents have to look what’s happening in the classroom and be advocates for their children, and I tell my parents that I’m an advocate who’s going to be an advocate for children after what’s happened with the opportunity schools.”

Radio ads have also been targeting two African-American state senators in Jacksonville and Orlando. Saving vouchers is one of Jeb Bush’s top priorities, but last week the Senate killed another one of his priorities, repealing class size, so Bush has been pulling out all the stops to win this one.

Gov. Jeb Bush said, “All I’ll tell you is we’ve got commitments for it to pass, but that doesn’t mean it will.”

But educators are rallying to kill the constitutional amendment.

Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association said, “Don’t have the votes yet.
Whether or not they’re going to get them, I think there’s a lot of horse trading going on behind the scenes, so we’ll have to see.”

Even if the voucher question is left off the ballot, vouchers are likely to survive through a yet to be crafted scheme that would use corporate tax credits to pay for private school.

One trade voucher proponents will have to make if vouchers are to continue will be to agree to greater accountability.