School Vouchers Remain Hot Topic in Florida

By Victoria Langley
April 12, 2007 6:45 p.m.

They came from all over Florida, students and parents who want to see the state’s controversial school voucher program expanded. They want more children the choice of attending private school if their public school isn’t making the grade.

Fifteen-year-old Cameron Johnson says the voucher program has given him a real chance.

Cameron said, "It’s a whole new world in a private school because you learn new things you didn’t know and it’s like a one on one with you and the teacher in private school."

Gov. Charlie Crist supports giving more options to parents of children who are struggling in the public school system. He told the mainly African-American audience education is the great social equalizer.

Gov. Charlie Crist said, "But it is only so if it is a quality education, and if you have the power to make the choice, if you get to make the decision for your children."

But many lawmakers worry an expansion of Florida’s voucher program will hurt more children than it will help. One proposal would use the state’s corporate tax credit scholarships to take kids out of failing public schools and put them in private schools.

Opponents including Sen. Frederica Wilson call it an end run around a Supreme Court ruling that declared a similar program unconstitutional.

Sen. Frederica Wilson, (D) Miami, FL, said, "If you have corporate dollars to give away, give the corporate dollars to the schools."

But the choices become harder for many lawmakers when they see the faces of kids who’ve come to believe private schools are their only hope.

The bill (SB 2380) to expand the state’s voucher program cleared its first Senate committee earlier this week, but it has two more committees to pass before the full Senate could vote on it.