Florida Lawmakers Discuss Accountability for School Vouchers

An effort to head off financial abuses in Florida's School Choice Program will mean tough new accountability measures for private schools. Among the proposals is student testing and fingerprinting of school employees.

Florida's School Choice Programs allow students with disabilities or low incomes to attend private schools using public dollars, but sloppy record-keeping and allegations of theft and fraud have parents and lawmakers demanding action.

When the Legislature failed to pass any reforms, Florida Senate President Jim King this week predicted more scandals.

Frustrated by lawmakers who didn't get the job done, the governor is now taking the reform effort into his own hands. His office is working with the Department of Education and private school operators in an effort to head off more accounting problems in the voucher programs.

The Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools just signed off on the governor's proposal to tighten the voucher guidelines. Look for new student testing requirements for private schools that accept vouchers, background checks for school employees, bachelor's degrees required for teachers and tougher financial reporting rules.

Spokesman Mackay Jimeson says the Department of Education wants to restore parents' faith in the system.

"This comes to having an accountability measure in place so we can have integrity in the system while providing meaningful choice to parents so they can get resources to children who need them the most," says Jimeson.

Florida's chief financial officer released a scathing audit of the voucher system. Tom Gallagher believes reforms are critical.

Tami Torres with the Florida Department of Financial Services says, "His concern is to make sure there's full financial accountability in the Florida School Choice Programs."

Lawmakers who pushed for the reforms this spring say without the changes. More people will just abuse a system that's intended to help kids. Educators expect Jeb Bush will issue an executive order to put the tough new voucher reforms in place as soon as next week.

Some of the new requirements may have to be voluntary until the Legislature can take action later this year or next.