Bigger writeoff for school vouchers is proposed

Rep. Trey Traviesa's bill would nearly triple the state tax credits for corporate vouchers.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008

Florida would nearly triple the amount of tax credits it allows for corporate vouchers under a bill filed Wednesday by state Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa.

HB 653 would increase the current cap by $30-million each year over the next five years, from $88-million now to $238-million in 2012. It also would increase the amount of individual corporate tax-credit vouchers from $3,750 to $4,500.

Voucher opponents were quick to pounce. "Imagine what they'd do ... if it wasn't bad economic times," Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said Wednesday. "You're in a situation where you're cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the education budget because of lower-than-anticipate revenues ... yet we're going to expand corporate vouchers."

Voucher supporters argue the opposite. Since it costs the state less to pay for a voucher than to support the same student in a public school, "We're saving the money," said Denise Lasher, a spokeswoman for Step Up for Students, a group that advocates for tax-credit vouchers. The legislation "helps with the budget crisis ... and class size."

Traviesa's bill proposes the voucher amount be annually adjusted to 62 percent of what the state spends per pupil. It would also offer private schools that accept such vouchers a $200-per-student premium if at least 95 percent of their voucher students take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Currently, those students - about 20,000 in all- do not have to take the FCAT.