Undercutting A+ incentives
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001
Public school students have passed another round of Florida's high-stakes Comprehensive Assessment Test, and Gov. Jeb Bush is suitably proud. "The marked improvement in this year's FCAT scores is evidence that the goals established at the inception of the A-plus plan continue to be met," he told reporters on Tuesday.
The stated A+ goal was to improve public schools, and the latest round of test scores once again presents a test of the governor's sincerity. By all indications, the schools have done so well on the test that none of their students will be given vouchers to attend a private school. Both Bush and education commissioner Charlie Crist expressed satisfaction with that result, as they should. But Bush now faces a voucher plan that would undercut the A+ incentives.
A corporate tax credit that passed the House and Senate on the session's final day, tucked inside a bill that legislative leaders knew would pass, is headed to the governor's desk. The bill would allow corporations to get a dollar-for-dollar state tax break for private school scholarships for students from low-income families. It was pushed by groups that advocate statewide vouchers. In fact, those groups have become disenchanted with the A+ plan because public schools are meeting the test-score goals the governor set for them. The result is that the state's original voucher program is not expanding.
If Bush is right that the threat of vouchers has motivated public schools to improve, then he should want to stop any voucher plan that is not linked to school performance. The tax credit plan (tucked in House Bill 21) gives private school vouchers to any poor student, regardless of whether the public school he or she is attending is performing well. That is contrary to the governor's A+ plan. If Bush is sincere about his incentives for public schools to improve, he will veto the corporate voucher bill.
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