Has it really been that long? Yep. Six years since the voucher lobby last took a chance and put the issue of private school vouchers to a vote of the people. And the people of Michigan and California left little doubt as to what they thought of the concept.
After that twin debacle in 2000, voucher advocates focused their energies and dollars on politicians instead, working to elect pro-voucher candidates and convince state legislatures to enact programs. On that front they’ve had only middling success but at least they haven’t been skunked like they were when the voters weighed in.
Which brings us to Florida. When the state Supreme Court struck down Florida’s flagship voucher program earlier this month, we noted its potentially devastating blow to the national movement. Last week in Tallahassee some of the biggest names in the voucher movement got together as talk of a potential constitutional amendment to salvage vouchers continued to percolate. Will the issue actually reach voters’ November ballots? The Legislature convenes in early March.
If it does get that far, expect “accountability” to be a major issue. Florida’s voucher programs have been riddled with scandals. And lack of accountability factored prominently in the Supreme Court’s decision, which noted that private voucher schools, despite receiving taxpayer dollars, do not face the same basic requirements the state’s public schools do, such as public reporting of student achievement, teacher qualifications and academic standards. Some politicians and pundits recently have speculated the decision threatens lots of education programs, practically suggesting that the ruling means every classroom in Florida must have the same color paint on the walls. Seems to us the Court laid it out pretty clearly. On big issues like public accountability and academic performance of students, there’s a double standard between public schools and voucher schools.
At the Tallahassee event, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, said this: “If you don’t measure, you don’t care. In Florida, we care, so we measure the be-jesus out of everything.” Everything that is except private voucher schools.