A big thank you goes out to Marie-Claire Leman who spoke against SB 48 Educational Scholarship Programs by Diaz today, February 3, 2021, at the Florida Senate Education Committee in Tallahassee. This bill is a final nail in what has been a twenty-two year quest by radical free market actors such as the Koch’s, DeVos and Jeb Bush to hollow out, dismantle and privatize Florida Public Education without public permission. SB 48 notoriously seeks to convert five voucher programs into Education Savings Accounts which will be funded from the state treasury and money meant for public schools. As a result of the consolidation of the Corporate Tax Credit Voucher, Family Empowerment Voucher and Hope Voucher, parents will get a $7,600 education savings account debit card to spend it on anything from private religious school tuition to computers to teachers who do not have to be certified. The second Education Savings Account will go to a newly combined MacKay Gardiner Voucher for ESE students. Voucher proponents have long touted the benefits to low income families. After twenty-two years of constant escalation of the scope of the program, the eligibility has crept up to 300% above Median Poverty Level for a family of four, or $79,000. Meanwhile, the average household income in Florida is poverty is $59,227. We are in trouble with this bill. Speak up while you can. Next stop, Senate Education Appropriations Committee.
Marie-Claire Leman’s full testimony to the Florida Senate Education Committee:
Fund Education Now is in support of Public Education and therefore we oppose this Bill.
SB48 is misleading in so many ways – the name alone of this “trust fund” you are calling “K-12 Education funding” is very misleading. I think it will lead taxpayers to believe that they are contributing to K-12 public schools. But the funding will be earmarked for the scholarships, not for our public schools.
SB 48 is disingenuous – in fact the whole process that got us here has been disingenuous. We were sold the idea that this was to help low income families, but the cap of 300% of the Federal poverty line makes families above the median household income eligible. The claim that this is current law is misleading as well; the FTC which is being subsumed in the FES has a cap of 260%, so for those scholarships, this is an increase in the cap. We were also told the Hope
Scholarship was to give bullied students in public schools other options. A mere two years later, apparently we no longer need that scholarship and students don’t even have to have attended a public school prior to applying for a scholarship.
SB48 is inequitable: For those who are not fooled by the narrative around choice and empowering parents, it is clear that the privatization of public education can only lead to deeper inequities. With the edu-debit card that this bill will provide parents (in some cases with far less $$ than is currently spent on their child in public school), many families will only be able to afford the barebones tuition with no guarantee of quality, while others will be able to supplement with
summer camps, after school activities and private tutoring. Things will continue to be as inequitable as they are now, minus the promise of high quality education.
SB 48 will be so confusing: again this is disingenuously being sold as easier to understand and simpler to navigate, but actually, parents are taking on all the burden of managing, budgeting, evaluating their children’s unbundled educational services and they are taking on the risk that providers won’t be qualified, that services won’t be approved, and soon, you can imagine, the Education Savings account will become a source of debt for these families.
There are many questions left unanswered:
-How will it work to pay for a class in a public school? Will “privately paying” students be
required to be on campus for lock down drills? Will their FSA score count in the school
grade? Teacher evaluation?
– What is a “designated student fund” which comes up a few times in this bill? Are we
earmarking funds for specific students?
– How can we have such a robust accountability system in public schools on the one hand
and then leave it up to parents to determine the evaluation of their child on the sole
Homeschooling criteria of “educational progress at a level commensurate with their
ability”? Don’t we owe it to the taxpayers in both cases to ensure that learning is
– During the pandemic we insisted that schools remain open and now the proponents of
this bill want us to believe they are not needed?
Finally, SB48 is Undemocratic: It unbundles and dismantles public schools, leading to the demise of a common good that has been part of our history and a pillar of our democracy, without even putting the question to the voters. I wish we could be here to discuss how we can improve our public schools so that they can meet the needs of all students, but that conversation never happens.