Democratic support for vouchers? Florida serves as a case study for Boehner, Lieberman.

When John Boehner and Joe Lieberman introduce legislation on Wednesday that would reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, as anticipated, they would be wise to look to Florida if they’re looking for bipartisan results, as Boehner has indicated. Lieberman, who became an independent only in 2006, championed voucher proposals for years as a Democrat, but that has never buoyed hopes among the program’s advocates for a bipartisan embrace. Only three other Democratic senators stood by Lieberman in his effort last March to reauthorize the scholarship.

By contrast, nearly half the Democrats in the Florida Legislature now support the Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income students, along with two-third of the Black Caucus and all but two members of the Hispanic Caucus. But that ratio of Democrats to Republicans wasn’t always the case. When the Legislature approved the program nearly 10 years ago, only one Democrat backed the plan.

What changed, and why is Florida so different? As Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute told a St. Petersburg Times reporter last year, the chief proponents of the Tax Credit Scholarship have cooled the political rhetoric from years past. That’s unlike Boehner’s provocation at President Obama. The House speaker’s statement to reporters begins, “If the president is sincere about working together on education reform …”

When it came time to consider a bill that would expand and strengthen the scholarship program, the Florida Legislature collectively approved the measure by a 122-34 margin. The following is a selection of quotes from lawmakers who voiced their support on the House or Senate floors. Try to spot who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican. The answer(s) will follow:

A): “I’ve been to these schools, and I’ve met these parents. These are good parents. These parents are not opposed to public schools. They’re trying to do what’s right for their child.”

B): “I’m a tireless supporter of public education … I think teachers, especially those in low-income neighborhoods, are heroes. But I also know that every child is different, and not every child will do well in their neighborhood public schools.”

C): “This gives us a unique opportunity because some of these kids are the poorest of the poor who get this opportunity to attend these schools … I know in my community how these kids are doing and how much they have been able to benefit from this.”

D): “I believe that what this is about is a child – and I don’t care whether that child is black or white or blue or green – and if that child will flourish in a private school setting, he should not be denied that opportunity because his parents can’t afford it. I stand in support of this. It’s not a tough call for me.”

Answer: They’re all Democrats (A. Rep. Bill Heller; B. Sen. Gary Siplin; C. Sen. Al Lawson; D. Rep. Darryl Rouson)

Avatar photo

BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit


Comments are closed.