Next week: A chat with Doug Tuthill


School choice in general is in the news a lot nowadays. And lately and more specifically, so is Florida’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. Administered by Step Up For Students (which co-hosts this blog), it’s the largest private school choice program in the country; it will serve about 60,000 students this fall; and as a number of stories in recent weeks have noted, including this one by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald capital bureau, it continues to grow rapidly.

We know there are many questions about the program and its expansion, so we’ve asked Step Up President Doug Tuthill to do a live chat on the blog next week. He’ll answer as many questions as possible over an hour or so.

Doug joined Step Up in 2008. Before then, he had been a college professor, a classroom teacher, the president of two teachers unions and a driving force behind the creation of Florida’s first International Baccalaureate high school.

At redefinED, we strive not to be an echo chamber, so we’re hoping we’ll get questions from a wide range of folks, including (and maybe even especially from) people who are skeptical or critical of what we do. We also strive not to be a promotional vehicle for Step Up, but we thought the recent news coverage justified a spotlight. Quite frankly, we’re also new to this live chat thing, and Doug is our guinea pig. 🙂

To participate in the chat, come back to the blog on Tuesday, Aug. 6. We’ll start promptly at 10:30 a.m., so click in to the CoveritLive program a few minutes before then.

In the meantime, if you have questions for Doug that you’d like to send in advance, please email them to, tweet them to @redefinedonline or post them on our facebook page.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at


Thank you so much in advance for your response….

Currently the majority of schools that participate in the Step Up program are “religious.” Parochial schools are exempt from from the provisions of the American Disabilities Act. An exemption “non-religious” schools do not have… This allows participating religious schools the ability to discriminate against students with disabilities not requiring them to provide reasonable accommodation while enjoying millions of Step Up dollars. For example, there is a local school that has a policy that states the following:

“*** only accepts those students who are ambulatory with no severe motor-control dysfunctions. They must have average intelligence with no emotional disorders or intellectual functions (such as Down’s syndrome and autism). Depending on the severity, hearing or vision impaired student’s may not be accepted. Academically elementary level students must be no more than one grade below level. In middle/high school level students must be no more than two grades below level. All students at *** are accepted by administrative approval only along with any expectations of the above. “.

This policy discourages parents from enrolling their children with disabilities that can be reasonably accommodated. This school has expelled students diagnosed with high functioning autism who have gone on to be successful in a general education classroom. This blanket policy has been used to not readmit a student that had straight A’s and performed in the 2-3 grade average despite being in Kindergarten. A decision that was made based on Child find eval done when the child was 4. No behavioral or academic issues identified for two years… However, “We do not accept autistic kids.”

Yes, this discrimination actually exists and not having any “disability” provisions for participating “Private” parochial schools is discriminating against student with disabilities.

What can Step Up do to keep participating schools from discriminating against students with disabilities that can be overcome with reasonable accommodations?

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