Testing Conflict Kills Scholarship Bill in Florida Senate

Step-Up-logo-2013Yesterday in the Florida Senate, the sponsor of an important tax credit scholarship bill withdrew the legislation. This means the effort to strengthen and expand this scholarship for low-income children is, in all probability, dead for this year.

The bill was withdrawn because of a testing dispute. The Senate President wanted all scholarship students to take Florida’s new state test next spring, which presented insurmountable logistical challenges and created political fractures with the Republican Caucus in both chambers.  Consequently, the bill’s sponsor, Senator Bill Galvano, had little choice but to withdraw his bill.

Currently, Florida’s tax credit scholarship students are required to take either the state test or a state-approved national-normed standardized test. This approach has been widely embraced by scholarship parents and schools across the political spectrum, and continues to be the preferred approach of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that runs this blog and is the scholarship program’s primary administrator.

Over the last several months, thousands of scholarship families have joined with community activists and faith-based leaders from across Florida to advocate for this bill. Their energy and passion for insuring all children have access to the schools that best meet their needs is extraordinary, and the political surge these newly empowered activists have created will continue to grow.

Even without this legislation, the scholarship program will add about 10,000 students this fall, and serve approximately 70,000 students.

While this is a disappointing legislative loss, we are already starting to organize for next year. The struggle for equal opportunity is never easy.


  1. Tradtional Public School Teacher

    Perhaps we need another voucher program to compete with yours. Clearly you are not very effective at getting your legislation passed. LOL. Oh, and in that video floating around where you talked about how the IB school your son attended was one of the best in the world but failed your son, I saw proof that your people will A L W A Y S blame the school (meaning the teachers) when a child struggles. Maybe your should not have beed in IB to start with! And before you indignantly state that your kids should not be brought into this, remind yourself that you brought him up first!!

    • Good idea teacher, Florida should have another voucher program. Universal school choice for all. If students and parents aren’t happy, they can leave and go attend any other school, anywhere, at anytime. I like the way you think.

    • Excellent points TPST. Patrick Gibbons from Step Up For Students was interviewed via phone on WMNF radio Last Call on Friday by Janelle Irwin. His claims about the video were that the points and the video itself were taken entirely out of context. Groups have had that video for several years but chose to put it online now. The content may be Politics 101 to Mr Tuthill but many of the remarks were demeaning to minority children, African American minister and the Dem legislators they could reportedly manipulate their votes on vouchers.

      However I am still waiting on Pinellas County Schools to 1. improve public schools on the Southside and 2. provide seats in the “choice” programs we have in magnet and career academy schools. The failure of the school district to expand the number of Fundamental Schools is a huge problem. I know the issue. Where will all the traditional students go if their zoned school becomes Fundamental? How are you ever going to improve the quality for all students if you keep blinders on regarding the expansion of Fundamental Schools?

      • Patrick R. Gibbons

        Hi Jim,

        Thanks for listening. That video has actually been brought out several times since it was put up on YouTube back in 2011. The press pretty much ignored it until this year because it was, as you said, a politics 101 issue.

        Doug was not insinuating that minorities were being manipulated. In fact, he stated quite the opposite. About 70 percent of the students on the tax-credit scholarship are black or Hispanic and the average family has an income barely above the federal poverty level. The 527s and 501c4’s empowered these students and parents to have their voices heard. Those organizations created the political organization necessary to connect low-income minority families with their community leaders and policymakers. That is why nearly half of the Democrats in the state legislature voted in favor of the tax-credit scholarship expansion in 2010.

  2. While I am in favor of school choice, I am not the least bit surprised that this bill did not pass. It did not stand a chance in the senate, as well as everyone already knew it would cruise past the house. It was no secret which led the committee to stop hearing arguments in order to move on to voting.

    The argument of “Accountability” is one that totally freaks out “Private Schools.” The thought of receiving millions of tax payer dollars and being forced to be “accountable” as defined by both Republican & Democrats drove them to drop this wonderful bill. Yes, I was in favor of the expansion.

    As long as Step Up for Students continue to believe that the public will continue to pay money to schools that want to accept “Caesar’s” money and do whatever they like as it related to admission practices, they have something else coming. Rather than continuing to fight for the “businesses” that ultimately are the recipients of the dollars. The battle should once again focus on the students. It was no secret that having this legislation move on would have netted accountability…. Great move in dropping it…. But let’s move our focus on the kids. Should they be able to pass a test which would demonstrate strengths and weakness in any given program? Assessments that would provide “like” comparisons. Should Step Up include language to protect students with disabilities that with reasonable accommodation may be allowed to participate? The term “School Choice” has always related to the parent having the choice to walk with their feet to another school. Maybe it’s time the schools be given the “choice” to participate in the program including provisions that would satisfy the outcry for accountability. Not doing so is costing more children the opportunity to be a part of a great program. Protecting the “private” school interests is hurting the potential for ever expanding.

    Surely you will respond with the rhetoric often seen in this blog… But it is just that, rhetoric. Both Democrats and Republicans have caught on. Do what is right for the kids. Give the schools the “choice.” Instituting non discriminatory practices along with those that will provide “like” accountability will grow this program in leaps & bounds.

    Otherwise, this is continue to be a stalemate or even worst face elimination. With your current “stance,” Step Up for Students will be eliminated in the next 5 years. This will be a sad day for the kids. Keep it from happening!

    • Patrick R. Gibbons

      Hi RC,

      The scholarships are privately financed. The tax-credits go to corporations who make a donation. There is no tax-payer money going to private schools.

      That said, many would argue that private schools have more accountability because parents can take the scholarship and leave for another school. Students are even allowed to attend another public or charter school if they are unhappy with the private schools.

      That said, a single state test is not accountability. A test is a measurement. Accountability is what you do with results. Private schools were already required to administer state approved norm-referenced tests.

  3. I’m curious about the fact that charters and private schools want the same access to funding and support as public schools, yet not be accountable for the success of their students. The stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming. Charters cannot do what public schools do, period.

    I’m curious as well about how much of this funding goes towards salaries for charter administration as well.

    I watched the video. Mr. Tuthill was hardly taken out of context when explaining the corporate strategy to take down public education. If certain factions are taking offense, it is only because now they see themselves played as the pawns that they have become for SUFS and their minions . . . Just follow the money. I hope Mr. Tuthill is enjoying his 30 pieces of silver . . .

    • Patrick R. Gibbons

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the comment. I covered the issue of accountability in another blog post here: http://www.reimaginedonline.org/2014/03/school-choice-accountability-problem-sameness/

      Having the same exact test is not necessary for accountability. Accountability is what you do with the results. Parents do get the test scores and they are allowed to take their child to any other school they wish. Some argue that is a higher form of accountability than other programs which do not allow students to transfer out at any time.

  4. And there in lies the problem… You need to stop trying to convince Floridians that this is not tax money. It is tax money! Treat it as such and your program will grow! Just trying to give you friendly advice…..

    • Patrick R. Gibbons

      Hi RC,

      The scholarships are not tax money, the scholarships are privately financed. Old fashioned school scholarships are privately financed and individuals and corporations receive a tax deduction. That means less revenue to the state as well (if no donation was made there would be no tax deduction and thus more tax revenue). Furthermore, when a student takes a regular scholarship to attend a private school the state does not provide FEFP funding for that child (since they did not choose a public or charter school). The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program is functionally no different, except instead of a tax deduction, donors receive a tax credit. The tax credit is provided to encourage more donations which, in turn, empowers more students to choose a different school if they want.

  5. Kids taking vouchers should be required to take the same test as my children. You can claim this is “private” money but these vouchers are funded with credits that could go into public coffers. It is semantics. Furthermore, you can claim that a test is not accountability, it is what you do with the results. Fine. Private schools with voucher students who are deemed not learning should be fined, have state bureaucrats administer oversight of the school, harass the teachers with bureaucratic paperwork, have their teachers do special inservices and so many of the other moronic things that public schools must deal with! Oh yeah, and they should stop teaching creationism and teach real science like evolution. There is your accountability! Look out, private schools. Watch what you wish for because if you want money that should go to the public then you need to operate the way the rest of the schools operate.

    • “parent” should have referenced himself as “public school teacher” advocate. Genuine VOUCHERS (from the same source) would be the final death to the public school for any truly THINKING parent…

      Accountability of parents’ feet and choice is behind the Charter Schools which have put a dent in public schools, receiving MONEY from the same source, the publics’ real estate taxes.

      As for public school teachers that don’t produce results, “parent” thinks their over-sight system would HARASS private schools which is his desire, to eliminate any competition in the education arena. Whereas Private School and Home School parents PAY for their own transportation, books and tuition (which is paid by them at the same time for their public school counterparts) in real estate taxes on their home or rental home, and investment real estate. i.e. they are paying TWICE, first for others as it’s forced upon them and secondly for themselves. YES genuine CHOICE vouchers…. Let the parents be the accountability bosses instead of fat cat government workers.

      If “private schools” operated with the same failure rates as public schools — then they would cease to exist. But “parent” desires, to control others’ until they just agree with him. Typically what the liberals call equal access, tolerance, and choice. 🙂 TRUE science is not the religion of evolution. The missing links are still missing Darwin. And the fossil record is in, even sea shells on Mt. Everest.

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