Led by Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus on Thursday sharply criticized legislation announced today by Republican Senators dramatically expanding private school education vouchers by tapping public funds earmarked for traditional public schools.
“Siphoning taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools is not only bad policy, it’s unconstitutional,” said Leader Gibson. “The vast majority of Florida’s children still attend traditional public schools, carrying on a tradition which has withstood the test of time in providing a quality education despite the never-ending legislative attempts to undermine their mission. This latest move is not only an abandonment of the traditional public school system in Florida, but an abandonment of the constitutional obligation to fully fund a ‘high quality system of free public schools’ that has been built over generations by the people, for the people.”
Senate Democratic Leader-Designate Gary Farmer agreed. “This is the beginning of the final stage of a decades-long plan to privative public education in Florida, and the most aggressive move yet,” he said. “We are witnessing the return to separate, but unequal school systems of education. Taking public money to spend on unaccountable, non-transparent, private schools is not only unconstitutional, it’s outrageous, and should be condemned.”
Senator Janet Cruz, who has filed legislation to restore accountability to the Education Commissioner as well as prohibiting charter schools from operating as, or by, a for-profit corporation, also condemned the expansion plan. “We have watched the expansion of vouchers and gutting of public education funding, year after year,” she said. “Let us be clear: public schools are available for all students, and using public dollars to pay for private schools does not make it public education. We need a serious investment in our public schools, not an illegal voucher scheme that will jeopardize our kids’ futures.”
Senator Lori Berman, a strong advocate for the traditional public school system, echoed those comments. “Year after year we have fought for increased funding for our public schools and each year more funding is siphoned off for voucher programs. We continually undermine the goal of supporting our public K-12 educational system in Florida by expanding vouchers. Public school money should not be subsidizing private schools at the expense of our students’ education.”
Senator Lauren Book, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, expressed her opposition to the move: “Public dollars should not be diverted to unaccountable and non-transparent voucher schools under any circumstances, and I stand opposed to such a diversion.”
To former Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, the damaging consequences of voucher expansion extend even further: “The lack of commitment to our traditional public schools is a big component of the growing teacher shortage Florida is facing,” he said. “Bleeding more money by expanding private school vouchers is just going to compound the problem, and force more teachers to flee the state, or change professions.”