Last week in the Florida House, the Finance & Tax Subcommittee debated and approved the bill “PCB FTSC 14-02 Relating to Tax Credit Scholarships.” This is an attempt to dramatically expand a particular school voucher program (see a previous post on this). As we’ve stated before, Florida Citizens for Science does not take a position for or against vouchers overall. Our primary concern is the quality of science education in the schools that accept vouchers.
There is a video of the Subcommittee meeting that I finally had some time to watch. Go to this page and look for the archived video dated March 6, 2014.
There was a lot of discussion and debate on this bill. But we’re only interested in mentions of accountability, and there were plenty. But they all boiled down to just a couple of main points. Bill supporters said several times that there is testing in the private schools, but they didn’t go into much detail about which students are tested, when they are tested, how often they are tested, what they are tested on, the validity of the tests, are the test results public, etc.
Another defense used several times was that parents hold the schools accountable. If the schools aren’t doing their jobs, then the parents take their children out. Simple.
As I’ve pointed out before, that’s a horrible way to hold private schools accountable. It’s a fact that at least 146 private schools that accept vouchers are teaching creationism. And it’s a fact that many parents want creationism in the science classroom. As a matter of fact, I’ll let one of the people who spoke during public comment time make my point for me. In the meeting video, go to time 1:01:33. Pastor Alfred Johnson said (bold emphasis mine):
Does faith have a consequence in the education of our children? If all of our tax dollars are going — the majority of which is going to the public schools, which have an avowed agnostic tendency, could we be somehow suffering as a society because of that? [long pause] These faith based programs are bringing an angle that the public schools cannot. It’s amazing that we would feel that our society is going to advance when we don’t even recognize the creator and we’re not able to do it publicly. Our teachers are not able to teach it directly. Even this very room [he gestures to something off camera] is named after that man Mr. Morris that’s on the wall. Yet we cannot teach science and have the children reflect on it in a divine manner or in a manner that would reflect upon the divine.
I’m happy to see that Debbie Harrison Rumberger, a representative of the League of Women Voters of Florida, clearly stated to the committee (at about 1:20:26 in the video) that creationism is being taught in voucher accepting private schools. Unfortunately, no one appeared to be listening. This is THE elephant in the room! Students in these schools are getting a substandard science education!
And no one seems to care.