It’s spring and that means it is time for the annual assault on Florida public schools by the powers that be in Tallahassee. For the third year in a row Governor Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have crafted a bill that will divert even more taxpayer dollars to private schools that are unregulated and have no accountability to anyone for what they teach. Some of these are schools that deny evolution, teach creationism, deny climate change, teach that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, and much more pseudoscientific garbage. And they do it with our tax dollars. (See our posts about this: Blatant creationism in “Schools Without Rules”; Reactions to Schools Without Rules article; More reactions to Schools Without Rules article.)
SB 48 is a massive 150 plus page bill. Filed by Republican Senator Manny Diaz, it consolidates, expands, and adjusts five existing scholarship programs into two programs that will now be designated “education savings accounts.” The five programs are a complex, hard to navigate mess because each one was designed individually to get around legal challenges.
A quick refresher: Tax Credit Scholarships allow businesses to receive tax credits for contributing money to one of the education scholarship funds. If you have purchased a car in the past few years you were probably asked during the final paperwork signing if you would like to donate some of your sales tax to education scholarships. This is where that money went. Because the money is donated pre-tax and never enters the general revenue pot the courts have ruled that tax credit scholarships are legal under the Florida Constitution. Of course, other sources of revenue have to be found to compensate for the general revenue money lost pre-collection and the taxpayers foot the bill and public schools suffer from the loss of revenue. The pre-tax concept was a cynical effort by a legislature and governor obsessed with funneling state revenue to unregulated private schools to circumvent the Federal and State Constitutions.
Also remember that more than two-thirds of the state scholarship dollars go to private, religious schools. Most of those are conservative Christian schools.
When DeSantis became governor, he and Corcoran (both strong advocates for school vouchers which they prefer to call school choice) started funding their new scholarship programs with general revenue. In the current session, SB 48 will merge the five existing scholarship programs into two programs and they will be officially designated as “education savings accounts.” ESA dollars can be used for a broad array of “educational purposes” including private school tuition, digital devices, tutoring, and access to the internet. In addition, for the first time funds will be taken from the pot of money designated for public schools, reducing the money available to public schools already struggling with COVID and unfunded security costs. SB 48 expands scholarship awards to 97.5 per cent of student funding calculation. It provides for an annual 1 per cent growth rate in scholarships for McKay-Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. It decreases state auditor general operational audits of the nonprofit scholarship funding organizations from annually to once every three years but does require SFOs to be audited in the other two years by a CPA of their choosing.
One thing that isn’t changed is the complete lack of accountability for schools receiving money from the new education savings accounts. There are no standards for curriculum, no standards for teacher qualifications, no standards for buildings used as schools. Parents get the school choice and we, the taxpayers, pay the bills so these private schools can indoctrinate their charges with false science.
Contact your legislators and urge them to reject SB 48.
(Post written by Florida Citizens for Science secretary David Campbell.)