Companion bills in the state legislature are attempting to expand a school voucher program. The House bill recently got a green light from one of its committee stops, but news accounts point out that the House version may not quite match the version in the Senate. The House bill gives the voucher program a big boost with no strings attached. However, the Senate version will likely push for more accountability in the voucher-accepting private schools.
Florida Citizens for Science doesn’t stake out a position on vouchers overall, but we certainly do take a stand on wanting sound science education for all students in our state. Our concern is that research has revealed at least 164 voucher-accepting private schools teach some form of creationism in science classes. That shocking fact has been met with a dismissive shrug by nearly everyone here in Florida. That’s deeply disappointing and discouraging to those of us who love science and want to do something about this travesty.
The bad news is that those in the majority in the House don’t think private schools should be held to any standards (Gradebook blog).
Senate President Don Gaetz has said the proposal won’t pass in his chamber unless lawmakers require scholarship students to take the state tests.
The House proposal makes no mention of the assessments. And after Thursday’s meeting, Subcommittee Chairman Ritch Workman said he had no intention of adding that language to the bill.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Workman said.
Not everyone is blind, though (Ocala StarBanner).
Some of the most heated exchanges came over school accountability standards. Critics of vouchers often point out that private schools are not required to administer the same student exams as public schools, and their teachers do not have to be certified or undergo regular evaluations.
“Private does not equal high quality,” said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee.
The response is vacuous.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Finance and Tax Subcommittee Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne. He added, “I think the whole concept of making these private schools mimic the public schools would defeat the purpose of giving these parents choice.”
Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said private school families can vote with their feet.
“It’s the ultimate accountability because if the school doesn’t do a good job all of the students will be gone and the school will be out of business,” he said.
The problem is that not everyone knows poor quality education when they see it. Completely absent from this debate is the creationism angle. Too many parents want their children to learn misinformation because they dismiss the real science themselves. This gravely stunts their children’s education, shuts doors on the children’s future and perpetuates the cycle of scientific ignorance. Public schools are forbidden from teaching creationism in science classes due to several important U.S. Supreme Court and federal court decisions. Because some voucher supporters refuse to hold private schools accountable, money is being siphoned away from public schools where certified science teachers are expected to meet instructional standards and given to private schools where, in many cases, teachers with no certification can teach blatantly unscientific garbage. It’s an innovative way to work around a law some people don’t like.
I understand that mentioning the teaching of evolution in voucher debates would likely spark firestorms. But the ugly truth is that at least 164 voucher schools are teaching unscientific material in a science classroom using tax money. It’s the throbbing red sore thumb of this debate. Why does no one care?