The Tampa Bay Times published a powerful editorial about the Legislature’s enactment of yet another voucher program for private and religious schools. Needless to say, the Legislature does nothing for public schools other than to divert funding to nonpublic schools, enact mandates, and harass teachers.

The schools that get vouchers will not be subject to the school letter grades foisted on public schools. They will be free to take the students they want and throwout those they don’t want. They don’t have to follow the state curriculum standards or take state tests. Their teachers don’t have to be certified. They are relieved of  any accountability, while public schools are submerged in it.

The editorial begins:

They approved the death sentence for public education in Florida at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday. Then they cheered and hugged each other. The legislation approved by the Florida House and sent to the governor will steal $130 million in tax money that could be spent improving public schools next year and spend it on tuition vouchers at private schools. Never mind the Florida Constitution. Never mind the 2.8 million students left in under-funded, overwhelmed public schools.

The outcome of this year’s voucher debate in the decades-long dismantlement of traditional public education was never in doubt. It was sealed when Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was narrowly elected governor in November and quickly appointed three conservatives to the Florida Supreme Court. The overhaul of the court emboldened the Republican-led Legislature to approve the creation of vouchers that clearly are unconstitutional, confident that an expected legal challenge will be rejected. Elections have consequences, and this is a devastating one.

Don’t be fooled. This legislation is not just about helping children from the state’s poorest families attend private schools. It does more than take care of 13,000 kids who are on a waiting list for the existing voucher program that is paid for with tax credits. It raises the annual income limit for eligibility from $66,950 for a family of four for the current voucher program to $77,250 for the “Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.’’ That income limit will rise in future years, and so will the state’s investment in vouchers. Welcome to a new middle class entitlement.

Florida cannot afford this free market fantasy. The state ranks near the bottom in spending per student and in average pay for teachers. Hillsborough County has hundreds of teacher vacancies, broken air conditioning systems in dozens of schools will take years to repair and voters just approved a half-cent sales tax to help make ends meet. Pinellas County would need $1,200 more per student in state funding just to cover inflation over the last decade. Yet Florida will send $130 million to private schools next year for tuition for 18,000 students.

Legislators who voted for SB 7070 talked about empowering families and school choice. Parents in most communities already have plenty of choices. Nearly 300,000 students attend more than 600 publicly funded charter schools, and more than 225,000 students attend choice or magnet schools in their districts.

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran was in the House chamber for the vote. He previously served as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. His wife operates a charter school. He doesn’t like public schools or unions.

Jeb Bush was also present, happy to see another big step towards the vouchers he believes in. Ironically, he is the father of both the school choice movement and Florida’s harsh accountability regime (for public schools). I wonder if any journalist ever asks him why his beloved voucher schools are exempt from all accountability.

Despite the hostility of the elected officials to public schools, I’m not yet ready to call them dead. There are nearly three million students in Florida. Ten percent go to charters (at least half of which are operated by for-profit entrepreneurs), and another five percent choose to go to religious schools, most of which are inferior by any measure to the public schools.

More Than 80% of families choose public schools. When will the public wake up and start voting for elected officials who support the public schools to which they send their children?