Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Senate Tightens Reins on Vouchers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Senate Tightens Reins on Vouchers

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- Tacking on more regulations for private schools, the Florida Senate moved forward yesterday with a school-vouchers plan that has angered many vouchers supporters.

The Senate critics say the regulations are aimed at killing Gov. Jeb Bush's proposal to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send children to private schools. Among the changes approved yesterday: setting minimum standards for private-school teachers and requiring that the schools teach subjects ranging from math to African-American history.

"Our general view is that consumer protection is one thing. Government regulation is another," said Patrick Heffernan, the head of Floridians for School Choice, a Miami-based group that is lobbying to get Bush's plan approved.

But Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican who has helped spearhead many of the changes, said he and other senators are not trying to kill vouchers. He said the changes are designed to make sure tax dollars go to private schools that will provide quality educations.

"We, as stewards of the public good, need to know that we're not throwing money into the wind, or worse, to sham schools," King said.

After seven hours of debate over two days, the Senate today is expected to approve its vouchers plan (committee substitute for Senate Bill 1756).

Bush's plan, which would largely keep private schools free of new regulations, would provide vouchers -- which he calls "opportunity scholarships" -- to all students who attend chronically failing public schools.

Senators tinkered with Bush's plan yesterday but stopped short of totally revamping it. For example, they voted 20-18 to kill a proposal that would have required the state to grade the performances of private schools the same way it grades the performances of public schools.

"The purpose of the opportunity scholarships is to help children and not to turn private schools into government-run schools," said Sen. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, an opponent of increased regulation. …

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