John Legg: Don't let vulnerable kids get mired in politics of education

Florida has successfully operated tax credit education scholarships for 13 years. More than 70,000 underprivileged students throughout Florida currently benefit from these scholarships, which provide important school choice options. These students, whose household incomes are only 5 percent above the poverty level, two-thirds of whom are black or Hispanic, and the majority of whom live in single-parent homes, are succeeding by every objective measure.

They were once among the lowest performers at their original public schools. Now, with the assistance of tax credit scholarships, these students have closed that achievement gap. In fact, for six consecutive years, Florida’s scholarship recipients have attained the same standardized test score gains as students of all income levels across the country.

Three state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have validated tax credit scholarship laws, yet certain entities still wish to steal away this precious opportunity from economically disadvantaged students by taking legal action against the scholarships here in Florida.

The Florida Education Association, a teachers union, has been the primary leader of this litigation. Just recently, they lost a key supporter in their lawsuit – the Florida Association of School Administrators (FASA). FASA is an association for administrators, district superintendents, principals, assistant principals, supervisors and those who support the public schools of Florida. The Second Circuit Judicial Court withdrew FASA from the lawsuit on Wednesday, April 8.

Dr. Juhan Mixon, FASA Executive Director, told a reporter “our main priorities are teaching and learning” and a prolonged court battle “is not our thing.” This is from a man who has spent his professional career in public education, including as a principal, assistant superintendent and the deputy commissioner of education. I have worked with Dr. Mixon for years and I applaud his courage and leadership.

The remaining supporters of this misguided lawsuit should consider some crucial questions before proceeding. What is the goal? What would be gained if 70,000-plus low-income students, who are succeeding, lost their scholarships? Have they asked the students and parents what they want? Could the school districts meet their needs?

Perhaps this latest development illustrates even more clearly the reason political education policy frustrations should not be taken out on the very children lifted up by this opportunity. This lawsuit jeopardizes the very kids who need it the most. The tax credit scholarships have been a step forward, helping to reduce the cycle of generational poverty with the key to success – education.

Sen. John Legg is chairman of the Pre-K-12 Committee. He is a classroom teacher and administrator who has taught in the classroom since 2000. He represents Florida Senate District 17, which serves southern Pasco County and the northwestern portion of Hillsborough County. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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