Women’s League Voters Discussion Details Investigate Florida Voucher Program

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The League of Women Voters of Florida recently conducted a study on the state’s voucher programs and this will be the subject of an upcoming conference to be held via Zoom on Thursday.

Hosted by the Pensacola Bay Region Chapter, the presentation is titled “Are Scholarships Taken?” “

“We set out to find out exactly how all of this is funded and what kind of accountability and transparency is involved,” explained program speaker Dr Sarah Butzin, who is called Sally.

Butzin is a retired educator, currently president of the League of Women Voters of Tallahassee. She is also a member of the State Organization’s Education Issues Working Group, which in March released an in-depth review of how direct and indirect public funds are used to pay for voucher programs. Florida Studies, known as Florida Tax Credit Scholarships.

“What we have found is that there is very little transparency. And, even worse, there is very little accountability, ”she proclaimed. “Essentially, the state and the Department of Education have completely handed this entire program over to a private organization and they are the ones who determine the results and how the money is used. “

For the study, the League focused on the nonprofit Step Up for Students, one of two scholarship funding organizations licensed to administer scholarship programs in Florida. It also awards and manages Tax Credit Scholarships for the State of Alabama.

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Seated Florida Governor Ron DeSantis celebrates after signing a bill on May 11, 2021, which increases eligibility for private schools at state expense, in a ceremony at St. John the Apostle in Hialeah, Florida.

According to Forbes, Step Up for Students and Affiliates had nearly $ 700 million ($ 697,363,075) in total assets in 2019, making it the 21stst largest charity in the United States.

“To put it in perspective, we’re talking about a very large organization, just like the American Cancer Society and United Way. It is therefore a very large and sophisticated operation.

that of the League Step Up for Students Preliminary Investigation Report studied the operations of the organization, which was founded by venture capitalist and major political donor John Kirtley in 2002, a year after Governor Jeb Bush created Florida’s first tax credit voucher program.

The report refers to Jacksonville-based Step Up for Students, with its 265 employees and $ 18 million payroll, as a financial management / marketing company operating as a charity.

“The way it all works is that with every voucher, what they call scholarships, the Step Up for Students organization gets two to three percent of each for their running expenses and for them to use for some purpose. marketing and promotion, and also to promote them with corporations and businesses to encourage them to divert their taxes to the Step Up organization to use them for vouchers rather than paying what they owe to the state, who will run our government, as well as our public schools.

Dr Butzin points out that more than 60% of Florida scholarships go to religious schools, raising questions about constitutionality and the separation of church and state. To date, she says the state has sidestepped legal challenges by forming a private organization to distribute the funds and letting companies make direct contributions.

“However, let me add that this year, for the first time, the legislation that passed the last session that is now in effect for this school year, for the first time they are taking money from our fund general recipes to go for these coupons, “she said.

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Dr Sarah (Sally) Butzin is President of the Tallahassee League of Women Voters.

“So it will be an interesting question whether anyone will take legal action like they did before, because now it’s clearly not just these tax credits that are funding it.”

Specifically, the voucher expansion allocates $ 200 million in general revenue funds to two voucher programs, one covering students with special needs. The other is aimed at students from traditionally low-income households, the threshold now being raised to $ 100,000 for a family of four. Butzin is troubled by the provisions that end up removing income requirements and converting scholarships into education savings accounts.

“That’s what they call them, an ESA. And think of it like your own debit card. So if you qualify for any of them you get an account that you can then spend on pretty much anything education related and that’s what we’re wondering, that’s how anyone ‘one will follow all of this.

Florida residents should all be concerned, Butzin said, about the erosion of the public school system, with this shift to a “parallel”, parent-controlled school system much like a century ago. And, she adds that many private schools receiving what she thinks are public money don’t have the same academic standards, without certified teachers, and standards for curriculum and testing.

Dr Butzin says their goal in conducting the Step Up for Students review was to “take the onion out” to allow the public to see what’s going on and to encourage further consideration of the vouchers issue.

“We call it a preliminary investigative report because our hope is that a large news organization or investigative journalist will take it and dig deeper than we could.”

The full report is available on the League of Women Voters of Florida website.

Dr Butzin’s lecture will take place via Zoom on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. To register, go online to the LWV Pensacola Bay Area Chapter website.


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