Step Up for Students Commissions Second Opinion Piece from Minority Member of Its Board to Defend Vouchers

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Florida Public Employees


April 28, 2014

By  – Scathing Purple Musings

Step Up Students, the administrative agent dependent on cash from Florida’s voucher system to survive, went into panic mode when Dr. Rosa Castro-Feinberg’s column was published three days ago. The influential education leader penned a blistering point-by-point critique of the voucher system’s flawed attention to and record with ELL students.

It should be no surprise that Step Up for Students (SUFS) turned to another minority member of its board of directors in Julio Fuentes, CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options and President of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Last week, SUFS had another minority member of its board, Al Lawson, an African-American former lawmaker turned well-paid lobbyist for the education for-profit industry, to pen a column, too.

Fuentes, also a member of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst Governing Board, doesn’t really counter any of Castro Feinberg’s points and just makes a narrow “choice” and anti-public school argument.

But it’s not in the best interest of ELL students for the parents to limit their visits to public schools. Why not explore all options?


At the end of the day, what tax credit scholarships do is simply give parents more options. Why in the world would we limit options for students who need help wherever they can get it?

Note the rhetorical questions designed to get the answers they want? It’s a popular tool that education privatization propagandists use to support their argument.

While finding Castro-Feinberg’s concerns “misguided,” Fuentes weakly attempts to catch her in a contradiction, by saying that she somehow made the case for “school choice” and “parent empowerment.” She doesn’t. And in his zeal to defend the vouchers, he ends up demonstrating the double-standard – and a misleading one – that voucher advocates like him have on accountability.

Early in his column, Fuentes points to the poor record that public schools have:

To offer but one sad fact, only 11 percent of ELL (English Language Learners) students last year passed the 10th grade FCAT in reading, the test they must pass in order to graduate from high school. Let me repeat that so the gravity of the number sinks in: 11 percent. That’s compared to 54 percent of students overall, 41 percent of low-income students and 21 percent of students with disabilities.

But later, he admits that voucher schools with tax credit scholarships students don’t even have to take FCAT:

Contrary to a widespread myth, tax credit scholarship students are required to take state-approved standardized tests, and the results are required to be analyzed every year. There is a fair debate to be had over what tests should be used, and what results should be reported. But six years of data tells us two very important things: The scholarship students are mostly the ones who were the furthest behind in public schools (which is why their parents sought out options). And now in their private schools, they are making the same gains as students of all income levels nationally

Fuentes and SUFS hope most readers won’t realize that “state-approved standardized tests” are not FCAT. Nor will voucher students have to take the same tests as do public school students under this year’s voucher expansion bill if it passes in the Senate this week. Moreover, Fuentes utilization of SUFS’ boilerplate assertion that “six years of data” show that voucher kids who were “further behind in public schools” and  “are making the same gains as students of all income levels nationally” is the most tortured application of apples to oranges test results ever used in education policy debate.

Bashing public schools’ record with Hispanic populations – though a record touted by Fuentes close ally, Jeb Bush – and then saying voucher schools do better when they take different tests couldn’t be more misleading.

Its worth wondering why SUFS would commission another desperate opinion piece. Senate President Don Gaetz’ kiss of approval of the senate version of voucher expansion should have been a signal that the votes were there.  Just quietly letting the clock run out another 72 more hours made more sense than to respond to Castro-Feinberg.

What are the executives at SUFS worried about?

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