Florida Religion Vouchers

Orlando Sentinel Investigated Florida Voucher Schools and the Results Were Alarming

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The Orlando Sentinel spent months investigating voucher schools in the state of Florida, and the results were alarming.

Even though the state constitution forbids any public money going to any religious school, whether directly or indirectly, the state has created multiple voucher programs and ignored the state constitution.

Even though voters refused to repeal or revise the section of the state constitution prohibiting public money being spent on religious schools, whether directly or indirectly, the state now spends $1 billion each year paying for private school tuition, mostly spent to pay for religious schools.

The voucher schools are completely unregulated.

They teach whatever they want, including racism and scientific nonsense.

They discriminate against students who are not “their kind.”

They do not have to take state tests.

They do not have to meet any academic standards.

They are allowed to hire not only uncertified teachers, but “teachers” who never finished college.

This series is so powerful that I urge you to subscribe to the Orlando Sentinel to read it.

I did.

A sample:

Unlike public schools, private schools, including those that accept the state scholarships, operate free from most state rules. Private school teachers and principals, for example, are not required to have state certification or even college degrees.

One Orlando school, which received $500,000 from the public programs last year, has a 24-year-old principal still studying at a community college.

Nor do private schools need to follow the state’s academic standards. One curriculum, called Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, is popular in some private schools and requires students to sit at partitioned desks and fill out worksheets on their own for most of the day, with little instruction from teachers or interaction with classmates.

And nearly anything goes in terms of where private school classes meet. The Sentinel found scholarship students in the same office building as Whozz Next Bail Bonds on South Orange Blossom Trail, in a Colonial Drive day-care center that reeked of dirty diapers and in a school near Winter Park that was facing eviction and had wires dangling from a gap in the office ceiling and a library with no books, computers or furniture.

This is one of the schools visited by the Sentinel reporters:

“We are able to really change these students’ lives, and I believe that would really be the highest standard of accountability that a school can have,” said Bryan Gonzalez, the 24-year-old principal of TDR Learning Academy in Orlando who is a student at Valencia College.

The school, founded by a pastor and housed in a shopping center on Curry Ford Road, relied on scholarships for most of the nearly 100 students enrolled last year.

Like many of the Christian schools that take state scholarships, TDR uses one of a handful of popular curricula that, as one administrator explained, teach “traditional” math and reading but Bible-based history and science, including creationism.

TDR uses ACE, which includes workbooks for every subject. Students are to complete up to 70 a year. Gonzalez, the pastor’s son-in-law, said students benefit from doing ACE workbooks at their own pace.

Gonzalez also said parents don’t seem to mind his young age or that he and some TDR teachers lack college degrees. TDR’s enrollment has grown since it opened five years ago.

At Harvest Baptist Academy in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood, parents choose the 20-year-old school for its academics, Bible-based lessons and no-nonsense discipline that includes spanking children, said Harry Amos, recently retired principal.

“The scholarships are fantastic,” Amos said.

All two dozen students at the school used them to pay tuition last year.

Parents “just want a different environment,” he said. “Our leader is the Lord Jesus.”

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