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Florida Parents: Please, Don't Take Voucher Program Away

September 28, 2014 - 6:00pm

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis may have dismissed one lawsuit against Floridas tax credit scholarship program, but the battle against the program that provides more than 60,000 students with private-school scholarships still rages on.

Last week, Judge Francis dismissed a lawsuit claiming the law to expand the voucher program violated the states Constitution, which says each law should be limited to one subject.

But another lawsuit, one that would abolish the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program entirely, still remains in play, much to the dismay of scholarship organizations and parents alike.

"I think the major concern we have is that there are students throughout the state of Florida that need to have better attention paid to them," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, one group involved in filing the lawsuit. Many opponents of the program contend the scholarship program siphons away important money that could be used to improve schools and help students across the state.

Sophia Flores, a Hillsborough County mother who has had two sons participate in the scholarship program, says the lawsuit isnt a step in the right direction considering how many students profit from the voucher program.

I disagree with a lot of the issues that are going on out there and how they could take away a program that has been such a benefit to children such as my own, she told Sunshine State News.

Flores oldest son, Jorge, attended Academy Prep Tampa as part of the voucher program. In 2008, he graduated as valedictorian of his class and went on to attend the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. Later, Jorge was accepted to Columbia University.

Flores younger son, Julian, also participated in the program at Academy Prep. Following in his brother's footsteps, he was also accepted to Exeter, where he currently attends school.

This is the turning point of their age with the program itself, said Flores, who said the voucher program fills an important role in young students lives as they prepare to move on to college and beyond.

Flores isnt the only parent who fears what the end of the program could mean for students across the state. Autumn Nelson of Lake County has three children currently enrolled in the program at Liberty Christian Prep in Tavares.

Nelson, who initially home-schooled her children, decided to enroll them in the voucher program after she discovered her local elementary schools rating -- at the time, the school earned a D rating, which has now dropped to an F.

We were just not impressed at all with what we were seeing and what was being done to help improve the school or to challenge those students academically, she told SSN.

This dissatisfaction led Nelson to enroll her children at Liberty Christian Prep, a school her family wouldnt have been able to afford if not for the scholarship program.

At Liberty, Nelsons children thrived.

My oldest son, who is in sixth-grade this year, has been a straight A student since he enrolled at Liberty, she said. My other two [children] have either been on the 'A'-'B' honor roll or the deans list as well.

Nelson finds the lawsuit against the scholarship program disheartening for the thousands of students in dire need of alternative options for schooling.

I think its not well-thought-out. I dont think they have the best interests of the students at heart at all, she explained. Theyre making it as if its completely about tax dollars, but its not.

Money isnt dedicated for the program in the states budget -- instead, corporations donate money to the program and then get a credit on their tax bill.

The large majority of the scholarship income comes from the donations from private companies, said Nelson.

As a parent who has witnessed the positives of the voucher program, Sophia Flores maintained the tax credit scholarships ultimately provide long-lasting impact on participating students.

The way that [the schools] condition them, the way that they follow through and the way that the kids end up ultimately loving their life, she said. They love their education. They love where theyre at. They know they can continue to get an opportunity. What more benefits could a parent ask for?


Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen via email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

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