Tampa Bay Times: Frank Peterman, Jr. Column: Tax-Credit Scholarships Don’t Hurt Public Education

Tampa Bay Times
Tuesday, May 26, 2015 2:29pm

Throughout my public career — as a City Council member, state representative and secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice — I worked to help children follow a path to success in life and, in particular, to restore hope for young black men. That explains the Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, which I sponsored in 2006 as a legislator, and my strong support for public education as a linchpin for a child’s overall success.

The education facts are painfully clear. In Pinellas County last year, only 28 percent of black students read at grade level, and only 26 percent performed math at grade level. The latest Schott Foundation report is numbing, placing the graduation rate for black males in the county at 28 percent.

This is the kind of social crisis that should bring us all together, cause us to roll up our sleeves and pitch in to help. So it is good news that a circuit judge in Tallahassee recently tossed out a constitutional challenge to an education option that is helping 70,000 of Florida’s most underprivileged students — a disproportionate percentage of whom are black.

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is helping 2,621 poor children mostly of color to attend 74 private schools in Pinellas this year, is not a substitute for the kind of great public schools that I have spent my life supporting. But it deserves a seat at the public education table, and let’s hope the legal challengers to this program will listen to what the judge has had to say.

From where I sit, this is not a competition, and this scholarship is not an attack on traditional public schools. The truth is that different students learn in different ways, and there is no reason we can’t offer them a range of learning options that includes magnet and fundamental schools, online courses, dual enrollment, charter schools — and even scholarships to private schools for those who can’t afford tuition. …

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