One more awful bill in Florida is being used to push public schools towards privatization and poor schooling for students. Said to be 55 bills in one, HB 7069 use words like “starvation” to reference funding for public schools. Charters are called “Schools of Hope” even though Florida’s charter school record is dismal.
Many Floridians are begging the Governor to veto HB 7069.
How does Florida come up with all these privatization goals? Don’t politicians and business leaders look at the bad ideas they’ve had in the past? It looks like many are beginning to understand this is about money and not the students.
Consider the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities (scholarship sounds more elegant than vouchers), and how it got a foothold in the State of Florida.
Students with disabilities are vulnerable when it comes to vouchers and privatization. Desperate for public schools that fund beneficial programs, parents grow weary. They can’t afford to waste time on classes that don’t accommodate their students, or overtaxed teachers.
Politicians know this. Instead of funding good public school programs (special ed. has never been funded appropriately), they want parents to go to private schools even though few of those schools provide adequate special education.
Florida’s McKay voucher program was launched in 1999. McKay is a good example of a failed program. Many students wind up in virtual or religious schools where special education is an afterthought at best.
Still, many states have followed, or have tried to follow, Florida’s lead. So where did McKay’s voucher program come from? How was it hatched?
In the late 70s, before school reform got on the Daytona 500 speed track, as a special ed. teacher and PhD student at FSU, I visited the Woodland Hall Academy, a sweet looking private school under the shade of some of Tallahassee’s lovely pines and live oaks.
A well-dressed, confident woman Patricia Hardman, gave a lecture on the school’s program to teach students with dyslexia. I wanted to learn more about dyslexia. I believed at the time she was a psychologist. I think that’s how she intended.
I remember nothing of her lecture, other than how she promoted her understanding of dyslexia. I was struck by her airs. She projected self-confidence and superiority.
By 2004, Hardman had aligned herself with those in power, including Gov. Jeb Bush, Patricia Levesque, and John M. McKay, whose name adorns the bill. It is understandable how Hardman would be convincing. One can safely assume neither Bush nor Levesque knew much about dyslexia.
According to a 2004 Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau report National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, who sat on the 14 member voucher panel, had a grandson who attended Woodland Hall. Robyn Rennick, a principal at the school, was a frequent witness to the group.
At the time, State Senator Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston expressed concern that the panel was “skewed” not just to private schools but towards Woodland Hall.
Hardman would go on to become one of the chief architects of the McKay voucher program. According to the same Post article, she believed children should be judged individually. She thought only parents, and not the state, should receive information about the child’s progress. She didn’t think private voucher schools should have to be accredited, either.
Compare this to the kind of scrutiny public schools have been under with high-stakes testing for years. For example, how many parents and teachers worry about data collection that goes above and beyond what’s necessary in public schools? But especially, how are students treated? How many children are retained in third grade due to reading difficulties?
It also became clear that Hardman had no credentials. She was not a psychologist. She was not a teacher either. The same Palm Beach Post article describes Judge P. Michael Ruff’s comments during a trial where Hardman represented a student with learning disabilities.
Dr. Hardman does not have a degree in psychology, is not certified or licensed in Florida or any other state as a psychologist, is not currently certified as a teacher in Florida or any other state, and holds no certificate in the area of special education in Florida or any other state,” Ruff wrote.
Hardman’s school benefited from vouchers. She now has a PhD from Walden. It’s difficult to tell what kind of job the school does. Hardman has a long list of awards and still touts herself as an expert. My guess is she is self-taught. But I could find no scholarly studies about her school.
The McKay voucher program is not only about Woodland Hall or Patricia Hardman. The program raises serious questions about schooling for students with disabilities, and all students. What kind of schooling do tax-paying Americans expect with vouchers, charters, and private schools?
- Should those who run schools and work with students have educational credentials validated by state and local school boards? Or, should anyone be able to run a school and teach?
- Is it necessary to evaluate a school to see whether or not it is working? Or should private schools and for-profit schools get to bypass the rules enforced for traditional public schools?
This is also about eliminating real options parents have with students who have disabilities. Starving public schools where teachers must abide by IDEA mandates, but are incapable of enforcing them due to inadequate funding, is unethical and cruel.
With McKay vouchers, parents flee to schools with no proof of success. They lose IDEA protections. How many parents are conned into believing such schools will provide the positive changes their child deserves and that they so desperately seek? Without oversight and rules no one knows—until it’s too late.
S.V. “Private-School Director Influences Education Policy.” Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau. April 12, 2004.