Discover more from Public Enemy Number 1
Florida has destroyed its *private* schools. Good luck shopping with that $8K voucher.
62% of Florida's *best* voucher schools produced negative gains for voucher kids -- 75% in Polk. And low income public school kids always produce far better tests scores than voucher kids.
Florida’s most recent annual voucher evaluation reported test score “gains” for eight of the Polk County private schools that enroll more than 30 voucher recipients.
Six of those eight — including some of Polk’s most prestigious private school names — produced annual regression (negative learning gains) for their students using vouchers between 2017-18 to 2020-21. Their voucher kids went backwards on the test scores submitted. See the chart that follows.
That 75 percent regression for Polk private schools is only somewhat higher than the 62 percent regression produced by the 314 private schools statewide for which the 14th annual “Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program” calculated gains. (If that link doesn’t work, grab it from this search screen.)
The “more-than-30 voucher kids” schools in the evaluation are a tiny fraction of all Florida private schools receiving vouchers — 314 of more than 16,000 statewide and eight of 108 in Polk County.
And yet, there is every reason to believe these failing private schools are among the best private schools in Florida’s appalling bad private system.
I did not know this annual FTC evaluation existed until last week. I’m sorry that I’m only sharing it with you now, not years ago. More on that in a moment. The new Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) also received its first evaluation in June 2022, for the 20-21 school year, as a “baseline” for future evaluations.
These negative gains for Florida private schools echo — but are even more pronounced than — Florida’s “Great Regression” on state and national test scores. Florida has the worst public school “learning rate” on state tests and worst regression on the national NAEP test between 4th and 8th grade, if tests are what you care about. Private schools appear much worse, based on these evaluations.
In fact, voucher failure almost certainly helps create that public school test score regression on the NAEP and state tests because of all the private school dropouts who come back in to the public system: 61 percent within two years, 75 within three, according to an Urban Institute study a few years back.
Florida hides this “evaluation” because it knows how bad it makes even “elite” private schools look
If you’re a Lakeland or Polk County resident, you might find it surprising that All Saints Academy and Santa Fe Catholic High School are among the worst performers. (Santa Fe is the worst.) I was surprised, at least. Those schools are generally considered — along with Lakeland Christian School — the favored private schools of elite, high capital parents in Polk County and Lakeland.
LCS, which was once reported to have more 100 FTC kids, was not included in the study’s data. That makes me wonder if it’s violating voucher law. More on that in second, too.
Understand this, though: if you’re a public school parent — elite charter and magnet very much included, McKeelers and Lincolners and Harrisonians — your governor and your legislators just stole money from your kids so that every parent at these failing private schools can get a free $8,000 check from your taxes. Remember, this is what you voted and what you wanted. (By the way, Rep. Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland, radical advocate of brutal forced birth, works for LCS; so she’s voting to feather her own nest.)
The 20-21 FTC evaluation was released in June 2022. It’s the most recent available. The school-by-school comparison is in an appendix.
Release of this report should be an annual media scrutiny ritual — like test score results and school grades are. But it is not.
To my knowledge, only the Orlando Sentinel’s outstanding education/voucher reporters Leslie Postal and Annie Martin have ever used this annual “evaluation” in any story about vouchers and private schools. I read most of their work; but somehow I did not internalize their references to it.
I only found the evaluation because I came across a reference to it when in voucher law when I was reading the universal voucher bill that Florida lawmakers just approved.
To find the many previous annual editions of this evaluation, you have to search for them, by name, on the Florida Department of Education website. Try “FTC evaluation” in the search pane.
Florida educrats and voucher grifters do not actively post these evaluations anywhere to help parents and taxpayers find them. Why?
They don’t want you — or any parents — to see them.
The annual voucher evaluation release will become a ritual for me from now on.
Private school vouchers kill test scores, if that’s what you care about
The FTC report goes back to 2008 or 2009; but I stopped searching at 2012-13. That was plenty to create the two charts that follow.
These charts compare kids who took vouchers against kids of similar socio-economic status who stayed in public school. And they measure how both groups scored in the first state test taken upon returning to public schools for voucher kids.
“Never voucher” far outscores “took a voucher.” The numbers are the average percentile where the kids score.
Here’s Reading: Note the numbing consistency of the differential.
Here’s Math: Note the numbing consistency of the differential.
These charts lay out how much better public school teachers are than private, if test scores are what you care about. Tests are not what I care most about; but they are what Florida and its leaders claim to care the most about.
What intellectual and institutional corruption sounds like
I put those multi-year charts together from the repetitive, year-after-year version of this chart, which is found deep within the guts of each individual evaluation. Check out the pretty unequivocal verbiage that went with this chart for the 2012-13 version of it.
Let’s repeat that — and note my bold bits of emphasis:
As can be seen from the chart above, and as expected, given the prior performance levels of FTC program participants in general and those who return to Florida public schools in particular, FTC program participants who return to the public sector appear to perform worse on the FCAT than did other subsidized-meals recipients who never participated in the program.
Now let’s read the verbiage from the 2020-21 version of the same chart:
Again, let’s note the parts in bold:
As we mentioned before, based on these comparisons one cannot make any claims about the effects of participation in the FTC Program since evidence suggests that FTC students who returned to the public schools in 2020-21 and public school students who never participated in the FTC Program represent two different populations of students. Findings indicated that poorly performing public school students are more likely to participate in the program in the first place. Moreover, FTC students who return to public schools tend to be those who are performing worse than the average FTC student. Based on these observations, we cannot associate poor performance of FTC returnees with possible negative effects of the FTC Program on participating students.
Clearly, somebody told somebody at some point: “stop saying the obvious in an official document because it harms our grift.”
… “FTC students who return to public schools tend to be those who are performing worse than the average FTC student” is complete bullshit. The “average” FTC student abandons the program within two years, according to the only data ever systemically collected on it. 61 percent. The authors of this evaluation should retract this false statement and stop shading the language to protect these corrupt and failed programs with FSU’s brand.
Where are Lakeland Christian and A’kelynn’s Angels?
I have never been able to find a simple, public list of Florida private schools containing the number of voucher students each school enrolls. I do not think it exists publicly.
But it does exist. According to the FTC evaluation, Florida could absolutely provide this if it chose to. In describing how the authors got their data, they write:
Schools were provided a roster of participating FTC students in grades 3 to 10, which was obtained in late fall 2020 from the Scholarship Funding Organizations … This roster is based on actual payments made to schools and is thus thought to contain a more precise representation of participating students than rosters from earlier in the school year.
“A roster” that was “obtained.”
The FTC evaluation team said 1,697 Florida private schools were legally obligated to provide testing data. Of that amount, the evaluation calculated “gains” for 314 that had more than 30 voucher students. State law is confusing by design; but the gains calculation seems to be required for any school with more than $250K in voucher revenue, which comes to about 30 kids.
Only eight of those 108 Polk County private schools were identified among the 314 statewide with 30 or more voucher kids. Eight of 108.
At least two Polk private schools are very conspicuous by their absence from the gains list — Lakeland Christian School and A’kelynn’s Angels in Winter Haven. Previous media reporting in 2020 noted both schools as having more than 100 FTC voucher kids. If that remains true, both should have gains calculated. I’ve sent email requests to both schools; but I haven’t heard back yet.
These schools are on opposite ends of the capital and racial structure. Lakeland Christian is awash in capital and power, with a tuition that far exceeds what a voucher will pay. The operators of A’kelynn’s Angels had their day care shut down some years ago; and the school appears to be almost entirely voucher-funded.
The voucher grift shift creates rich people on rich people conflict
The purpose of vouchers as a grift has shifted in Florida over the last couple years.
Prior to the DeSantis era, vouchers were designed to de-stabilize public schools and cheat poor kids by herding them — with excessive testing and 3rd grade retention —temporarily into scam “schools.” The “de-stabilization” part actually blew up on private schools much more worse than public.
The median private school in Florida today is much much much worse than the worst public school. The median private school is far worse than it was before Jeb Bush created the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship — which has long been a way for wealthy people and corporations who hate public benefit to 1) shelter taxes 2) cheat poor kids 3) attempt to harm public schools 4) create scam private schools.
The Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) voucher was enacted very recently in the DeSantis era to funnel actual direct tax money — yours and mine — to these failed private schools.
And for good measure, the DeSantis Legislature destroyed the McKay and Gardiner vouchers for students with disabilities and redirected that money to FES. (It’s completely unclear to me how many former McKay/Gardiner kids are now in the FES program. I don’t remotely trust Step Up’s numbers for anything. They’ve been all over the place.)
[Update: I have actually gotten what looks like a serious well-maintained roster of enrollment by voucher from Step Up. Kudos to Step Up media person Scott Kent. He provided me some quick, good answers to questions today. I’ll be delving into them.]
The new universal voucher bill removes all income caps on FTC and FES vouchers and lets any parent at All Saints or Lakeland Christian or Santa Fe get a free $8,000 check of your money.
That’s the shift: paying rich parents at bad private schools, not just the scam schools that actively cheat poor kids. And as the FTC and FES evaluations show: those “good” private schools suck terribly at educating the kids that come to them with a voucher.
Do you really think they’re that much better for kids who pay tuition?
The grifters and education gangsters behind this — DeSantis, Jeb, and the various fake libertarian bros who fund them — think they’ve created a new entitlement for rich people that will prove hard to unravel.
But I’m not so sure.
Far more rich people send kids to fancy magnets, charters, or wealthy neighborhood public schools than pay tuition at fancy, but bad, private schools — if you want to go power base-on-power base. I think this class of public school parents was more or less fine with tax shelter money cheating poor kids of color.
But I think they will be less fine writing $8,000 checks directly from their pocketbook and child’s education to their next-door neighbor at All Saints or Lakeland Christian. And that’s before you get to everybody else. Uniting public and public choice as a coalition against private grift will prove the core legacy of Ron DeSantis’ term in office, I predict.
Universal vouchers: a sheep in wolf’s clothing
Everything about vouchers is deliberately shrouded in fog and confusion — right down to how a kid gets assigned to an FTC voucher vs. and FES voucher. According to Step Up for Students’ website, the application is the same for both vouchers.
And as the fog lifts on this massive grift, it will be increasingly hard for Florida’s state leaders to hide that they have destroyed the private and public systems alike.
There is nothing to buy with that $8,000 grifter check.
The education store shelves are bare in Florida. More than 20 years of vouchers has created zero private capacity of any quality. Pumping more tax money into that gaping maw of grift will only generate tuition inflation. It already appears to be happening.
The question will become: do we, as a state, want a school system, public and private alike, at all?
I think we will want one; and that’s going to require open rejection of JebSantis and radical rebuilding.
Universal vouchers, sheep in wolf’s clothing, moves Florida closer to that reckoning and rebuilding.