Vouchers get boost from ex-union leader

11/12/08 Seán Kinane
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A former teacher’s union leader is now a top advocate for school vouchers. Doug Tuthill was hired in August as president of the Florida School Choice Fund. That group raises money for the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship and gives vouchers to low-income children.” Tuthill spoke today at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg.

When he was president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association in the early 90s, Tuthill claimed that support for vouchers was "based on false assumptions and faulty logic." But now, he favors giving students more educational choices.

Kim Black is the current president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, the position that Tuthill used to hold. She also wants school children to have more options, but not at the expense of funding for public schools.

Pinellas County School Board member Janet Clark also feels that public schools can provide students with a diverse range of educational options without using taxpayer money to fund private schools. Clark was re-elected to the school board last week.

“I am not in favor of vouchers, and I have to say that a corporate tax scholarship is just a voucher with another name. It’s just a matter of semantics.”

Tuthill pointed out four examples of unconventional education experiences that are still considered by Florida to be public education.

“A state agency contracts with a Virginia company to provide online classes for elementary students. A school district contracts with a for-profit company to teach classes in a refurbished Eckerd Drugs store. A school district contracts with a private provider to teach classes to home-school students in a city library. A school district contracts with a private university to run a career academy in one of its high schools.”

Two of these examples occur in the Panhandle’s conservative Okaloosa County. St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Dudley reminded the audience that the Okaloosa school superintendent is a businessman and does not have an education background. Tuthill said Okaloosa could be a model for the rest of the state.

The $118 million Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship program was created in 2001. Tuthill defended the program, saying it is not a voucher system and does not take funding away from the public schools. To make that point, he used a hypothetical example of the company Raymond James owing a million dollars in taxes to the state of Florida, but shipping most of it to the corporate tax credit instead.

Clark and Black disagree with Tuthill. Clark said that the Florida Corporate Tax Credit does take away funding from public schools.

The next Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting will be Nov. 20 at the St. Pete Yacht Club and will feature a debate on the fairness doctrine and the equal time provision.

Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

Florida School Choice Fund

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club

Okaloosa County School District

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