Tampa Bay superintendents defend public education, criticize controversial voucher program

Hillsborough County Superintendent Van Ayres, Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning, and Pinellas County Superintendent Kevin Hendrick at The Cuban Club // Chris Young, 11/17/23


As Florida gained national attention for its sweeping legislation on K-12 Education, Tampa Bay superintendents spoke out on how they are tackling issues, including Florida’s controversial voucher program, in their respective counties.

Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning defended public education at the forum.

“We get accused of indoctrinating kids. Let me just pose another question to you – if were so good at indoctrinating kids, why would we not indoctrinate them to read and write and do mathematics?”

Members of the political forum Tampa Tiger Bay Club in Ybor asked superintendents of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco Counties about issues ranging from book bans to community outreach efforts.

One key topic was the Florida voucher expansion. It was signed into law by Governor Ron Desantis in March and made private school vouchers of about $8,000 available to every student, regardless of income.

Pinellas County Superintendent Kevin Hendrick thought there would be better uses for the money.

“You think about the millions and millions of dollars that are going in these FES scholarships, we would all support further investment in education. But I would suggest that that should be in early learning if you really want to solve the world of public education.”

Browning questioned the initiative.

“My problem with the scholarship program is that you’re using public money to pay for a private education. So when does a private school become public?”

The Superintendents also discussed the effects of COVID-19 on student performance. Hillsborough County superintendent Van Ayres mentioned attendance as a problem plaguing his county.

“Our attendance numbers have gone in the tank, and that’s something we’re really looking to improve upon because our teachers can’t do their job if our students aren’t sitting in that seat.”


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