(Corporate Tax Credit for Scholarships - School Choice)

Testimony of Larry Keough
April 10, 2000

   Good afternoon Madam Chair and committee members. My name is Larry Keough. I am the associate of education for the Florida Catholic Conference and the legislative advocate for 225 diocesan Catholic schools in the state of Florida.

   I am here today to unequivocally state that the Florida Catholic Conference, on behalf of the largest nonpublic school system in Florida, supports legislative initiatives that advance the right of all children to equality of educational opportunity. Corporate tax credits for scholarships are a viable way to advance educational opportunities for children, especially those from impoverished families.

   All of us know that education is the great equalizer. Poor parents should have the right to choose the schools that give their children the best chance to succeed. The poor are limited in their choice of schools because they do not have the wherewithal to move to other areas where better educational opportunities exist and pay for tuition at many private schools.

   Corporate tax credits for scholarships, tax credits and tax deductions for parents and Opportunity Scholarships are initiatives that help create a level playing field for children from poor families to obtain a quality education that they are entitled to receive.

   A free and productive society thrives on the ability of people to direct their own lives. We have choices in practically every facet of our lives. In the educational arena, people with means have school choice. Poor families do not. Why shouldn’t poor parents have the fundamental right to choose the schools that are best suited for their children?

   This legislation, by providing corporate tax credits for scholarships, empowers parents who have limited financial resources to select schools that better meet their children’s educational needs. All parents, rich and poor, are the first and foremost educators of their children. As parents, they should have the fundamental right to choose the schools — be it a particular public school, including a charter school, a magnet school, special needs school, religious school or private schools — that they deem are in the best interest of their children.

   Let’s not forget that just as no one shoe fits all feet, no school meets the needs of all students. Suffice to say, different schools for different students.

   Although the Florida Catholic Conference embraces the concept of corporate tax credits for scholarships, we are committed to the children on Opportunity Scholarship in Pensacola and are preparing our schools for expansion of that program. This means that there would be very few, if any Catholic school vacancies in the immediate future for children qualifying for the corporate tax credit scholarship. But we would do what we could to accommodate children on tax credit scholarships.

   And finally, I ask each of you to be mindful of the rhetoric, obfuscation and misinformation associated with any school-choice related initiatives.

   Each of you probably read the headlines last year expressing the doom-and-gloom scenarios that Opportunity Scholarship were going to:

Destroy the public school system;

Leave behind failing students;

Be predominantly utilized by white parents whose children are in failing schools;

Open the door for affluent parents to rent apartments in failing public school zones so their children can receive Opportunity Scholarships;

Be a grab bag for private schools to make money by obtaining public funds to fill their schools to capacity;

Lower the academic and discipline standards for private schools participating in the program;

Force sectarian schools to compromise their religious mission;

Place undue regulation upon private schools and essentially transform them into public schools.

   I’m here today to tell you that not a single one of those scenarios has occurred. A matter of fact, the program has empowered parents of poor minority children, created a sense of urgency for low performing schools to get better and save the State of Florida thousands of dollars.

   I ask that you support Rep. Argenio’s good bill. Thank you.