By: Bill Mattox

April 19, 2021

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” William Shakespeare famously observed. But what about a school choice scholarship program? Could a name change leave a highly popular program suddenly smelling rank?

That’s a question the Florida Legislature will soon have to address. Because last week, when the House Appropriations Committee approved a number of modifications to existing scholarship programs, one seemingly insignificant alteration — a name change — met with surprising resistance from some vocal school choice supporters.

Their concern? That a scholarship program originally named for former Senate President Andy Gardiner would cease to carry his name.

Now, no one pushing for the name change has a personal vendetta against Sen. Gardiner. The former Senate president is still greatly respected for getting the Legislature to adopt a flexible scholarship program for students with special needs. And Gardiner well deserves that admiration.

But the House and the Senate are trying to simplify the scholarship application process for parents and to consolidate various K-12 programs. And nothing confuses and complicates things more than the myriad names for different K-12 scholarships. There’s the Gardiner, the McKay, the Hope, the Family Empowerment, the Reading, and the Corporate Tax Credit (CTC) scholarships.

Sheesh.

Thankfully, the Florida Department of Education has developed a user-friendly questionnaire to help parents interested in exploring scholarship possibilities. Without naming names, it asks parents a dozen or so simple questions about things like household size and family income and then directs them to the scholarship programs for which their children are eligible.

So, the application process isn’t actually that difficult to navigate. It’s mainly the different names that are plainly causing the confusion.

What to do?

The House wants to preserve the CTC and roll several other programs (including Gardiner) into the Family Empowerment Scholarship. The Senate wants to eliminate the CTC and combine everything into two programs (including one called McKay-Gardiner).

Got that?

Here’s an idea: rather than picking from among the existing names (and potentially causing greater conflict and confusion), why don’t we rebrand everything under a new name — the Mary McLeod Bethune Scholarship programs.

Under that single overarching name, there could still be different variations — for students with special needs, for schools that only accept tax credit scholarships, and so forth. But in the name of simplification, everything could be rolled under a single scholarship banner that pays tribute to our state’s most famous educator.

The timing for such a rebranding couldn’t be better since a statue of Bethune will be unveiled in the U.S. Capitol during the 2021-22 school year. And a more deserving honoree couldn’t be found, as I’m sure Sen. Gardiner would agree.

So, let’s say goodbye to all the current confusion while offering heartfelt thanks to all the leaders, like Gardiner, who helped create scholarships for needy students. And let’s get behind the Bethune Scholarships for K-12 students.

That would certainly be a sweet-smelling solution to the thorny problem now facing the Legislature.

Link to original: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-florida-state-scholarship-bethune-20210419-dob3xawktrb6xlzp3lwrjmrcyq-story.html