Springfield News-Leader
“Another Voice: Protect needy students from teachers’ union”
By William Mattox
January 4, 2015Several days before the White House announced the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba, a high school sophomore from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood gave a speech that wowed state legislators and education advocates at a conference sponsored by the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.In his speech, Valentin Mendez extolled an educational program that has helped transform his life. And he introduced conferees to La Progresiva Presbyterian, a small private school with a remarkable past — and an uncertain future.La Progresiva opened in Cuba in 1900 and operated there until Fidel Castro shut it down in 1961. After many of the school’s families relocated in Miami, La Progresiva reopened in 1971. Today, the school serves nearly 500 students, most of whom come from low-income homes where Spanish is the primary language.Valentin said he came to La Progresiva after a stint as a “sixth-grade dropout.” He had attended two Miami public schools but had been bullied at both. “I was angry; I was frustrated; I cried almost every day,” Valentin told conferees. “I had no hope.”One day, Valentin’s mother learned that many low-income students at La Progresiva receive Step Up Scholarships, a program Jeb Bush helped create as Florida’s governor. She applied for assistance, and thanks to Step Up, Valentin began classes at La Progresiva nearly five years ago.Valentin worked his way up to grade level after starting out well behind, which research has shown to be a very common practice among Step Up students. Indeed, thanks to Step Up and other efforts to increase schooling options and accountability, low-income Hispanic fourth-graders in Florida now routinely outperform their peers in most other states. Moreover, high school graduation rates among Florida Hispanics have increased from 47 percent to 75 percent over the past 15 years.Unfortunately, Valentin’s educational journey — and that of nearly 70,000 Step Up students — might not end happily. That’s because the Florida Education Association recently filed a lawsuit that seeks to shut down this tax credit scholarship program. The teachers’ union claims the scholarships divert resources from the public school system. But Raoul Cantero, a former Florida supreme court justice, says these scholarships are funded by tax-favored donations from businesses rather than by state money.Of course, even if Step Up scholarships were funded by the state, the public’s interest in helping needy students such as Valentin would surely deserve higher priority than worrying about whether every student attends a government-run school.This is, after all, America — not Castro’s Cuba. And shutting down educational programs that are helping needy students hardly seems “progressive” — in any language.William Mattox is a resident fellow at the James Madison Institute and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.Article: http://www.news-leader.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/01/04/another-voice-protect-needy-students-teachers-union/21268749/