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School choice is often private - 40 percent of Florida lawmakers send kids to private schools
St Petersburg Times ^ | April 6, 2005 | RON MATUS

Posted on 04/06/2005 1:56:51 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife

Nearly 40 percent of Florida lawmakers with school-age children send their kids to private schools, a rate four times as high as that for parents statewide, a St. Petersburg Times survey has found.

The rate climbs to 60 percent for lawmakers on education committees that make key decisions about K-12 policy and funding.

Does it matter?

Some lawmakers say yes.

Lawmakers with children in private schools "know there's a problem" with public schools, said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who chairs the House Education Council and has a child enrolled in Catholic school. "They want to fix the problems for everybody else along with their own kids."

Many public school parents come to a different conclusion.

"They are evidently concerned their own children won't get a quality education" in public schools, said Chris Clark, who chairs the School Advisory Council at St. Petersburg's Perkins Elementary School. It's "a vote of no confidence."

Lawmakers are at the mid-point of a legislative session with potentially huge impacts on public schools.

They are expected to dramatically expand the use of vouchers, which allow students to transfer out of public schools and attend private schools at state expense. They are considering an end to social promotion in all grades. And they are pushing to temper the 2002 constitutional amendment to reduce class sizes in return for a small teacher pay raise.

They also are debating a 5 to 6 percent increase in per-pupil spending - a hike that would still leave Florida near the nation's bottom ranks when it comes to education funding.

To do the survey, the Times reached 159 of 160 state lawmakers, either through written or electronic questionnaires or from interviews with the lawmakers or staff members.

Only Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, declined to answer.

The survey found that 39 percent of lawmakers with children in grades kindergarten through 12 enrolled them in private schools. Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, homeschools his children, and Rep. John Stargel, R-Lakeland, enrolled his in a charter school.

Statewide, the percentage of private school enrollment in K-12 is about 10 percent.

The Times survey shows a 60 percent private school rate among members serving on the Senate education and education appropriations committees, and on the four House committees with the most direct influence on K-12 policy and funding.

"Wow," said Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg. "That's pretty significant."

Peterman, whose children attend public schools, said lawmakers who are private school parents bring an important perspective to the debate about improving public schools. But there should be a "balance between those who believe in solid public school education vs. private," he said.

Towson Fraser, spokesman for House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, said legislative seniority, geography and political party were the big factors in determining who got committee assignments - not personal school choice.

"One of the boxes was not, "Where do your kids go to school?' " Fraser said.

The Times survey also found:

Most lawmakers do not have children in school. Only 37 percent of House members and 33 percent of Senate members have school-age children.

Democrats with school-age children were more likely than Republicans - 44 percent to 37 percent - to have their children in private schools.

Lawmakers' children who are in public schools are more likely to be enrolled in A-rated schools than the population at large, 59 percent to 46 percent.

Surveys in other states have shown similar results.

In Texas last year, the Dallas Morning News found that 34 percent of state lawmakers with school-age children had at least one child enrolled in private school, and the Los Angeles Times found roughly the same percentage among California lawmakers in 2000. In 2001, a Heritage Foundation survey found that 47 percent of U.S. congressmen and 51 percent of U.S. senators with school-age children sent them to private schools.

Among Florida lawmakers, money is one reason for disproportionate private school enrollment. More than a quarter of lawmakers are attorneys. Nearly a third are millionaires.

Lawmakers with children in private schools offer multiple reasons.

Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, said he chose a private school for his child because of its small class sizes and its location a few blocks from the family's house.

Baxley, the committee chairman, has a son at the public St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind and a daughter at a Catholic school. She gets a solid religious education and more help for a reading disability, he says.

Rep. Ralph Arza, R-Hialeah, taught social studies and coached football in Miami-Dade public schools for 19 years. Now, two of his children are homeschooled by his wife, and another is at a Catholic school.

Arza, who chairs the House PreK-12 Committee, said that as a teacher, he was frustrated by the vast number of ninth-graders who couldn't read and the high percentage of minority students who drop out. His wife was fed up with the social environment at public schools, where too many kids curse and one of his daughter's friends wore a beeper in elementary school.

"She felt she could do a better job," he said.

Ultimately, those personal decisions factor into policy, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

"Oftentimes, the personal IS political," he said in an e-mail. "While I believe it is possible to send one's kids to private schools and still support the public school system, I doubt that the breadth and intensity of support would be the same."

Some public school parents were less diplomatic.

Lori Lencioni, the PTSA president at Martinez Middle School in Hillsborough County, said she recently attended a fundraiser so that the school could renew the service contract for its copy machine.

Public schools "don't have the basic necessities," she said. "And these lawmakers are off in la-la land."

Even as some of their policies have frustrated public school parents, teachers and school districts, many lawmakers see themselves as reformers.

With Gov. Jeb Bush leading the way, Republican legislators have consistently downplayed the notion that there is a strong link between more money and better schools. Instead, they have highlighted higher standards, standardized testing and the competition created by vouchers and charter schools as keys to improving sluggish academic performance.

Some lawmakers said their experience with non-public schools was a plus, leading them to embrace the idea of giving more parents more options.

"Some of the policies we're passing say, "Hey, let's make sure everybody has access to the educational choices we have,' " said Stargel, who chairs the House Choice and Innovation Committee.

Other lawmakers said their personal education decisions are irrelevant.

Legislators often make decisions about issues to which they are not directly tied. Few of them are farmers, business owners or scientists, yet they weigh in on policies involving agriculture, business and the environment.

It's also true that some lawmakers who are private school parents are lauded as strong public school advocates.

Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, is widely hailed by teachers for his role as a critic of Bush's education initiatives. And Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, has been named Legislator of the Year by the Florida School Boards Association three of the past four years.

Cliff Roberts, the PTA president at Bevis Elementary in Hillsborough, said he doesn't begrudge lawmakers for choosing private schools, and he doesn't think that choice necessarily makes them less of an advocate for public schools.

But those lawmakers must do more homework than public school parents if they want to understand what's going on, he said.

"You lose touch if your children are not there," he said.

Roberts' stretch of east Hillsborough is represented by state Sen. Tom Lee and state Rep. Trey Traviesa, both Brandon Republicans.

Both send their children to private schools.

Times staff writers Matthew Waite and Joni James and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at 727 893-8873 or

[Last modified April 6, 2005, 01:21:41]

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: Florida
KEYWORDS: education; privateschools; publicofficials
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1 posted on 04/06/2005 1:56:52 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

If private schools are good enough for them, private schools should be good enough for our kids. I think FL has a school-choice bill under attack in court. hopefully it's upheld.

2 posted on 04/06/2005 2:16:27 AM PDT by Skokie42
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To: Skokie42


3 posted on 04/06/2005 2:44:30 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: All

Where Do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?

Public school teachers in urban areas are far more likely than city residents in general to send their children to private schools, according to a new analysis of 2000 Census data by researchers led by Denis P. Doyle, who previously analyzed 1980 and 1990 Census data.

While just 12.2 percent of U.S. families send their children to private schools, that figure rises to 17.5 percent among urban families in general and to 21.5 percent among urban public school teachers, almost twice the national average.

The difference in the choices made by public school teachers and the general public were especially striking in America's largest cities, where public schools are often the most troubled. For example, in the New York City area, 32.5 percent of public school teachers send their children to private schools, compared to 22.7 percent of the general public. In Chicago, 38.7 percent of public school teachers, versus 22.6 percent of the general public, send their children to private schools. In Los Angeles, private schools are chosen by 24.5 percent of public school teachers and 15.7 percent of the public.

4 posted on 04/06/2005 2:50:41 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

Thats sickening, given how the teachers always fight against vouchers or any privatization..

I also notice from your statistics they are sending their kids to private schools much more often in areas with large minorities. Which to me strikes of racism.

5 posted on 04/06/2005 2:54:39 AM PDT by ran15
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To: Cincinatus' Wife


6 posted on 04/06/2005 2:55:03 AM PDT by blackeagle
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To: ran15

The Left (elite) need the masses so their educated offspring can rule.

7 posted on 04/06/2005 3:00:42 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: ran15

Several years ago, I read another source claiming I believe Chicago teachers, over a third sent their kids to private schools. I reacted by proposing a local law that any public school teacher who was the custodial parent of a school age child not requiring "special needs" tailored education would either have that child, or children enrolled in public school or be subject to termination as an employee. You'd have thought I proposed the the public burning at the stake of Santa Claus, wondered if they were going to burn ME at the handiest stake. In education, that which is good for the goose is decidedly not good for the gander.

8 posted on 04/06/2005 3:08:38 AM PDT by barkeep
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To: barkeep

When people react strongly to a criticism, you know that you've hit a vein.

The teachers sending their kids to private school, is something we can push to further our own ideas.. Just like all the congressman not being in social security themselves, shows what they really think of their system.

9 posted on 04/06/2005 3:24:02 AM PDT by ran15
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

Yes and it extends beyond the public schools too.. There is always a spot for a child of a union worker, in the union. However not usually a spot for a minority...

But the minority by law is forced to pay for the union workers salaries, through regulated monopolies or through taxes themselves.

I believe if we changed our rhetoric, from sounding like the party for the rich.. to sounding like the party for the poor, and for opportunity.. We could win over the minorities.

I know when I talk to poor and minorities, I can convert even die hard liberals into Republicans. I just speak words that matter to them. For example, do you guys notice how wealthy white union workers are keeping you all on the outside? Then when we want to break the political power of the unions they say we are against the 'poor'?

10 posted on 04/06/2005 3:32:56 AM PDT by ran15
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

People who want children to go to private religious schools should fund that themselves. Not with a big federal government boondogle.

11 posted on 04/06/2005 3:52:10 AM PDT by tkathy (Tyranny breeds terrorism. Freedom breeds peace.)
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

This reminds me of the statistic that US Senators on average do 12% better on the stock market than the average US citizen. It pays to be a "lawmaker".

12 posted on 04/06/2005 5:00:34 AM PDT by Imaverygooddriver (ALL MY BASE ARE BELONG TO YOU)
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Comment #13 Removed by Moderator

To: Cincinatus' Wife; cyn; Dutchgirl

My kids are in a fabulous Florida private school. MY HOME!

14 posted on 04/06/2005 5:08:14 AM PDT by SpookBrat
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To: barkeep

A recent court case (a couple of weeks ago, in fact) upheld the right of a woman who was a candidate for principal of her public school to send her child to a Christian school.

The judge was furious that she wasn't considered because her child didn't attend public school, saying that parents have the absolute right to choose where their children go to school.

15 posted on 04/06/2005 5:09:52 AM PDT by ladylib
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To: kennedy6979

Its just funny the teachers unionists percentage chance of getting their own children out of the public system.. Seems to match perfectly with the percentage of minority population in the area.

Even though its the teachers criticizing us for being racist..

16 posted on 04/06/2005 5:11:34 AM PDT by ran15
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Does it matter?


Let them eat cake, eh, you legislators?

17 posted on 04/06/2005 5:12:16 AM PDT by mewzilla
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

But, but.........public school teachers are so do they afford private school tuition???? (/sarcasm)

18 posted on 04/06/2005 5:18:35 AM PDT by Gabz (John Paul II, pray for us.)
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To: Skokie42

This begs the question at the national level...GWB & Laura sent their girls to public HS in Austin, TX.

Anyone know where Chelsea, Amy Carter, The Kennedy kids etc. went?

How can the teachers unions & members be such staunch Dems when their party leaders show such little faith & support in public education?

19 posted on 04/06/2005 5:26:50 AM PDT by chgomac
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To: Cincinatus' Wife

Few politicians are poor or middle class. Most have a few bucks, and anyone with enough money, sends their kids to Private schools.

I believe generally this is true.

20 posted on 04/06/2005 5:40:01 AM PDT by sgtbono2002
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