State looks to use more taxpayer money for private school vouchers

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ORLANDO, Fla. —

The Florida Department of Education announced that it wants to pump millions more tax dollars into private schools.

The state said its goal is to double the number of students receiving vouchers.

When mother Tammy Perez found out about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, she said she thought she'd found a way to get her kids a top-notch education.

"I had a light bulb that flashed. I said that's great, because private schools are supposed to be the best!" said Perez.

She enrolled her kids in Sunshine State School of Leadership in Orange City, but she said the school turned out to be a disappointment.

"My son was doing printing work. He was printing his name. That's stuff that he does in kindergarten," said Perez.

She said her daughter complained that her assignments were too easy.

"It was work that I did two to three years ago," said eighth-grader Ashley Cardona.

Perez said she tried complaining about the curriculum to the Department of Education, but found out the department does not oversee the 1,216 schools participating in the voucher program.

The schools received $147 million in diverted tax dollars last year, but there is no state measure of how the schools are performing.

Students do not have to take the FCAT and teachers do not need to be certified.

Critics said some of the schools hurt, rather than help, low-income students.

"You're talking about the citizens and taxpayer dollars going into institutions where there is no accountability," said Rep. Geraldine Thompson.

Odette Hernandez is the founder, principal and a teacher at Sunshine State School of Leadership.

"I just give them the paper and say go to Microsoft Word. Then when they start seeing the squiggly line, they're like, there's something wrong here. Which is a nice feature Microsoft Word has -- teaching grammar, and spelling and all of that," said Hernandez.

Hernandez said she started the school to help kids like her son and she said it's working.

The chair of Florida's Education Budget Committee, State Sen. David Simmons, supports school choice but he says more accountability may be necessary.

"We don't want public dollars being spent where there is a less than stellar quality education. No doubt about it," said Simmons.

Tammy Perez said she has since enrolled her children back in public schools.

According to Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program reports, low-income students in Florida voucher schools did as well in reading and math as students from all income levels, nationally.