The following letter was signed by Bishop Suarez, and is part of a new effort in which Pr. Russell Meyer (Florida Council of Churches) is involved.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
To Florida’s Elected Officials:
We the undersigned are united in our belief that public education is an essential institution contributing to the common good in a democratic society. We believe government should be measured in part by its commitment to equip all children to be effective citizens capable of living full and meaningful lives and contributing to their society. In his State of the State speech, Governor Ron DeSantis ostensibly addressed the need to eliminate a 14,000 student waiting list of children seeking to access the existing corporate tax credit voucher system. His call has been taken up by both the Florida House and Senate in the current legislative session (HB 7075 & SB 7070). Legislators are planning to take money directly out of the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) to fund private and religious schools. Supporters say that this legislation will benefit students disproportionately affected by inadequate public school resources, but they ignore the harm done to the more than 90% of children who remain in our neighborhood public schools. Supporters also claim that they are giving parents who are economically disadvantaged the opportunity to provide a high quality education for their children that they might not otherwise be able to afford. They overlook the fact that this system potentially exposes the children attending these private and religious schools to a parallel educational process with no accountability, no standards and no certification. Supporters of both arguments are simply wolves in sheep’s clothing, devouring the public school system of education as we know it and of which we are products. This proposal will undermine and slowly dismantle public education, in that, academic programs will be cut; safety and security will be compromised, and educational support operations will become more inefficient and ineffective. Public dollars designated for public schools should not be taken away from our already underfunded, traditional neighborhood schools and given to private and religious schools. Florida already ranks 46th in teacher salaries and is in the bottom 10 nationwide in overall funding for public schools. The real wolves in the effort to privatize and individualize public education are those who have as their goal the overturning of the 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Holmes. This case fundamentally held that public school funds cannot be used for private and religious school purposes. Our elected leaders have a duty to fund public schools for all of God’s children; not subsidize private and religious education for those who would gamble taxpayer money on a parallel educational system that will have virtually no oversight or accountability. Florida citizens should not be forced into a constitutional confrontation between those who choose private and religious schools and those who choose their neighborhood public schools. We pray that you will not abdicate your duty, as an elected official, to provide a quality free public education for all. Let us learn from Esau. Do not exchange Florida’s future for a bowl of porridge.
Rev. Bartholomew Banks, President Progressive Missionary and Educational Florida Baptist Convention, Inc.
Rt. Rev. Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., Resident Bishop Florida Area, The United Methodist Church
Rt. Rev. Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Presiding Bishop 5th Episcopal District, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Rev. Raymond Johnson, Ph.D., Coordinator Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida
Rev. Joyce Lieberman, Executive and Stated Clerk Synod of South Atlantic Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rt. Rev. Billy G. Newton, Presiding Bishop 29th Episcopal District, Pentecostal Assemblies of the World
Rt. Rev. Adam J. Richardson, Jr., Presiding Bishop, 11th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Rt. Rev. Thomas Scott, Bishop Florida District, Church of God
Rev. Pedro Suarez, Bishop Florida-Bahamas Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Dr. Willie J. Williams, President Florida State Primitive Baptist Convention