John Kirtley’s Economic Club of Florida Speech

April 29, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Our movement is incredibly blessed to have leaders like John Kirtley. Watch the whole video and watch how to dismantle the case of deeply misguided opponents in a systematic and factual way. Lots of great stuff in this speech, this is my personal favorite:

“Now with that level of diversity, is a one-size-fits-all, top-down system where we assign kids by their zip code-is that going to produce excellence for every single child? I’m not sure that it is. But fortunately Florida is a leader, probably the leader in the country, in moving toward what I would call a new definition of public education. And that is this: raising taxpayer dollars to educate children, and then letting parents direct those dollars to different providers, and even to different delivery methods, that best suit their individual children’s learning needs. We are very fortunate that we have districts-school districts in our state-that are moving towards this new definition.”


Is uniformity really the principle around which we want to organize public education in this new century? Have the plaintiffs targeted virtual learning, or dual enrollment? Charters or magnets, which are not uniform? No they have not. No they have only targeted the program that only serves low-income children who were doing very poorly in their assigned schools. Should they succeed, 80,000 children will be evicted from schools that are working for them, but they’re not the only ones that will suffer, district schools and taxpayers will suffer.  80,000 children will return to public schools in a day-there is no other way for them to pay for the tuition. We have 20,000 kids in Dade County- they’re concentrated, they’re not spread out. In two zip codes in Orange County, in Orlando, two contiguous zip codes, we have 2,000 kids that will show up one day- that’s four or five elementary schools.

I read the paper last week and the Superintendent of Oscela County Public Schools was lamenting the fact that they have to create 5,000 new spaces over the next five years, and how difficult that is going to be. In fact the quote was from the article ‘The County hopes that new charter schools will enroll some of the students and ease the strain on the traditional schools.’

Ladies and gentlemen we have 3,000 students  in this scholarship students in Oscela County. If the Superintendent is concerned about absorbing 5,000 over the next five years, how will they absorb 3,000 in one day?”



Erase the Dots that can be Connected to Draw a Banjo

May 23, 2012

 (GuestPost by Matthew Ladner)

The New York Times published an overtly hostile front page story on tuition tax credits yesterday. Others will doubtlessly pick apart the story in terms of accuracy and there are a number of obvious distortions that I spotted in a single casual reading. It’s lazy journalism to quote a school choice opponent as suspecting malfeasance, for instance, when that same person could turn such an organization in to state authorities to face an organization death sentence. If that is of course if such person had any evidence rather than mere idle speculation.

But I digress. I find myself largely in agreement with John Kirtley’s reaction– which is to say that design features in a tax credit program are very important. I however wish to be a bit more direct than John. If school choice supporters don’t pay close attention to design features, especially regarding financial accountability and academic transparency, they leave enough dots lying around for someone to draw the following picture:

Whether this picture is “fair” or not (it certainly isn’t) is beside the point. The point is that parental choice supporters ought not to leave themselves open to such attack.

Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.



Kirtley and Tuthill launch redefinED blog

December 2, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Great new blog out of Florida by school choice champions Kirtley and Tuthill (that’s JK in the red tie). Check it out.

Florida on the March!

March 24, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

To go along with Florida’s great news from NAEP, comes this from Florida parental choice champion John Kirtley:

Today 5,500 low income parents and children travelled to the distant Florida capitol of Tallahassee to show their support of parental choice, and their support of our bill to dramatically expand the tax credit scholarship program for low income children.  Some of them took buses all night long to attend our rally, and their numbers set a national record for a parental choice rally. We conducted a headcount as they stepped off ninety eight 55-passenger buses this morning, and the total was 5,115. Another 406 arrived in cars for a grand total of 5,500. 
But the numbers weren’t the only story. The lineup of speakers who endorsed our the bill included the acting president of the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also endorsing the bill was the President of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and a group of South Florida Hispanic public school teachers. This is far from the typical story line for a rally supporting parental choice, and shows that in Florida this learning option for low-income students has achieved critical levels of bipartisan support.

Here is what Rep. James Bush, representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told the crowd: 

It is no coincidence that the first African-American to live in the White House is a man with an Ivy League degree, and just last summer President Obama made a powerful point about our history. There’s a reason, our President said, the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools.  There’s a reason, he said, that Thurgood Marshall took up the cause of Linda Brown.  There’s a reason, he said, why the Little Rock Nine defied a governor and a mob. It’s because, President Obama told us, there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential.

I say to you today that the Tax Credit Scholarship program is one of the keys we use to unlock that potential. It is one way we can reach some of those children who go to bed hungry at night. It is one way we show that an empty pocketbook doesn’t have to mean an empty bookshelf – that all our learning tools need to be on the table for all our children.

I am here today as a messenger of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and I am here to proudly proclaim that the organization created by Dr. King believes that a scholarship for low-income children is one way to break the cycle and close the gap. I am here, standing before this inspiring sea of hopeful faces, to announce that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference endorses Tax Credit Scholarships and endorses the bill this year that will expand them. This is our future. God bless you all.

Florida Senate approved a major expansion of the Step Up for Students tax credit by a vote of 27-11. One quarter of the Democrats voted in favor.

Let’s Get Ready to Rummmmmble!

August 24, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had a chance to watch the Fordham Foundation’s with ice cream ascendant is there a future for chocolate fudge event on charters and vouchers online. John Kirtley scored an early knockout when he noted that in Jacksonville Florida recently there all of 6 charter schools but 90 private schools serving low-income students through the Step Up for Students Tax Credit program. Kirtley then noted that not all 6 charter schools primarily serve low-income children. He likely could have added that not all six are high quality schools, but that would have been running up the score. Kirtley asked his debate opponents how much longer single mothers with children in the schools should have to wait for high quality school options.


Kirtley’s opponents, Kevin Carey and Susan Zelman, raised the predictable totem of “accountability.” This of course is a real issue and a superficially powerful totem, but when you look behind the curtain, the Great and Powerful Oz is just an old man.

I live in a state where 44% of 4th graders scored below basic in 4th grade reading in 2007 and even a little worse in 2005. Who, pray tell, was held “accountable” for that sorry performance? Was a single administrator or teacher fired? Not that I am aware of. Did the public elect a new Superintendent of Public Instruction? Nope- the incumbent was reelected in 2006.

Who was held accountable? Try “not a single human being at all.” Public school “accountability” in short, is a cruel joke with kids as the victims.

Those who want to pretend that giving an all too often dummied down state test tied to a set of often sorry state academic standards constitutes “accountability” have confused their means with their ends. It isn’t the end all be all of accountability, nor is it necessarily really accountability at all.

Done well, I believe standards and testing can be a productive education reform. Choice programs however should be an opt-out of that system into one that is different, but which still contains a vitally necessary level of transparency. Something like the Stanford 10 will work nicely.

Kirtley’s point was the key: if we are really interested in helping disadvantaged children, all options must be on the table. Otherwise, pro-charter but anti-private choice folks do indeed come across like the gradualist white liberal wimps who urged the leaders of the civil rights movement to be “patient.”

Patience can be a virtue, but not when your hair is on fire.

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