A new television ad, debuting in Tallahassee during this Sunday’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLIX, features a Hispanic high school sophomore from South Florida making a plea to continue the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. The scholarships are the focus of a lawsuit filed by the Florida Teacher’s Union and School Boards Association. The legal challenge aims to end the 13-year old program, which would evict nearly 70-thousand Florida students from their current schools.
Valentin Mendez is the student featured in the advertisement. In the ad, he shares how he spent his early middle school years being bullied, feeling lost in a sea of faces and failing his classes.
“I tried different schools but bad things kept happening,” Valentin says in the testimonial spot that can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHQ4ESIHWPg&feature=youtu.be. “It was a nightmare that wouldn’t end. Then my mother learned about the Tax Credit Scholarships program.”
After being awarded a scholarship, Valentin enrolled in La Progresiva, a school that was reopened in Miami in 1971 after Fidel Castro forced its closure in Cuba ten years earlier. The teen calls his new school a dream come true. He is making good grades and has aspirations on becoming a doctor or businessman.
The ad also features the teen’s mother, Jeannthe Ruiz, who speaks from the heart about the importance her family places on hard work and what a good education means to her son’s future. Jeannthe works the night shift at a gas station, while Valentin’s father is employed at a tire shop.
“These are hard-working families who want to do what’s best to ensure a promising future for their children,” said Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), the sponsor of the ad. “It confounds me why anyone would want to eliminate this scholarship and dash the dreams of young students, from low-income families, who are finally getting the chance to succeed in the classroom and work their way toward a better life. Isn’t that what the American Dream is all about?”
Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship was created by the Legislature as a tax credit program that provides low-income parents more opportunity to find the schools that work best for their children. Of the roughly 70,000 students receiving scholarships this year, more than 25,000 are Hispanic. The average household income for a Hispanic student on the scholarship is $23,040, or just 3.7 percent above the poverty level.
Unlike voucher programs that receive direct funding from the state treasury, no direct state budget dollars are used to support the Florida tax credit scholarships. Corporations receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits in return for contributions to the program fund the scholarships.
The typical student enrolled:
– Lives near poverty: The average household income is $24,138 in a home with an average of 3.8 people. That’s only 5 percent above the federal poverty level.
– Is Hispanic or black: Scholarship recipients are 38 percent Hispanic and about 30 percent black. Another 3 percent identify themselves as “multi-racial,” and about 24 percent are white.
– Lives with one parent: More than half (54.2 percent) of scholarship recipients live in a single-parent home.
– Has struggled academically: The scholarship attracts the lowest academic achievers from their previous public schools, a trend that a highly regarded education researcher said is “becoming stronger over time.”
– Is now making solid academic gains. Research shows scholarship students are making the same annual learning gains as students of all income levels nationally.
– Lives in an urban area: For example, Miami-Dade County has 18,177 scholarship students.