A debate on traditional public schools vs. charter schools took front and center Friday at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club.

For 68 minutes, a group of education leaders of various backgrounds discussed the issue at the Ferguson Law Center.

Speaking out most prominently for charters was Doug Tuthill, the president of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit group that administers most of the tax credit and Gardiner scholarships in Florida.

He said when it comes to charter schools, the public is voting with its feet, referring to the explosive growth of his program, where there were 28,000 students on Step Up for Student scholarships in 2008, and 115,000 in 2017.

Leading the argument for traditional public schools was Melissa Erickson, the executive director of the Alliance for Public Schools.

She said that she did not fault a single parent for making the choice to attend any school that is available to them. What bothered her, she said, was that the vast majority chose.

“What bothers me is that the majority of parents choose public schools,” she said. “And in these debates and in these conversations, those 86-90 percent of parents’ choice is discounted, and I think that is a problem.”

It’s been a contentious issue for years in Florida, ever since the GOP-led Legislature and former Gov. Jeb Bush put the state on the leading edge of a national movement to offer parents alternatives to their neighborhood schools.

The intense acrimony increased this summer after the Florida Legislature’s passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 7069, which included the controversial ‘Schools of Hope’ provision that allows those charter schools to move into areas where traditional public schools have long records of low state test scores.

Tuthill frequently referred to himself as a progressive Democrat who

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