The Sunshine State is Shining Example of School Choice Success

When it comes to embracing school choice, no state has done a better job to date than Florida. For the past two decades, the Sunshine State has led the charge in offering multiple school choice programs so as many Floridians as possible can decide which school their children attend.

Although Florida still has far to go before every child has the opportunity to attend the school that best fits his unique needs and circumstances, substantial progress is being made.

Florida’s foray into school choice began at the turn of the 21st century, well before most people had even heard of the phrase “school choice.” And, in less than two decades, Florida lawmakers have arguably done more to ensure that Floridians, not bureaucrats, decide which school their children attend than any other state in the union.

So, 20 years later, what has school choice brought to the families of Florida? Well, for starters, the sheer number of Florida students enrolled in school choice programs, which is 100 percent their decision, has continued to skyrocket, as have their academic results.

Here is a brief rundown of Florida’s school choice programs:

  • “The Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) Program is one of Florida’s greatest victories for low-income and working-class families… and provides 18,000 students life-changing education opportunities for academic and career success.”
  • “To expand educational opportunities for children of families that have limited financial resources and to enable children in this state to achieve a greater level of excellence in their education, the Florida Legislature created the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program in 2001.”
  • “The McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities provided over 31,000 Florida students with special needs the opportunity to attend a participating private school during the 2018-19 school year.”
  • “The Opportunity Scholarship Program was created as a Florida school choice option in 1999. As originally implemented, the program offered students who attended or who were assigned to attend failing public schools the option to choose a higher performing public school or a participating private school.”
  • “The Gardiner Scholarship Program provides eligible students a scholarship that can be used to purchase approved services or products in order to design a customized educational program for the student.”
  • “Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, a student enrolled in a Florida public school in kindergarten through grade 12 who has been subjected to an incident of battery; harassment; hazing; bullying; kidnapping; physical attack; robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault, or battery; threat or intimidation; or fighting at school the opportunity to transfer to another public school with capacity or enroll in an approved private school under the Hope Scholarship.”
  • “Reading Scholarship Accounts are available for students in grades 3 through 5 who are enrolled in a Florida public school and scored below a Level 3 on the grade 3 or grade 4 statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment in the prior school year.”

To date, these programs have helped hundreds of thousands of Florida students attend schools that are best tailored to meet their specific needs.

Here are a few testimonials:

“Ivana is a participant in the McKay Scholarship Program. Ivana’s mother recently emailed the DOE about Ivana’s progress in school and what participation in the program has done for her morale and future ambitions:

Ivana’s mother wrote:

Ivana is looking forward to college and asking me various questions about which college would be adequate for her. She wakes up every morning eager to make it to school, not just on time, but early. She is not only an ‘honor’ student in her class, but a ‘star’ student as well. Her school denotes a ‘star’ category to students who have no referrals, perfect conduct, willing to assist teachers and fellow students, and volunteer extra time for charity fund-raisers and school events.”

“Susan is a parent who needed options for her child's education. Susan's son Dylan is now participating in one of Florida's choice programs. Dylan attends a school that specializes in serving children with varying degrees of dyslexia.

In her own words, this is Susan's Story:

I had been through hell and back to get some help for my child. After weeks of being discouraged and not finding the right answers, the Florida Department of Education, Independent Education and Parental Choice helped me. I knew we needed information and someone to care about my individual child.

We were able to enroll Dylan in a private school as a student in the McKay Scholarship Program. At the private school he does very well. He has learned a lot of coping mechanisms that he wasn’t taught before. He wouldn’t even try. He’d just say, ‘I’m a dummy,’ and give up. Now, he struggles. He tries. He’s using his coping skills he’s been taught and he’s making an effort.”

These are just two real-life examples of how Florida’s school choice initiatives have worked wonders. One could easily fill a book with these awesome success stories.

School choice is not controversial. It is overwhelmingly supported by Americans. Given the excellent results of Florida’s school choice initiatives, more states should follow the Sunshine State’s shining example of school choice success.

Chris Talgo (ctalgo@heartland.orgis an editor at The Heartland Institute.

Image: {{PD-FLGov}}

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