The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topics from the legal community. This month, William “Bill” C. Davell and Ed Pozzouli, of Tripp Scott PA, address school choice.
As Florida’s children return to classrooms, what better time is there to highlight the Sunshine State’s status as a national leader in school choice – and three reasons why that distinction matters more than ever? Even more, it’s worth considering whether, during this year or later, your family should take advantage of the state’s range of offerings that put families and their needs first.
Bill Davell: Why is Choice is the Ultimate “Parents’ Revolt”?
Ed Pozzuoli: “Parents matter.” It’s been a watchword of the “Great Parent Revolt” as moms and dads across America fought back, before school boards and at the ballot box, against COVID lockdowns, mask mandates and woke policies that put the interests and priorities of education bureaucrats and teachers unions ahead of their children.
Parents are rightfully concerned with:
- Months and even years of lost learning and the growth of the “achievement gap,”
- The declaration by public health leaders of “a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health,”
- Reports of speech development and processing difficulties and immune system concerns resulting from mask mandates,
- Children being exposed to age-inappropriate material or indoctrination on sexuality and being taught, in Governor DeSantis’s words, “to hate our country or to hate each other.”
And while the district-run school establishment has been circumscribed on these issues by the DeSantis administration and state legislature, they’re not giving up. It’s been reported that “an overwhelming majority of Florida’s teachers” have opposed the law against inappropriate sexual content in particular.
The two bills are being fought in the courts of law and public opinion. Be on the lookout for an adverse court ruling or two and protesting teachers trying to sneak their views into the classroom.
School choice puts parents in control. It protects parents’ prerogatives and values, and focus on schools’ mission of education, not indoctrinating children.
BD: What are Florida’s school choice offerings?
EP: School choice in the Sunshine State comes in a myriad of forms designed to meet the needs of any child:
- Charter Schools: FDOE defines charter schools as “public schools that operate under a performance contract, or a ‘charter’ which frees them from many regulations created for traditional public schools while holding them accountable for academic and financial results.” Per the Department, some charter schools offer themed learning approaches focusing on areas such as arts, sciences, and technology, and others focus on children with special needs. As of the 2020-21 school year, charter schools in Florida served more than 340,000 children, 51% of whom were low-income and 70% minorities.
- Florida Opportunity Scholarships allow students in schools earning an “F” or three consecutive “Ds” in statewide assessments to choose a higher performing public school.
- Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options enables low-income K-12 students to attend a participating private school.
- Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities provides families of students with disabilities choice of enrollment in another public school or a personal education savings account (ESA) to fund private school tuition and fees or other expenses.
- The Hope Scholarship enables K-12 students who been bullied in various ways to transfer to another public school or enroll in an approved private school.
- Other options within the district-run systems include Virtual Schools, Magnet Schools and programs and special academic programs such as Advanced Placement (AP), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), Career Academies, Dual Enrollment and International Baccalaureate (IB) Diplomas.
BD: Can school choice options compete with traditional public schools?
EP: A range of measures demonstrates how school choice delivers for Florida families:
- FLDOE reported that 2018 data found “students in charter schools outperformed their peers in traditional schools in nearly every category,” and that these showings held across African-American, Hispanic and school-lunch-entitled students, by far the majority of charter students.
- That performance held during the pandemic, a period of widespread learning loss. FLDOE reported last year that charter schools were the only category that didn’t show declines in the English Language Arts portion of the Grade 3 Florida Standards Assessment, outranking traditional counterparts by fully 8 percentage points – 61% vs. 53% at Level 3 or above.
- According to US News and World Report rankings last year, 21 of Florida’s top 100 high schools were charters.
The Urban Institute has also found that Florida Tax Credit Scholarship beneficiaries – 68% minorities – are markedly more likely to go on to and more important, graduate from college.
Where should parents go to learn more about the power and performance of school choice in Florida? A great place to start is the resources offered by FLOE at www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/.
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Read more Ask Bill at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/william-c-davell/