The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topical subjects from the legal community. We hope our readers enjoy the perspective offered. This month’s legal opinion is provided by Ed Pozzuoli, Esq., CEO of Tripp Scott, PA.
Ask Bill: Why do proponents of school choice think it is a better approach?
Pozzuoli: First of all, choice is about freedom, which is a good, energizing, invigorating force in and of itself. We’ve seen its dynamism unleashed across our economy in a range of industries. But it’s especially precious in the educational environment. Parents get to decide what is best for their child, not some school board administrator.
Choice empowers children to escape mismanaged, deficient, sometimes dilapidated and often soul-sapping district-run schools. And parents to find the best options for their children, no two of whom are alike – whether school size or a particular curriculum, program, or atmosphere. And perhaps more important, to hold schools accountable.
But freedom and choice are also good because they work, in a number of ways and on a number of levels. They unleash people to reach as high and as far as their talents and desires will take them, instead of trapping them in the dreary limits of smothering bureaucracy, mind-numbing political correctness and zero tolerance for everything that characterize district-run schools.
And choice implies competition, which in turn allows the best ideas to come forward and thereby unlocks innovation – all but ensuring that “business” will flow to entities producing the best results at the lowest cost.
Ask Bill: But don’t opponents of school choice claim it doesn’t really work? That strong performance in some schools results from their “cherry-picking” promising students? And that, in the words of Bernie Sanders, “The proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color?”
Pozzuoli: In this case Bernie Sanders is correct – charter schools have disrupted affected communities of color – for the better. Opponents of school choice, as the saying goes, are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. And the facts show that, as the Florida Department of Education has reported, “students in charter schools outperformed their peers in traditional schools in nearly every category.”
2018 data showed charter students demonstrating higher rates of grade-level performance in 82% of comparisons and greater learning gains in 92%. These showings held across African-American, Hispanic and school-lunch-entitled students, by far the majority of charter students – in fact, the achievement gap between white and minority students was lower in charters in 86% of comparisons.
Meanwhile, the Urban Institute has found that Florida Tax Credit Scholarship beneficiaries – 68% minorities – are markedly more likely to go on to and more important, graduate from college. In the Institute’s most stunning finding, students in grades 8 to 10 who used the scholarships to attend private schools for four years or more were 99% more likely to enroll in four-year colleges, and 45% more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. The power to decide lies with the parent (regardless of the parent’s race or background or socioeconomic status.) Provide choice for those who have historically had no choice. That is the point.
Instead of forcing those students into one option, parents are now able to choose many education options. Exercising those options allows parents real power to decide the best path for the child.
Do charters “cherry-pick?” Hardly. In fact, demand for charter schools far exceeds supply nationwide, and entry is often based on lotteries. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates that while more than 3 million students attend charters, 5 million would if given the opportunity.
Ask Bill: But is there any evidence for the assertion that school choice produces this higher performance at a lower cost?
Pozzuoli: Once again, the facts speak for themselves. A 2019 report by Florida Tax Watch (FTW) indicates that the average cost of providing a K-12 student in the Sunshine State was 31% less in charter schools than in district-run public schools. (Full disclosure— I’m a Florida Tax Watch trustee.)
Meanwhile, the average maximum scholarship available through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program was just 59% of the cost of providing a district-run education.
Ask Bill: What does school choice have to do with the law, anyway?
Pozzuoli: First, school choice is the law in our state with the first charter schools established in 1996 under Florida Statutes Section 1002.33. Nearly 330,000 students were enrolled in 673 charter schools in 48 districts in the 2019-2020 school year.
But also, if you believe every child has the right to a quality education, you should be a champion of charters, especially in the age of COVID-19. I recently pointed out in an opinion article that the question of keeping schools open, like other matters of educational opportunity, is also a civil rights issue. McKinsey & Company last year estimated that during COVID school closures, 46% of African-American students and 60% of socioeconomically disadvantaged students likely received low-quality instruction – and 40% no instruction at all.
Unsurprisingly, as my colleague Shari McCartney has pointed out, charter schools shined in reducing this inequality during the pandemic. Thanks to their innovation and flexibility, charters were nimble and ready to roll – often the first in any region to start-up remote learning and the last to close.
But let’s finish where we started: freedom. The law is all about upholding individual rights and freedoms. It’s important to preserve these freedoms, especially of parents in communities of color, to allow them choose the best solutions for their children – particularly in the face of relentless efforts by certain politicians, teachers unions and other special interests to take that choice away.
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Read more Ask Bill at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/william-c-davell/
William “Bill” C. Davell, Esq., is a director with Tripp Scott, PA.