They are wrong.
In 2016, Martin Luther King III led a rally of 10,000 people, mostly black and Hispanic, against a lawsuit to kill the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, America’s largest choice private school program. “It’s a matter of justice,” he told the crowd. “It’s a question of justice. It is a question of truth. It’s about freedom – the freedom to choose what’s best for your family, and especially your child. “
In 2020, teachers’ unions staged a protest in Tallahassee against the very purpose of the King’s March for Education Justice, demanding more money for education and threatening work stoppages. The heads of the two national teachers’ unions were there to lead the charge for what would become one of many protests throughout the year, in predominantly red-prone states, where educational choice became mainstream and helped to diversify education options for parents.
A few months later, across the United States, almost every school would universally shut down COVID-19 and drive all students away for at least several months, if not the full year. For months, battles and high-profile media analysis have documented the saga of the reopening and the extent to which teachers’ unions and their allies have kept schools closed, even after billions of dollars started pouring in. to ensure the reopening of schools, first in autumn 2020, then in winter, then in early 2021, then in the spring of 2021. But barely half of the schools in the country are in fact open full time, in person at the time of this writing, and unions continue to challenge whether the billions going to public schools for safety and comfort will even be enough.
The rare exceptions to the rule concern only certain types of schools and certain types of states. First, it has been well documented that private and predominantly Catholic schools have remained open for most of the school year in almost all jurisdictions across the country. Second, states that have strong educational choice programs in place are more likely to have reopened public and private schools to students for all or most of the year. Nowhere is this more true than in Florida, where two decades of educational choice and charter school programs have turned the educational performance of the poorest students upside down. The national assessment of educational progress is only one of many objective measures of the increase created by these programs. Due to the diversity and flexibility of choice schools in Florida, decisions to reopen were made on a community basis, and its leaders were more willing to make schools work for students, no matter how difficult. and put science above politics during Covid.
All of this (just a fraction of the story of Florida’s major educational turnaround) is why an ideological report on the state’s most successful scholarship programs and a national model requires not only scrutiny, but also skepticism.
The once well-respected League of Women Voters has long opposed educational choice programs. The author of the League’s latest report in Florida, Dr Sally Butzin, says the program that created the opportunity for the more than 100,000 students who can attend the school of their choice has somehow deceived the taxpayer by “obscure operations; And further that the practice of giving corporate tax credits for contributions to the fund that creates scholarships is questionable, lacks transparency and constitutes bad public policy. It makes you wonder if she looked at the charitable contributions we all deduct each year on our tax returns – or the credit American businesses receive for everything from wind power to solar power to stadiums.
It is also clear that the author may not understand how to read a federal 501 (c) (3) 990. She reports that Step Up For Students, the state’s largest and oldest scholarship organization (SGO), has billions in assets, when in reality a nonprofit is making its promises. as an income when they are made. Nonprofits like Step Up need to constantly work to secure pledges that ensure enough funds exist to cover scholarships year after year.
Recounting his opposition to this program last January 2020 on the occasion of the aforementioned teachers’ march, Butzin wrote in the Tallahassee Democrat:
“Soon a parallel school system began to develop… this led to state-funded vouchers for private schools. Ironically, these new diagrams (emphasis added) had no accountability to taxpayers, as well as blatant conflicts of interest that the politicians who created these alternative schools benefited financially.
“And this parallel system has cost public education its life, because billions of dollars in it have left millions of children behind.”
Diagrams? Benefit financially? Any evaluation should be guided by a tangible look at the benefits of the program.
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship now serves 100,000 students each year, two-thirds of whom are black and Hispanic. Evidence shows that students consistently perform better – at significantly lower cost, which is why hundreds of companies choose to contribute to nonprofit groups like Step Up For Students.
A decade of standardized test score analyzes shows that scholarship students are generally among the lowest performing students in their previous public schools. But instead of falling behind each year, they now acquire a year of knowledge in a year. A 2019 study by the Urban Institute found that these same students are up to 43% more likely to enroll in four-year colleges than their public school peers, and up to 20% more likely to enroll in four-year colleges than their public school peers. get a bachelor’s degree.
These gains come at a lower cost. The scholarship accounts for 59% of per student spending at Florida District schools and allows students to choose from thousands of schools of varying size, demographics, educational orientation, and location. A review of eight independent financial studies over the years has shown that scholarships save taxpayers money that can also be positively reinvested in public schools.
The scholarship also does not harm traditional public schools. As Florida increased school choice, academic trend lines increased for all its public schools.
Florida’s graduation rate was 54% in 2001, the year the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship was established. It’s 90% now. According to the College Board, Florida now ranks # 3 for K-12 results, according to Education Week, and # 2 for UKTN exam success.
The stock markets are a key part of this rising tide. A 2020 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that as the scholarship program grew, the public schools most affected by the competition had higher test scores and less absenteeism. This month, a study released by researchers at the University of Arkansas shows that while Florida has led the country to expand its choice over the past 20 years, its students with disabilities and students of color have showed some of the greatest academic gains.
The Florida League of Women Voters’ only reference to the quality of education is rhetoric:
“When asked about quality control and learning outcomes, voucher promoters always come down to ‘parent choice’. It’s up to parents to decide “what’s best for their child”.
“This assumes that all parents are up to the task. Are we on our way back 200 years ago, when schooling was the sole responsibility of parents? Parents at the time tinkered with one-room school groups and private lessons. Parents with means had access to private schools with qualified teachers, while the Catholic Church created a system of parish schools.
“As the industrial age approached, it was clear that this parent-run school system was inadequate for a modern society. In 1838, Horace Mann founded and edited The Common School Journal. Mann is considered the father of public education. ”
Butzin goes on to list Mann’s principles for public education, criticizing the Florida legislature for allegedly unfolding this vision, appearing to prefer a “modern” vision of the school created nearly 200 years ago! Among hundreds of other advancements, the advent of brain science unavailable in previous decades has proven the importance of variety, diversity and individualization in education and learning, and he is independent of the kind of the school that one attends, whether public, private or charter, or whether it is a micro-school, entirely virtual or a traditional school.
Scholarship programs like the one in Florida exist in 19 states and offer less advantaged students the opportunity to make decisions about their choice of education, from a variety of offerings never before available.
It is the way of the future for education. It must be celebrated and constructed, not condemned and distorted.