If parental choice is to be an educational litmus test for Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat, then he might surprise the politicos who are tracking the 2014 gubernatorial race. There are legitimate reasons to believe Crist, who formally entered the race on Monday, will support at least some forms of private school choice. The way he has embraced scholarships for low-income students is the best clue.
In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent advocate for the nearly 60,000 students – poor and mostly of color – who now take advantage of it. As such, the public record is replete with enthusiastic endorsements. At the 2010 bill signing ceremony, which included Republican and Democratic legislators, Crist called the scholarship “extraordinary” and said the bill “gives families the power to do the most important thing they do – make sure they find a school that fits their child’s needs.” At a rally in 2008 at Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, he said the scholarships “are helping us diversify our education system to achieve greater results and provide our children and future workforce with a world-class education.” At an event in Fort Lauderdale in 2009, he told supporters “I am confident we will continue to provide more educational opportunities and options.”
Perhaps most notable, though, was his speech to more than 5,500 students, families, educators and advocates who rallied March 24, 2010 at the State Capitol in support of tax credit scholarships. As a matter of disclosure, Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, organized that rally. It also produced this three-minute video about the event that provides context. The governor was clearly energized by the crowd, and his full remarks can be viewed in this clip.
“I’m so proud of the progress that we have made in education in Florida,” Crist said for openers, “And it’s all because of you and because of great teachers and great principals and choice. The power of choice in education is unstoppable. God bless you for pushing it.”
He continued. “We must make sure that every student gets an excellent education in the Sunshine State, and that’s exactly what you’re here about,” he said. “It is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Florida’s greatest strength is our great diversity, and every student should have an education that suits you. And your parents should have the power of choice no matter what the economics might be.”
In perhaps his most prescient comment, Crist spoke to bipartisan support: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m so proud to tell you that regardless of party Florida stands for you. There is no partisan politics about kids. It’s all about doing what’s right first and foremost. There it is – school choice is nonpartisan. You’re not kidding. It really is. As long as we put the children first, we cannot get it wrong. We’re going to continue to do that, continue to fight for you to make sure that you have the power of choice.” Continue Reading →