Advocates for school choice and protesters who want more money spent on public schools assembled at the Florida Board of Education meeting Wednesday at Polk State College in Lakeland.
More than a dozen parents and students representing Florida Voices for Choices gathered outside the entrance to the college’s technology building wearing bright orange T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Parent Power” and holding signs that read “Empower More Parents With Choice” and “Choice Helps Public Schools.” They countered a protest organized by groups that argue the state is “starving public schools” of money and have demanded a “moratorium on vouchers and charter expansion.”
Five choice advocates spoke before the board and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. They included Ashley Elliott, a Lakeland native and Florida Tax Credit Scholarship alumnus. Elliott gave a moving account of her life – born drug-addicted to a single mother, adopted by her grandmother who faced health problems while living in poverty.
“By all rights I shouldn’t be here today,” she said.
Elliott said that after struggling in one public school she transferred to another, where she was bullied for wearing the same “hand-me-down clothes” twice in the same week. She got into fights with other students, skipped class, and saw her grades decline to D’s and F’s.
“Not even I believed in myself anymore,” she said “I was destined to become a high school dropout, a disappointment, or worse. Just another sad statistic.”
It was then that a teacher told her about the tax credit scholarship, which allowed her to afford to attend Victory Christian Academy, a private school in Lakeland, where she thrived. She graduated with a 3.3 GPA, and is currently in her second year at Valencia College in Orlando. She said she plans to transfer to the University of Central Florida next spring and major in history.
“None of this would be possible without school choice,” she said. “Just as we have choices in what we eat or our career path, we need a choice in our education. Education is a human right on which our futures depend.”