J.D. Vance’s autobiography “Hillbilly Elegy” describes how the author and the grandmother who raised him were entirely stumped by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. It was so complicated, Vance relates, that he figured that if he couldn’t file for financial aid, he shouldn’t go to college. He joined the Marine Corps instead.
I thought the description of FAFSA odd when I read it, but then experienced the FAFSA torture/audit ritual firsthand as a parent. I found it every bit as aggravating as Vance described. Applying to college **should not** be this complicated, I told myself repeatedly.
School choice should not be complicated either. With SB 48, sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, Florida lawmakers have filed a bill to simplify what has become a complex set of programs.
Some years ago, the Alliance for Catholic Education created this graphic to illustrate the complexity of figuring out whether a student qualified for a private choice program in Arizona.
At the time, the alliance sent families down a decision tree that included factors such as whether they were currently enrolled in an Arizona public school, whether the student had been in foster care, whether the parent was active-duty military, the disability status of the child, the letter grade of the child’s zoned public school and the family’s income.
Since then, students residing on Native American Reservations, siblings of students eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship and children of blind parents have become eligible to participate in education choice programs. These changes have opened the door of opportunity to more students but made matters even more complicated.
One can say the same for Florida, which also has multiple private choice programs. Florida children with disabilities, for instance, have access to two private choice programs, but which the one they access may depend upon the details of their Individual Education Plan and what sort of school they currently attend. One of these two wonderful programs gives families a variety of options to hire private therapists and other educational services and products while the other does not.
Some families who would like to have these options currently won’t qualify for the program that provides them. But Florida’s Senate Bill 48 will create a single program to provide these opportunities to all children with disabilities and streamline the process for families and schools. SB 48 also consolidates Florida’s multiple programs not focused on children with disabilities.
Life doesn’t have to be complicated; we just have a talent for making it that way. Congratulations to Florida’s lawmakers for pursuing simplicity.