Florida has long been a national leader in the field of educational choice. From the introduction of charter schools and the Florida Virtual School in 1996 and 1997, to the creation of the McKay Scholarship program for students with disabilities and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program for low-income families in 1999 and 2001, Florida continues to offer its families more choices than ever.
While critics have argued that such programs are harmful to our traditional public school system, our experience in Florida shows the opposite is true. The effect of providing other educational options to our students has benefited not only the students who have participated in these choice programs, but the vast majority of students who have chosen to remain in our traditional public schools as well.
The positive effect of increased educational options is evident in the continuous upward surge in student performance in our public schools over the past 15 years. Although still only a small percentage of the population of our traditional public schools, the choice programs have created a healthy competitive environment that has contributed to the improvement of our traditional public schools’ existing educational programs. They have also helped motivate the introduction of new programs to meet the educational needs of public school students.
From magnet schools to career academies, controlled-open enrollment and Advanced Placement, Florida school districts have introduced numerous new programs and schools that provide unique learning opportunities tailored to the interests and aptitude of their students. In fact, the latest data provided by school districts indicates that of the 2,682,214 students who attend K-12 public schools, nearly 30 percent attend schools other than the one to which they were assigned.
But more than providing competition among the providers of education in our state, school choice is about giving parents, rather than geographic boundaries, control over their child’s educational opportunities. School choice is not so much about one type of school being “better” than another as it is about empowering parents and helping them learn how to become active participants and decision-makers in finding the best educational environment for their child. While thousands of parents will continue to make the choice to keep their children in the public school to which they’ve been assigned, the very fact that they have a choice contributes to the type of parental engagement that is so important to the education of our children.
As the number of educational options available to Florida’s children continues to grow in both the public and private sector, there are two important goals that need to be at the forefront of how our state effectively manages this growth. Continue Reading →