Author Archive | Patrick R. Gibbons

Florida’s private schools are growing at a faster rate

Florida’s private schools saw their biggest enrollment growth in 15 years.

Enrollment grew by 22,525 PreK-12 students in the 2016-17 school year. That’s a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year and the second-highest enrollment growth since 2000. According to the new report from the Florida Department of Education, private school students now make up 11.6 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida.

Enrollment ranged from 0 students in rural Liberty County to 76,022 in Miami-Dade. Continue Reading →


The price of liberty is vigilance

Wendell Phillips. Source: Wikimedia.

“External vigilance is the price of liberty, power is ever stealing from the many to the few,” said American abolitionist Wendell Phillips in a speech in 1852.

Sadly, at least when it comes to school choice, my fellow libertarians and conservatives appear to have misplaced their priorities while standing vigilantly against the encroachment of bad government.

Lindsey Burke, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, worries that “furthering federal entanglement in the funding of education through new federal programs would be unsound and would come at the expense of state, local, and parent decision-making.”

Max Eden, a scholar from the Manhattan Institute, worries that a federal program would prohibit scholarship organizations from setting aside funds for specific schools or groups. “This restriction would not only limit donor interest to well under $20 billion a year,” he wrote. “It would also exert pressure on existing state programs to drop their moral mission and conform.”

Free-market conservatives and libertarians have retreated on school choice, leaving Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Trump alone holding the banner for a federal program.

Their worries would make sense if the Trump Administration were still contemplating a $20 billion voucher initiative. But there’s good news. Recent headlines suggest the more likely path to federal school choice would a tax credit scholarship program. This is an approach to school choice that relies on private, voluntary contributions rather than direct government subsidies.
Continue Reading →

Arizona is the next Nevada, so who is the next Arizona?

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona signed a universal education savings account (ESA) bill into law Thursday night, making Arizona the second state to pass a universal ESA program.

However, Arizona may be the first state to actually implement a universal ESA as the Nevada Supreme Court struck down the Silver State’s funding mechanism last year. ESAs in the Grand Canyon State have already survived a constitutional challenge.

Although the program is theoretically universal, with 1.1 million students in the state eligible, it will allow only limited growth until it reaches a cap of 30,000 students by 2022. Continue Reading →

Annotating Think Progress

Today we are trying something new: annotating an article from a different blog, using Genius. Click on the highlighted portions below to read our comments on the article. You may need to have pop up blockers turned off to view the content. We these offer comments to correct the record. The original post can be read here.

Why the racist history of school vouchers matters today

By Casey Quinlan
Policy reporter at Think Progress

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

On Monday, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote a scathing letter to President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, questioning whether she had the expertise to run the department. Among Warren’s many criticisms of DeVos’ record — her unknown views on many aspects of higher education and civil rights issues, for example — Warren also mentioned the “racially charged history” of voucher programs.

Warren wrote:

 After Brown v. Board of Education and the court-ordered segregation of public schools, many Southern states established voucher schemes to allow white students to leave the education system and take taxpayer dollars with them, decimating the budgets of the public school districts. Today’s voucher schemes can be just as harmful to public school district budgets, because they often leave school districts with less funding to teach the most disadvantaged students, while funneling private dollars to unaccountable private schools that are not held to the same academic or civil rights standards as public schools.” Continue Reading →

School choice growth accelerates in Florida; 1.6 million students choose


The changes in Florida’s educational landscape show no signs of slowing.

On the contrary, more than 1.6 million preK-12 students enrolled in school choice programs during the 2015-16 school year. School choice enrollment increased by more than 74,000 – nearly the same amount as the previous two years combined, according to an analysis of Florida Department of Education data.

Although 45 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida choose schools outside their neighborhood zones, the two most widely used forms of choice are offered by public school districts.  

Enrollment in choice and magnet programs increased dramatically, taking the top spot from open enrollment. Charter schools grew by 19,000 students and are vying with magnets to become the most popular public-school option. Continue Reading →

The missing history from the DeVos debate


Betsy DeVos.

Critics of Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Secretary of Education have promoted a narrative that she is a free-market ideologue opposed to all education regulations.

But a step outside the shadow of the dysfunctional Detroit education system and a look at DeVos’ advocacy for private school choice paints a more nuanced picture.

A paper trail left by DeVos, and the advocacy foundations she led until recently, reveals a history of supporting choice programs that create academic, administrative and financial accountability for organizations that fund scholarships and schools that accept them (see page 24-25). She has also pushed private school choice programs to prioritize disadvantaged students.

“We target programs that are specifically geared to answer the needs of low-income parents and students,” she said during a 2015 interview.

These stances have sometimes triggered conflict with other groups that support vouchers and other forms of private school choice, but favor a more laissez-faire approach. School choice critics often omit differences of opinion that sometimes arise among voucher supporters. While these conflicts tend to be relatively minor in the scheme of things, they highlight competing philosophies and strategic approaches that shape the school choice movement.

A debate over tax credit scholarship reforms during Georgia’s most recent legislative session provides a telling case in point. Continue Reading →

The next Nevada? These are the states to watch for education savings accounts

Nevada’s universal education savings accounts were the most far-reaching educational choice program ever created, but they suffered a setback earlier this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism unconstitutional.

November elections swept pro-school choice Republicans from power. Potential legislative fixes a likely bargaining chip between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval, meaning it’s an open question whether the program will ever get funded.

While Nevada’s fate remains uncertian, educational choice advocates are looking to other states to follow up with legislation that might match its scope and ambition.

There’s no question education savings accounts will be on the agenda in state capitals all over the country next year. They’ve been passed by legislatures in six states and signed into law in five. A total 18 states drafted, studied or introduced ESA bills in 2016, and this fall’s elections may have tipped the political balance for educational choice in statehouses around the country.

Observers and education reform experts gathered in Washington last week for the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference had some ideas for states worth keeping an eye on.


The top choice of Robert Enlow, the president of EdChoice, Iowa already has a tax credit scholarship program.

Iowa lawmakers actually drafted a universal ESA bill a whole month before their Nevada counterparts back in 2015. But despite 24 co-sponsors, the proposal never gained traction. Another ESA bill to create a smaller pilot ESA program for 190 students could only make it out of a subcommittee in the Republican-controlled House.

The November elections may have changed the political calculus. Republicans gained control of the state Senate, and now observers across the political spectrum seem to believe some form of ESA legislation is in the works. Continue Reading →

William N. Sheats and pitfalls of democratic control of public education


William N. Sheats was, in many ways, the father of Florida’s public school system. He was also an ardent racist who declared war on a racially integrated private school in North Florida, which he referred to as a “nest of vile fanatics” in an episode that subjected the state to national ridicule.

But perhaps the most fascinating — and troubling — aspect of this complicated figure is this: By the standards of his time, he was a moderate.

Several times during his long run as the leader of Florida’s public education system, he faced threats to his political career because, in the view of his opponents, he wasn’t racist enough.

Sheats was Florida’s first elected education superintendent, serving from 1893 to 1904, and again 1913 until his death in 1922. He worked to modernize Florida’s uniform system of public schools and helped draft the first statewide curriculum. He reformed teacher training and certification, requiring educators to pass exams to prove subject-area mastery. He worked to ensure more public high schools were accredited, and helped pass the state’s compulsory-attendance law in 1919. During his tenure, Florida had one of the best-funded public school systems among southern states and had more accredited high schools per capita than any other state in the region.

But Sheats was also a racist. He once declared access to education would “make the vast number of idle, absolutely worthless negroes industrious and self-supporting.” Continue Reading →