This is the latest post in our occasional series on the center-left roots of school choice.
The tiny Grassroots School in Tallahassee, Fla., is democratically run. Everybody votes on everything. Some of its 24 students recently led a successful bid to limit use of school computers. Others debated whether Grassroots should raise chickens or rabbits. The chicken faction won.
And for those who think choice is a good thing, good news: After a decade-long hiatus, the 42-year-old “free school” is again among the 1,600 private schools in Florida that accept tax credit scholarships for low-income students.*
“We want to serve all families,” not just those who can afford tuition without scholarships, said Kim Weinrich, the school’s chief academic officer. “That’s very important to us.”
Given the myths that fog perceptions about school choice, it’s noteworthy a school like Grassroots is participating in the nation’s largest private school choice program.
The “hippie school,” as it’s jokingly called, is rooted in one era but branching into a new one. In the 1960s and ‘70s, hundreds of schools like it mushroomed across America, nourished by a counterculture compost that rejected bureaucracy and uniformity. According to the Alternative Education Resource Organization, at least 100 remain.
A handful of families started Grassroots when Tallahassee was particularly fertile ground for liberal activists concerned about war, racism, pollution. “They were trying to figure out how we can improve,” in education and every other sphere of life, said longtime supporter Jan Alovus.
A self-described back-to-the-lander, Alovus migrated to Tallahassee in 1981, drawn by the city’s rep as a “cooperative community.” She paused, though, at sending her children to public schools: “I had been with them every day of their lives and all of a sudden somebody else was in charge of them?” she said. “That was odd to me.”
The remedy? Alovus and others started a land co-op that set aside four acres of oaks and magnolias for Grassroots. The school is still there, a stone’s throw from one of Tallahassee’s impossibly lush canopy roads and on the fringe of a sea change in public education. Continue Reading →