I’ve spent the previous two days discussing accomplishments in Jeb Bush’s tenure as Florida’s governor while highlighting that, despite Bush’s forceful leadership and insistence that high-poverty, minority children would succeed, the state has failed to implement all the systemic improvements the governor envisioned.
But one significant change that did occur during Bush’s first term was the creation of three publicly funded private school choice programs.
The Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and the McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities both were established in 1999, while the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income students passed in 2001. The Florida Supreme Court ruled the OSP’s private school option unconstitutional in 2006, but the McKay and tax credit programs today currently help a combined 53,000 students attend more than 1,300 qualified private schools.
The McKay and tax credit programs positively impacted the achievement of low-income students during Bush’s first term by creating more competition, which research suggests benefitted the students who remained in their public schools, and by reducing the concentration of low-income and disabled students in inner-city public schools.
The competition benefit generated by the tax credit program was documented recently by David Figlio and Cassandra M.D. Hart, two Northwestern University researchers. They reviewed seven years worth of Florida test data and found the competition created by the tax credit scholarships had a positive impact on public school students’ achievement. No matter what measure the researchers used – the proximity of private schools to public schools, for instance, or the density of private schools within five miles of a public school – the effect generally was the same.