Vouchers, here. Charters, there. Virtual, over there. Politically, school choice sectors have been islands. But there are signs the movement is building bridges to advance common goals.
Florida’s lead here surfaced at this week’s American Federation for Children summit, during a panel discussion on just that topic. In the Sunshine State, charter schools and supporters of vouchers and tax credit scholarships have teamed up to advance legislation, said panelist Jon Hage, founder and CEO of Florida-based Charter Schools USA.
“We realized it was time to join forces,” Hage said. “We felt we were sort of the Army, and they were the Navy … What we’re trying to do is have a common Department of Defense.”
The Florida school choice coalition doesn’t stop at two sectors. Through a group formed in 2010 – the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education – it includes online providers, home-schoolers and district school choice options like magnet schools. In the middle of this year’s legislative session, the group held a rally that, for the first time, brought parents together from across the spectrum.
Panelists suggested the benefits of a united front included strength in numbers, a more focused message and crossover appeal.
In response to a question from moderator Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Hage said some Democratic lawmakers in Florida were more willing to support charter bills this year because they had supported tax credit scholarships in the past. Plus, the coalition offered a tighter, more compelling argument – one that emphasized school choice options even more and better deflected the usual criticisms.