The fifth annual National School Choice Week has started. Running from Jan. 25-31, it is a time for parents to come together and network to explore educational options for their children.
Some states have gone ahead with education directives that have overhauled their entire system — and expanded possibilities for families.
Among those states looking for a change was Florida. It has been seven months since Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 850 into law. Among the provisions in the bill was an expansion of the school voucher program. Under the new reforms, a family of four earning up to $62,010 a year will be eligible for a partial scholarship. This is a near $20,000 increase from the previous limit of $43,568.
The bill also allows for more access to certain programs for special needs children, Tampa Bay Times reports. They will be able to access state funds for private school tuition, tutors and materials.
During the initial passage of the bill, the move was championed by the think-tank Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Allison Aubuchon, director of state communications for the organization, discussed the law with The Daily Caller:
“Children with special needs face challenges on their education path, but a more customized approach can make a world of difference to the students and their families. Our hope for the program is that it will reach as many eligible Florida families as possible to achieve more flexibility and freedom for their children. We hope that this program will be able to expand to reach even more students.”
National School Choice Week President Andrew Campanella explained to TheDC Florida’s involvement with school choice. “Florida provides a multitude of effective education options for families,” Campanella said. “The state is considered a school choice pioneer, which is one of the reasons we chose to launch National School Choice Week in the sunshine state.”
A Jan. 22 poll by the American Federation for Children showed that school choice is a political winner for Republicans, Democrats and pretty much everyone else.
Others groups like the Florida PTA and the Florida Education Association disagreed with the passage of the law and school choice, and have advocated for the courts to invalidate it — although neither was willing to comment.
Jean Hovey, FEA’s executive direction, issued a brief statement to TheDC, saying, “No one in the office can comment. We no longer have a legislation chair.”
The FEA previously attempted to challenged the constitutionality of the law in court, but the lawsuit was dismissed by Leon County Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis. Their initial issue with the law was that it would funnel money away from the public school system that is already operating on a tight budget. As it reached the courts, their argument evolved to say that the law violated a constitutional provision that limits bills to addressing one subject at at time.
The Florida PTA didn’t give a statement, either, instead saying its president, Andy Ford, was out of the office. PTA held the opinion that the law would result in taxpayer funds going to private — often religious — schools that didn’t meet the public sector standards.
A study published by the Brookings Institution and Harvard Kennedy School in early January on school choice showed its effects on students over time. It found that minority students who received a school voucher to attend private elementary schools in 1997 were, as of 2013, 10 percent more likely to enroll in college, and 35 percent more likely than their counterparts in public school to receive a college degree.