Florida Legislators Support School Choice
A bipartisan group of legislators–including the chairwoman of the legislative black caucus–has promised to deliver school choice to Florida’s parents next year and to work with Floridians for School Choice to achieve that goal.
The commitments from Democratic Representative Beryl Roberts-Burke and Republican Representatives Carlos Lacasa and Steve Wise were announced when the group outlined a list of ten guiding principles for choice legislation for the next session. Wise is a board member of Parents in Control.
“The momentum is building for an idea whose time has come,” said Roberts, who last year proposed legislation for a pilot voucher program for failing inner-city schools. “All of us–black, white, Hispanic–recognize that quality education is key to economic success in our society,” she added, noting that “parents deserve a choice” even if public schools do a good job.
Wise agreed, saying the voucher proposal “has everything to do with freedom of choice.”
Many of the same principles developed by the Florida group for K-12 school choice helped shape the state’s existing post-secondary school choice policy, which makes tax-funded scholarships available for use at public, private, or religiously affiliated colleges. The principles offer a unified guide for extending the same opportunity to families with school-aged children without imposing new regulations on private schools or impeding their missions in any way.
The work of Floridians for School Choice is likely to be facilitated by the election of Governor Jeb Bush, who has voiced support for school choice. Further information about the group is available at its Web site, http://www.floridians.org.
Fair and Effective School Choice Legislation: Ten Principles
The goal of school choice is to give more children the opportunity to attend schools considered best for them by their parents by giving more families the capacity to choose from among public and private schools. For legislation implementing that goal to be fair and to win public support, the interests of many parties–children, families, schools, and taxpayers–must be recognized and balanced.
With that need for balance in mind, Floridians for School Choice has proposed the following principles to guide the drafting of school choice legislation.
To be fair and acceptable, school choice legislation should observe the following principles:
1. It must not disturb families happy with their child’s current placement at a public or private school.
2. It must not reduce per-pupil spending in the public schools and should not increase total public spending on education except for those increases that would naturally occur as the result of increased student numbers or a growing commitment to education on the part of Florida’s citizens.
3. It must ensure that participation in the system of tax-funded scholarships is voluntary for families and schools. No person or educational institution will be mandated to do anything.
4. It must include all schools–public, private, and religiously affiliated–that wish to participate and are prepared to accept reasonable measures of accountability.
5. It must introduce no new regulations on private schools that would threaten their mission, identity, or autonomy; and it must offer a similar and prompt deregulation to those public schools that wish it.
6. It must include provisions to assure that children from low-income families have fair access to schools their families prefer.
7. It must safeguard the interests of families and taxpayers by ensuring that no school that advocates unlawful behavior; teaches hatred of any person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, or gender; or deliberately provides false or misleading information shall be eligible to redeem tax-funded scholarships.
8. Its implementation must be gradual, orderly, and fair, protecting individual schools from abrupt large-scale reductions or unwanted increases in their number of students.
9. It must phase in scholarships for children who are already outside the public school system, including those who are home-schooled.
10. It must be compliant with federal and state constitutional provisions, readily understood by ordinary citizens, and able to be implemented without excessive administration.
Child-Friendly Cities Failed by K-12 Schools
Although Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist said he was encouraged to read of “empty nesters moving to Milwaukee,” he asked “Why only empty nesters? Are cities really places where you shouldn’t raise your children?”
Unfortunately, he concluded in a recent interview, “when it comes to K-12 education, everybody’s repelled by the cities.”
“Cities are actually very friendly to children,” argued Norquist. “There are sidewalks, transit systems: the children can move around without mommy and daddy having to drive them everywhere. If the cities are safe, and they can be–Paris, for example, is very safe–and if the schools are improved, then people would want to live in them.”
“Why are U.S. grade schools so bad?” he continued. “Why is it that New York City would not have the best grade schools? It has some of the great universities. In fact, the best universities in America are largely in the big cities. And there is a reason for that. We have a voucher system, we have competition in higher education, and so we have the best universities in the world. Because people have competition, the quality is high.”
“Whereas we have this monotonous, powerful government monopoly of K-12 education, and so the customer doesn’t really matter,” Norquist added. “So, instead of being number one, as we are in higher education in terms of quality, our grade schools rank 27th among industrial countries, right behind Portugal.”
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