‘School Choice 2.0’ Bills Enter Florida Legislature

Published March 21, 2013

Florida lawmakers are considering two major school choice proposals: A “charter course” option to let K-12 and college students use tax money for individual classes outside public schools, and education savings accounts, where families control their child’s share of education funding.

The charter course proposal, modeled on Louisiana’s course choice program, would allow education providers to create “charter courses,” enabling school choice down to the credit level. Introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), the bill would create à la carte education options, allowing students to exercise not only school choice, but course-level choice as well.

Both concepts are new. Louisiana’s course choice first became available in 2012, and Arizona’s first-in-nation education savings accounts opened in 2011.

A 2012 presentation by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in Utah inspired Brandes’ proposal, he said. Christensen had discussed individual course accreditation as a means for creating modular curricula and ultimately, customized learning options for students.

“We’re really seeing this as choice within choice,” Brandes said. “You can imagine someone going to a charter school and taking an accounting course through [a university]. And another through a school district in California, or finding the Khan Academy physics course. I see this as a whole new world of education options for students.”

The proposal would create either a statewide contract or enable individual school districts to allocate funds to accredited courses. It would use a pay-for-performance model to fund courses based on the number of students taking and successfully completing them, with payments tied to outcomes instead of seat time.

Granular School Choice
A second school choice proposal, introduced by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Joe Negron (R-Palm Beach), would create education savings accounts (ESAs) that work somewhat like health savings accounts, where parents control the funds and can divide them among education options such as textbooks, tutoring, and classes. A companion measure was introduced in the House by Education Committee Chairman Michael Bileca (R-Miami).

“Parents are the first and primary educators of their children,” Negron said. “ESAs empower parents to make the educational decisions they believe are best for their students.”

Under the proposal, parents who choose not to enroll their child in a Florida public school could have part of the money the state would have spent on the child deposited instead into their education savings account. In Arizona, parents with ESAs have set up email groups to share ideas. They have to submit quarterly receipts showing how they have used the money.

“Families have more options for their children with an education savings account than under any other reform passed in U.S. history,” said Jonathan Butcher, education director at the Goldwater Institute. Butcher helped write the Arizona law. “The savings accounts provide a solution for every unique child in any unique set of circumstances to find a great education.”

Image by Peter Voerman.