On January 4, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship program and the McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities, putting an end to the 10-year legal battle against Florida’s Board of Education by opponents of school choice. In the decision, the court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the state neglected its constitutional duty to provide a uniform, efficient, and high–quality system of public education. Citizens for Strong Schools and other petitioners claimed FTC and McKay are examples of government waste that divert taxpayer funds from public schools to private schools, creating a separate and unequal education system.
Like the trial and appellate courts before it, the Florida Supreme Court concluded the petitioners’ argument raised political questions that should be answered by the state’s legislature, not in the courtroom. The court concurred that evaluating the state’s school system for uniformity, efficiency, and other non-judicial standards would be a violation of the state constitution’s separation of powers. Further, the courts agreed there is no research that proves the FTC and McKay programs have had any negative effect on the uniformity or quality of public schools.
Millions of Floridians will likely be very happy with this important outcome. A recent EdChoice survey found about 93 percent of scholarship parents are satisfied with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, including 89 percent who said they are completely satisfied.
FTC, which serves economically disadvantaged students, is the largest private school choice program in the country, and evidence shows it’s also quite successful. A 2017 Urban Institute study found college enrollment and associate degree attainment increased for students who participated in the program. Non-participating students benefit, too. A 2010 study by Northwestern University researchers found competitive pressure public schools faced following FTC led to “general improvements” in their performance.
Similar positive outcomes followed the implementation of the McKay Scholarship, the nation’s first school voucher program for students with special needs. Manhattan Institute researchers evaluated the impact of the McKay program on the academic performance of both participating and non-participating disabled students. Researchers found that non-participating students with mild disabilities achieved significantly higher test scores in math and reading. They concluded that the increase in school choice forced public schools to provide a better education for the disabled kids who remained enrolled in their local district school.
In a recent Heartland Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson explains the growth in popularity of school choice programs. “The growth in support for these programs is not surprising, as copious empirical research on voucher programs, ESAs, and tax-credit scholarships finds these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances,” Benson wrote. “Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.“
In the 21 states without any school choice program, state lawmakers should consider legislation that would ensure a child’s ZIP code does not dictate the quality of school he or she attends. Passing a Child Safety Account program would be a good first step on the road to achieving educational freedom.
What We’re Working On
Proposed Flavor Ban on Tobacco Harm Reduction Products Would Be Disservice to Public Health
In this Research & Commentary, State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines a proposal in California to ban flavorings in tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. Stroud argues that such a move would limit options for those trying to quit smoking combustible cigarettes, and, as a result, would harm public health. Stroud points out that while the legislation is intended to reduce youth exposure to e-cigarettes, such restrictions would also likely discourage adult smokers from using electronic cigarettes and vaping devices.
Budget & Tax
Current Issues in Government Spending
In this episode of the Heartland Daily Podcast, Joe Barnett, senior editor of Budget & Tax News, talks with Pamela Villarreal, a Heartland Institute policy advisor and associate director of the Colloquium for the Advancement of Free-Enterprise Education at the University of Texas at Dallas. Villarreal discusses her research on local, state, and federal policy issues, including the surprising economic effects of local bans on plastic grocery bags, state initiatives to provide care for the elderly, and the unintended consequences of hiking the federal minimum wage.
Strike Vouchers Would Keep Los Angeles Students in Classrooms
In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson and Lennie Jarratt, project manager for Heartland’s Center for Transforming Education, write about a planned strike by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) that would remove 31,000 teachers from government schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second–largest school district. The strike would force more than 640,000 children out of their classrooms. Benson and Jarratt argue children shouldn’t be used as pawns in UTLA’s struggle to get more cash. They also say California policymakers should consider enacting a “strike voucher” and “student opportunity scholarship (SOS)” bill, to reduce the impact of future strikes.
Energy & Environment
Mining to Mineral Independence
In this episode of the Heartland Daily Podcast, technology entrepreneur and author Ann Bridges chats with Heartland Senior Fellow on Environmental Policy H. Sterling Burnett. Bridges discusses why the United States needs to begin mining minerals critical to modern electronics, energy systems, and defense products. Doing so, she says, would end America’s dependence on China. Bridges also explains the economic and national security dangers of continued reliance on Chinese minerals, and she discusses how China uses this dependence to its geopolitical advantage.
From Our Free-Market Friends
Ride-Hailing Could Give an Uber-Needed Lyft to TriMet Service
Miranda Bonifield, research associate at the Cascade Policy Institute, suggests that TriMet—the public transit system serving Portland, Oregon—partner with Uber or Lyft to help TriMet attract new customers and reduce operating costs. To combat years of declining ridership, Portland’s transit system proposed building expensive new bus and rail lines to underserved locations. A recent Cascade study by economist Eric Fruits found some bus lines could be replaced by having riders in underserved areas call an Uber or Lyft, ride to the bus, and then take public transit the rest of the way.
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