For the better part of two decades, Florida has set the standard for school choice in America.
With more than one million graduates from school choice programs spanning two decades, Florida served as a model for school choice success and the only place where educational reformers could study the effects of freedom of education on a large scale. In the more than twenty years since school choice was introduced in Florida, the state has rocketed from the bottom of the national K-12 rankings to Seat n°3.
It is not a coincidence.
As a former recipient of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and a firm believer in Florida paradise, I wish we still held the title of Best School Choice State. Alas, Florida is about to lose the crown.
In July, the Governor of Arizona. Doug Ducey signed the nation’s first universally eligible Education Savings Accounts (ESA) law. This expansion will provide educational options to more than 1.1 million Arizona students, giving them access to accounts that can be used for private school tuition, online education, educational therapy or tutoring.
For the first time in history, every student in Arizona will have access to educational options and an escape route from one-size-fits-all systems. Although many students are satisfied with their assigned public schools and stay, each family can access the education provider that meets their individual needs if the traditional system is not working.
This expansion of school choice is the largest in US history.
To put that into context, based in Florida Step up for studentsthe largest scholarship-giving organization (SGO) in the country, has qualified 245,414 students will receive scholarships for the 2022-23 school year. This number is representative of two decades of growth in school choice, but Arizona just quadrupled it in one fell swoop.
Without a doubt, 245,414 is an incredible achievement, but if Florida is to regain its position as the first-choice school, we have work to do in Tallahassee.
School choice is not a competition, but a well-meaning rivalry with Arizona is something we should welcome. The Positive Effects of Florida School Choice Programs Are Well-Documented, and Florida Families Should Benefit from Expanded Access
An urban institute study of the Florida tax credit showed that students like me, who used the program to attend a private school for more than four years, were 99% more likely to go to college and 45% more likely to get a bachelor’s degree. Not only do scholarship recipients benefit, but the evidence shows that nearby public schools also benefit from school choice. In addition, last year I contributed to a report detailing how the choice of school particularly helped black students in Florida.
The tide of educational freedom is lifting all boats.
These are just a few of the reasons why Florida should expand school choice further. We made progress last year with the expansion of the Florida Empowerment Scholarship (FES), but Arizona has officially upped the ante. Lawmakers and the Governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis should follow suit and adopt a universal eligibility program so that each of Florida’s 2.7 million students can access the educational options they need to succeed. It’s time for the Sunshine State to extend educational freedom to every child.
School choice is not a competition, but in this case it should be. The increase in school choice options is celebrated because it represents real, life-changing opportunities for students who want something different than what the current system provides.
As a native Floridian and a graduate of its school choice programs, I hope to see Florida adopt a universal program and reclaim its position as the top school choice state in the nation.
Nathan Cunneen is a communications associate with the American Federation for Children and a former recipient of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.