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Time to Pay Attention: Long Before DeVos' Nomination, Florida Voted in Favor of School Choice

Time to Pay Attention: Long Before DeVos' Nomination, Florida Voted in Favor of School Choice

In April of last year, long before anyone could predict that President-elect Donald Trump would pick school choice as an education policy priority or Betsy DeVos as his choice for Education Secretary, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a massive education bill making school choice a reality for all of the state's public school students.

Starting next school year, the bill allows for the state's parents "to send students to any public school that has space," said the Miami Herald at the time.

The bill was extensively debated and was only sent for Scott to sign after a "last-minute deal" on the Legislature's final day as the state's Democrats and Republicans sparred over key provisions.

"As part of a last-minute deal, the House rejected efforts by the Senate to crack down on businesses using state capital dollars to profit from charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed," the Miami Herald said of the debate process.

In other words, long before the school choice debate entered the national conversation following Donald Trump's election win, school choice was already debated and approved in one of the country's most populous states.

For those concerned about how school choice might roll out on a national level under the leadership of long-time advocate DeVos, they would be prudent to pay close attention to how Florida is rolling out the state-wide initiative in real time.

For example, in December, Florida's Department of Education quietly designed the website www.FloridaStudentsAchieve.com, a site specifically intended to help the state's parents choose the best education options for their children.

The site compiles data from the performance of all Florida schools and allows parents to access this information to help inform their decisions. 

"Competition tends to have a positive impact on school performance! As the number of educational choice options continues to expand in Florida, things can get a little confusing for parents. The information here is intended to help you make sense of all the great options available for your student at any grade level," the site says, perfectly and succinctly summing up the argument in favor of school choice.

Of course, parents are only able to select schools that have the capability to accept more students. If desirable high-performing schools are close to capacity, students who are in the district, are children of active-duty military personnel who moved for work, are in foster care or are moving because of a change in parental custody receive first priority.

This leads to the opponent of school choice’s argument.

"Are the children of people who are savvy enough to get out of the public schools the only children who are worth educating in our society? What happens to the children who don't get out? It seems the [people behind School Choice Week] knowingly embrace the idea of creating a second tier of schools for those American citizens who don't or can't 'choose' – and they are perfectly okay with a divided society of winners and losers," said Karey Hardwood, an ethics professor at NC State University according to Salon.

Because school choice is relatively new in inception and has not played out on a large scale like it will in Florida, neither opponents or supporters of the movement have much more than theories and marginally related evidence to support their claims. For that reason, it's extremely important to pay attention to everything that happens when the 2017-2018 school year begins.

In the meantime, take our survey below to weigh-in on where YOU currently stand on the debate.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

1/16/2017

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