Nearly a year after first offering her views about Florida’s education choice programs and Step Up For Students, Sally Butzin recently returned to the Democrat riding the same ramshackle narrative of shadowy forces supposedly undermining public education.
Florida is not creating two parallel school systems. It is funding students, not systems, ensuring the money follows the child to the setting that works best for him or her.
Butzin writes that “parents have always had the right to send their child to a private school” — but only if they had the means. What is a choice if you can’t exercise it? Florida’s scholarship programs have given more families more educational options – and at 59% less per pupil than what the state spends on public school students.
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Butzin then presents a litany of the same tired criticisms of private schools and scholarship programs:
- “There’s little oversight.” Actually, there’s a tremendous amount of accountability.
- “A growing cottage industry of vendors profiting off the system.” You mean like public school vendors?
- “Are teachers certified?” That’s a good question to ask districts of the many substitute heading classrooms. Not only are they not required to be certified, but these days many don’t need anything beyond a high school diploma. If we denied funding to any school where students are taught by teachers who aren’t certified, let alone have college degrees, many district schools would have been shut down during the pandemic.
- “Is the building safe and the staff screened for criminal history?” Schools serving scholarship students must meet all applicable state and local health and safety laws, and fire and building safety codes. School owners, operators and employees with student contact must pass Level 2 criminal background checks – the same ones used by district schools.
- Education savings accounts (ESAs) are “like a debit card for educational materials and services at the parent’s discretion.” Wrong. Purchases must be made from a list of approved goods and services, or else must be reviewed and approved by a committee.
Butzin next takes aim at Step Up For Students, with similarly poor marksmanship.
She snipes at Step Up’s Governance Board (we’re fortunate to have such a diverse and experienced board, see for yourself here); its charitable status (last December, Charity Navigator awarded Step Up its highest rating for the 15th year); and claims the organization is “worth nearly $1 billion” (most of that is pledges for future donations to fund scholarships, not cash in hand).
Butzin directs readers to a “report” on Step Up by the League of Women Voters of Florida without disclosing that she is president of the League’s Tallahassee chapter.
All this doomsaying of undermining public education and democracy isn’t new – it’s been going on for 20 years.
Florida’s graduation rate was 54% in 2001. It’s 90% now. We were near the bottom in rankings then. Florida now ranks No. 3 in K-12 Achievement, according to Education Week, and No. 2 in AP exam success. It also ranks No. 1, No. 1, No. 3, and No. 8 on the four core tests of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, once adjusted for demographics.
Meanwhile, a 2019 Urban Institute study found tax-credit scholarship students – typically the lowest-performing students in their prior public schools – are up to 43% more likely than their public-school peers to enroll in four-year colleges, and up to 20% more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees.
A 2020 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that as the tax-credit scholarship program grew, test scores rose, suspensions fell, and absentee rates dropped in the public schools most affected by the competition.
More choices and improved outcomes? If there’s a conspiracy to undermine public education, it’s failing spectacularly.
Scott Kent is assistant director of strategic communications for Step Up For Students.
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