Scott Reopens Door to School Vouchers
Surging enrollment offers lawmakers opportunity to pass a fiscal and educational upgrade
Around the State
An anticipated addition of 16,946 students next fall would require a $116 million increase in per-pupil funding. Though the teachers' union complains that Florida's per-pupil outlays are penurious, $116 million is nothing to scoff at.
With schools jammed by class-size reduction mandates and rising concern over the quality of public education, entrepreneurial GOP lawmakers should see this as an opportunity to revamp and expand the voucher program.
Yes, such a move would be challenged by educrats, who prevailed on the state Supreme Court in an unprecedented decision to curtail previous initiatives. But if vouchers remain good and legal for low-income and special-needs children, surely a way can be found to spread the wealth -- as more states are doing, with the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Vouchers yield a cost-benefit because the state can offer tuition checks at less than the current per-pupil rate, and families will seize them as an affordable way to remove their kids from crowded, dangerous or dysfunctional government schools. This takes the pressure off bulging classrooms and primes the pump for private education.
Florida's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability (OPPAGA) determined that the state's corporate school-voucher program for low-income students saved taxpayers $38.9 million in just one year.
Florida TaxWatch and the Collins Center for Public Policy at Florida State University conducted similar studies and reached the same conclusion -- vouchers save taxpayers money.
Right now, more than half of Florida's school districts face millions of dollars in fines for failing to meet class-size reduction edicts. If officials would stop circling the wagons long enough to do some basic arithmetic, they would realize that vouchers can help them manage class sizes.
Then there's the academic payoff.
Several studies have shown that parents who use vouchers are more satisfied with their children's education, and other research indicates that vouchers improve public schools through heightened competition.
Incoming Gov. Rick Scott -- unlike his predecessor -- is a strong advocate of school choice and competition. His education team has drafted a proposal to give parents 85 percent of the state's per-pupil funding figure, which is $6,843 this year.
Educrats are shocked at the idea -- just as they are stunned by Scott's call to cut $1.4 billion from the K-12 budget -- but education reformers hail the voucher initiative.
"I don't think it's radical at all,'' Lindsey Burke, education policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told McClatchy News Service. "At this point, the radical notion is to trap a child in a failing public school.''
Rep. Erik Fresen, who chairs the House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee, said Scott's venture could unlock an "educational marketplace."
"The parent would not be bound by an attendance boundary, but rather would have the ability to compete and put their child in whatever school they think will best meet their child's needs," said the Miami Republican, who also vice chairs the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.
What do you say, lawmakers? How about putting your money where your conservative principles are presumed to be?
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or (772) 801-5341.