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Skylar Zander: Family Empowerment Scholarship program should be available to all

The FES program is one of Florida’s greatest victories for low-income and working-class families.

Those of you who know me well know that I got my start in education policy. I’ve played a small part in focusing K-12 policy toward a path to expand access to educational opportunity for all students.

I joined Americans for Prosperity to supercharge my impact in the process. What I’ve learned along the way is that parents across Florida are desperate for lawmakers to innovate and think bigger when it comes to K-12 and how to deliver access to the best educational opportunities available.

Lawmakers have such an opportunity right now.

But over the years, we’ve trended away from a collaborative policymaking environment toward a culture that instead encourages divisiveness — at no time more glaring than when we talk about education policy.

Our current education policy has deeply divided many in this state. The political chatter has pitted institution against institution, teachers against administrators, and through it all it’s the children who are being hurt.

We can all agree that providing quality education to our children is of paramount importance. We contend that every stakeholder across the debate wants Florida’s children to succeed. And most notably, there is an intense demand for education pluralism — the idea that we need more options, not fewer. Maybe that’s why opponents of choice in education strive to deepen these divides.

Meanwhile, most of our children’s success is too often based on their family’s income level and ZIP code. They find themselves stuck in schools that underperform or simply fail to address their unique individual needs.

The good news is that there’s a solution. The state could open the door of possibility, where every student could find an individual pathway to meet their needs.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship program gives the power to students and parents to choose the school that best fits their individual needs. Families should have a wide array of options to select the best education for their kids. Whether through taking advantage of open enrollment, the public school down the street, private or public charter schools, homeschooling, virtual school or a host of other options, every family should have the freedom to choose the right type of education for their children.

The FES program is one of Florida’s greatest victories for low-income and working-class families, and it is the first of its kind to extend support to middle-income families. Lawmakers should seize the opportunity to expand this to all students.

There should not be anything political or divisive about giving parents and students the tools they need to achieve their full potential. Unfortunately, some have targeted these scholarship programs for elimination.

We must move away from the false dichotomy that one parent’s choice is better than another’s, toward re-imagining education to ensure that every parent will have the freedom to choose what’s in the best interest of their child.

There will continue to be those who fear change or remain steeped in the business of limiting options, and prioritizing systems over students. There will continue to be those who believe every student should be forced to fit into a standardized system rather than celebrating their individuality.

But we should all come together to achieve greater outcomes.

No student should be locked into a school that isn’t meeting their educational needs. Every child and their parents deserve the options that come with empowering them to have a greater stake in their education.

The FES program meets those needs, and there’s a demand by the public for more access to this sort of innovation in K-12.

Floridians want Florida students to have access to the best educational opportunities available, and Floridians will support the state House and Senate taking bold steps to accelerate the implementation of universal access to the Family Empowerment Scholarship.

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Skylar Zander is the state director of American for Prosperity-Florida.

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