The recent attack on Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program undermines a fundamental goal that our nation has worked toward for the past 60 years: Giving all children the best possible K-12 education in order to prepare them to lead their best life possible.
Every child — whether they are from a minority family or low-income household, disabled, a nonnative English speaker or dealing with a reality that could hold a person back – deserves the same chance at success as every other child in the state.
Unfortunately, there are still misguided attacks on the state’s Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship plan. We hope lawmakers continue to stand up for students.
Florida’s serious pursuit of educational opportunity has led to student achievements gains that are among the top in the country.
Indeed, Florida has succeeded in doing what many well-intended programs in other states have failed to accomplish. The exclusionary barriers of ZIP code and income have been lifted for more than 900,000 children who, since 2001, have been able to attend nonpublic schools through the use of the Florida tax credit and Family Empowerment scholarships.
Florida’s program has become the single largest scholarship credit program in the country, leveling the educational playing field in a long-term and meaningful way for 130,000 children this year alone. Coming from low-to-moderate income families, the majority of these students are African American or Hispanic, with an average household income of $26,578.
The 1,800 schools accepting scholarship students are an eclectic mix, with an average of 56 scholarship students per school.
Most importantly, these programs are succeeding. A recent study by the Urban Institute found that up to 43% of tax-credit scholarship students are more likely to attend college and up to 29% are more likely to earn an associate degree. Parents report 89% satisfaction with their children’s school.
We often hear comments like this from a Hollywood parent: “Thanks to the state of Florida and the scholarships, our kids are happy to wake up and go to school. I am amazed at the education they are receiving.”
There is nothing for society to gain by trying to sabotage this program and with it, the future of 130,000 disadvantaged children. Sadly, that is exactly what some activists in the media did when they recently joined forces to bully corporate sponsors of the tax credit program to withdraw their support. For a few days, until strong action taken by many of the children’s defenders prevailed, this invaluable program appeared to be at serious risk.
Ironically, children of all backgrounds, affiliations, looks and preferences are eligible to receive the scholarships.
It doesn’t matter if a student is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or from a family that doesn’t subscribe to a religion. Families aren’t asked about gender identity, sexuality or hairstyle.
Right now, the only qualification is income — and because that is the sole criteria, the demand from eligible families still outweighs the scholarship supply.
In the coming four weeks, Florida’s legislature will consider expanding and strengthening the state’s scholarship programs. Florida has found a formula that works for our students and our state.
Our legislature should build on its commitment to educational opportunity for all by building out the Family Empowerment Scholarship and strengthening the tax-credit scholarship program.
By doing so, the state will answer the hopes and prayers of parents seeking educational options for their children while paving the way for states around the country to do the same.
Dr. Allan Jacob is Chairman of Teach Florida. Mimi Jankovits is the organization’s Executive Director.