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Emails & Opinions

Kate Wallace: School choice threatens certain adults, not children and their academic achievement

The fact that Context Florida columnist Julie Delegal doesn’t think anyone should take on Florida’s education reforms if they want to win an election is great news for Florida’s children. This means that Floridians are no longer buying the myths Ms. Delegal and her friends of the status quo continue to perpetuate about Florida’s suite of education reforms.

Florida schools are performing at an all-time high. We are leading the nation, or are near the top, in any number of academic categories including early-grade literacy, closing the poverty achievement gap, and student participation in Advanced Placement courses.

Yet we keep hearing the same old excuses for why we ought to go back to the good-old “glory days,” when there was no choice, minimal statewide testing, and little to no school accountability. Those were the days when 70 percent of African-American fourth graders were functionally illiterate and we were a national bottom dweller in academics.

You won’t hear any of that from Ms. Delegal. This is a debate that pits overwhelming evidence against empty rhetoric.

(If you want to see hard facts about how our students have been doing, read Patricia Levesque’s recent letter to the editor in the Tampa Bay Times.)

Ms. Delegal also seems concerned that the state is giving all parents the right to choose their children’s school.

One group of parents has always had that right — the ones who could afford private school tuition or to move into a neighborhood with high-performing public schools. For the parents who couldn’t afford those options, it’s been tough luck.

It’s no wonder Florida’s schools, prior to choice, saw disparities in resources and student achievement wider than the St. Johns River. School districts had relatively little to lose by habitually neglecting captive customer bases in low-income neighborhoods so they could tend to schools in higher-income communities where their customers did indeed have options.

I’ll never comprehend why opponents of vouchers, charter schools, or public school choice think it’s morally or ethically acceptable to pigeonhole poor children into one traditional public school. And often it’s a school to which they never would send their own children.

The reality is this: School choice threatens certain adults and their job prospects, not children and their academic achievement.

Fortunately, a growing number of Floridians see charter schools and private schools that serve voucher students as they should see them — not as adversaries but as partners in fulfilling the mission of providing a quality public education to all children.

You’d think that would be a development we all could celebrate.

Kate Wallace is the community engagement director for North Florida at the Foundation for Florida’s Future. A Bartow native, she attended Polk County public schools from grades K-12 and now resides in Jacksonville. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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