Daniel Martinez: Hispanic students have much to gain from Florida education bill

florida-gov. Ron DeSantis signs HB 7045 at St. John the Apostle Catholic School in Hialeah on May 11, 2021
Reforms like this are widely supported by the American people.

If there’s one issue on which Americans agree, it’s the importance of education to the lifelong success of our children. For many Florida students, however, the best education has for too long remained out of reach. Gov. Ron DeSantis has now taken an important step to make this right by signing legislation to expand opportunities for our kids.

And Hispanic families are among the biggest winners.

We know that every child is different — blessed with unique strengths and weaknesses, and endowed with a diverse range of talents and interests. The goal of our educational system should be to make sure kids have the basic tools they need to succeed, but also to help them find the subjects that interest them, and to figure out where their talents and passions lie.

When we empower students to unlock those talents, they begin to figure out how they can maximize them to contribute to their communities. They develop the habits of lifelong learning, which are so critical to all of us as we live our lives.

This is essential to preparing our young people to thrive in the years ahead.

But because kids are unique, they don’t all respond to the same educational setting.

While some learn best from books and instructors in a traditional public-school classroom, others learn more in smaller classes, or with greater attention to hands-on instruction. Some gravitate to subjects that are hard to find in that classroom setting.

The answer isn’t to try to force everyone into an identical environment and curriculum. It’s to do more to enable families to choose the best approach for their kids, and to help them customize their child’s education beyond that classroom setting.

To help make this possible for more families, the governor has now signed HB 7045, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine, (with companion legislation in the Senate introduced by Sen. Manny Diaz).

This bill consolidates and streamlines existing K-12 education scholarship programs, making them available to a broader range of families.

It also increases the income threshold to qualify, to 375% of the federal poverty level. Additionally, it adds flexibility in how qualifying families use this assistance, to include things like educational technology and services.

Reforms like this are widely supported by the American people. Over the years, polls have consistently shown backing for policies to empower students and families with access to the education that works best for them.

One recent survey showed that 71% of voters favor school choice. Among Hispanics, the number is almost as high — with 68% in support. Furthermore, this is an issue that cuts across partisan lines, with nearly as many Democrats in favor (69%) as Republicans (75%).

This is especially welcome news for Florida’s Hispanic families. With a lower average income than the state as a whole, it can be difficult to make sure our kids have access to the educational environment that works best for them, something too often available only to families with more means.

That’s particularly true in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, when many are struggling to make up lost income and get back on our feet again.

In the weeks ahead, families across the state will see their kids complete the 2020-2021 academic year, and they’ll begin to plan for the year ahead.

By signing HB 7045, Gov. DeSantis has shown that leaders in this state recognize the importance of giving them new ways to ensure their kids’ educational success.

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Daniel Martinez is coalitions director of The LIBRE Initiative-Florida.

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