Science, psychology, and innovative research have proven that children possess different learning abilities, skills and interests. To make the most of these unique ways of learning, students need educational options that meet their particular scholastic needs and broaden their interest in education.
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, administered by Step Up for Students, provides families with the power to choose a school offering the most appropriate learning program for their children. Currently, more than 100,000 students, from families making $24,000 a year on average, are empowered to attend a school that better fits their needs. Over 70 percent of these students are minorities, and they are the students struggling in public schools when they leave with the scholarship. Because of this program, families are lifted from the cycle of poverty and provided a vital escape hatch from schools that were not a good fit for them.
Objective research has shown that this program helps children on scholarships, children who remain in public schools, and taxpayers. Just a few weeks ago an objective analysis from The Urban Institute found that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program significantly improves the likelihood that students enroll in college. If a student spends at least four years in the program, they have a 40 percent greater chance of going to college.
Despite these benefits, it is dismaying to see an article such as the one that appeared today in the Orlando Sentinel. The paper cherry-picked stories of bad actors at a few schools (out of 1,700 across the state that serve these children) and made little mention of the very credible study by The Urban Institute. Moreover, the article lacked context and reflects an all-too-familiar bias against parental choice.
It is a shame that in the face of a successful program such as Step Up, in a society which prides itself on a commitment to innovation, objective results and scientific advancement, that we must continue to oppose a status quo that would rather protect adults who run the system rather than students who are stuck in the system. These tactics are the last gaps of an establishment on the wrong side of history.
Our state must be committed to seeing that every student has a path to success, and that none are denied a quality learning opportunity by anti-choice forces, simply because of the ZIP code in which they reside. A one-size-fits-all system of education is not the most effective way to provide students with exceptional learning opportunities. We support all forms of schooling that provide a strong education. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and Step Up for Students are unique in the opportunities they provide families, and we applaud their mission of helping every child find success as they pursue their education and, ultimately their passion in life.
Robert McClure, Ph.D., is president and CEO of The James Madison Institute, a statewide think tank based in Tallahassee, devoted to research and education on public policy issues.