Attacks on School Choice in Florida

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from NCPA,

Controversy has developed in Florida over the state’s school choice program, reports the Wall Street Journal, as unions claim that the program is hurting public education.

In 2001, Florida Governor Jeb Bush developed a school choice scholarship program. Charitable contributions (for which donors receive tax credits) fund private school scholarships, allowing low-income students to attend schools of their choice:

– Only students who are eligible to receive subsidized federal lunches qualify for the scholarships.
– For the 2014-2015 school year, scholarships were capped at $5,272.
– Two-thirds (70 percent) of scholarship recipients are minority students whose families have an average income of $25,000.
– $357 million in tax credits are available to encourage the program (an amount equal to less than 2 percent of local and state education budgets).

In the last four years, the number of students receiving scholarship awards has tripled, reaching 70,000 children. A lawsuit by unions, however, threatens the program, as unions charge that the growth of the tax credit program is unconstitutional. Why? The Florida constitution requires “adequate provision” of public education, and the unions contend that school districts lose $6,944 each time a student uses a tax credit scholarship to attend a private school.

But the scholarship funds are not a part of the Florida treasury — they are composed entirely of private contributions, and no money is sent to private schools to pay for the students’ scholarships.

Moreover, the Wall Street Journal reports that the program has only helped Florida students, both in public and in private schools. Florida per-pupil spending on students in public schools has only increased since the introduction of the tax credit program, rising by more than 40 percent since 2001. Additionally, not only is the program saving money (taxpayers saved $58 million in 2012), but Florida students in public schools have seen testing gains — likely the product of increased competition due to the growth of the scholarship program and charter schools.

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