The success of Florida's school-choice programs proves that the Public Education Empire is beginning to crumble.
In the past five years Florida has delivered real school choice to more American schoolchildren than anywhere else in the country. Which is no doubt why Jesse Jackson was down in Tallahassee earlier this month calling Governor Jeb Bush's policies "racist." He and his allies understand all too well that when poor African-American and Latino children start getting the same shot at a decent education that the children of our politicians do, the bankrupt public education empire starts looking like the Berlin Wall. ...And even public schools are benefitting.
Ironically those fighting vouchers may have a keener appreciation of Florida's significance to the voucher wars than those defending them. With national attention having focused largely on Milwaukee, Cleveland and the District of Columbia, it's easy to forget that Florida now has three key programs. The first are called Opportunity Scholarships, which allow children to opt out of failing public schools. Second are McKay Scholarships, which provide full school choice to special-ed students.
But perhaps the most innovative is a corporate tax credit that allows businesses to take a dollar-for-dollar deduction for every contribution to a designated scholarship fund. Certainly in terms of sheer numbers this is the most far-reaching, with 13,000 low-income students now benefiting and 20,000 on a waiting list. Because these corporately funded scholarships are capped at $3,500 per child in a state where the average per pupil expenditure runs around $7,500, each scholarship represents not only a lifeline for the recipient but significant savings for the taxpayer.
And another study, this one by the Manhattan Institute, finds that even kids without vouchers benefit because the competition is pushing Florida public schools to improve.That's the whole theory, in action. People who complain that school-choice hurts public schools are missing the real power of competition -- when people have options, everyone gets better. Teachers unions and public bureaucrats hate having competition because it often reveals how corrupt, inefficient, incompetant, and lazy they are.
The public, however, likes the idea that their tax money isn't being fed to the gaping maw of special interests but instead being used to educate their kids.
The good news is that despite this all-out effort to frog-march poor kids back into miserable public schools, the genie seems to be out of the bottle. Even the liberal newspapers that oppose school choice had to concede that a pro-voucher rally in Tallahassee attracted more marchers (if not more favorable media attention) than the Reverend Jackson's protest that preceded it. And that's precisely what has them so worried.