Florida’s School Choice Programs Fight Off Legal Changes and Continue to Grow

Commentary

Florida’s School Choice Programs Fight Off Legal Changes and Continue to Grow

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship serves nearly 107,000 students and 48 percent of Florida families are eligible to participate.

As National School Choice Week events take place across the country this week, it is useful to examine some of the successes of the school choice movement. One of the states that stands out for its successes, in both program implementation and school choice expansion, is Florida.

The Sunshine State has a long history of school choice, going back as early as 1999 with the launch of a voucher program called the John M. McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. That program offers students with special needs a weighted scholarship depending on their disability and can range between $4,000 and $20,000, with the average scholarship of around $7,000. In 2017, over 29,000 students participated in the program.

In 2001, Florida established another program called the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. More recently, it set up the Florida Gardiner Scholarship Program in 2016. Each of these programs serves as a potential blueprint that other states can learn from.

The Gardiner Scholarship Program was the second Education Savings Account (ESA) program to be implemented in the country, following Arizona. Since then four additional states have established their own programs. The Gardiner Scholarship serves over 10,000 students and offers up to $10,311for parents to deposit into a savings account they can use on education expenses.

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship serves nearly 107,000 students and 48 percent of Florida families are eligible to participate.

Both programs help Florida parents and students choose higher-quality education options. These programs have also faced, and won, several legal challenges that questioned everything from whether the programs were constitutional to whether they were compatible with student equity.

Last month, an appeals court upheld the ruling of a trial court dismissing a 2009 challenge to the state’s John M. McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. The court ruled that rather than hindering students’ educations, the scholarship program “provides a benefit to help disabled students obtain a high-quality education.”

Florida’s school choice programs make it one of the nation’s leaders in offering families a wide variety of educational options.

Nate Scherer

Nate Scherer is an education policy analyst at the Reason Foundation.