Commentary

School Choice: Florida Can Add Momentum

An increasing number of Floridians want school choice, and their representatives are beginning to take note.

There are now two school-choice bills under consideration in the Florida Legislature — one in the House and a companion in the Senate — that would make foster children eligible for scholarships to attend good schools. The scholarships would be funded by donations from businesses that get tax credits on the money they donate toward them.

Education tax credits are a promising alternative to vouchers — which often meet stiff legal and political resistance — and they’re gaining ground around the country. These credits reduce the amount a taxpayer owes the state for each dollar he spends on education or donations to scholarship organizations. If a business owed the state $4,000 in taxes and donated $2,000 for scholarships, it would pay just $2,000 in taxes. Similar benefits can also apply to individuals for donations and for their own child’s education expenses.

Credits for business donations to scholarship programs already support more than 14,000 low-income children in Florida.

Politicians in other states — even Democratic ones — are increasingly getting on board. Arizona, Rhode Island and Iowa passed tax-credit programs last year, and Pennsylvania expanded its existing business-tax-credit program. The Arizona, Iowa, and Pennsylvania bills became law with Democratic governors, and the Rhode Island business-tax credit was born in a Democratic legislature. Even in deep-blue New York, Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed an education-tax deduction in his first state budget.

They’re starting to see that education tax credits are good for all citizens.

School-choice programs encourage parents to take responsibility for their children’s education, so it’s no wonder academic research finds that they increase student achievement.

They can also save money by allowing students to transfer from expensive government schools to more efficient independent ones. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, after adjusting for inflation, public schooling costs around $10,500 per child, while private-school tuition averages around $5,300.

Florida’s families are already marching to demand freedom in education. Two weeks ago, more than 4,000 supporters of school choice rallied at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Civil-rights leader the Rev. H.K. Matthews stood with Gov. Charlie Crist and Democratic Sen. Al Lawson before a huge crowd of parents, children and businesspeople determined to expand Florida’s business-tax-credit program for donations to private scholarship funds.

The educational choice movement is broad, deep and American in every sense of the word, because it comports with American values: family, community and individual choice. Its supporters want only the freedom to decide where their children go to school.

Education tax credits save money and children from bad schools. They strengthen families and civil society. And they’re increasingly a bipartisan policy. As Florida legislators must realize, school choice will soon become the norm, not the exception. With the first of many bills to that end on their desks, now’s their chance to get on the right side of history.

Adam Schaeffer is a policy analyst for the Center for Educational Freedom.