Why not celebrate school choice in Leon County?

In most of the country, families with limited financial means have no choice but to enroll their children in public schools.

However, in Florida, families can choose the best educational setting for their child, whether public, chartered, private, or home-based. For many families, sending their child to a private school would be out of reach, but for the Family Empowerment Scholarship and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

In Florida, public education funding follows the student. The formulation known as the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) determines how much a public school will receive from the state for each student enrolled full-time.

The amount of FEFP varies by location, but is generally between $7,000 and $8,000 per student. If a student leaves a public school district and moves to another public school district, FEFP money follows the student to the new district.

If a student qualifies for a Family Empowerment Scholarship, the student receives an amount equivalent to the FEFP in the form of a scholarship and is free to use this scholarship at a private school of their choice.

Regardless of where a student ultimately enrolls, if a student leaves a public school district, the FEFP funding attached to that student also leaves because the school district no longer needs the taxpayer money allocated to the school district. education of this student.

For the past few decades, Florida’s student-centered education system has primarily funded students and their families rather than institutions.

However, in the March 22, 2022 article “Expanding School Choice Leaves Leon County Schools in an $11.5 Million Budget Deficit,” Leon County Schools reverses the underlying logic. of Florida’s education funding policy and attribute a large institutional budget shortfall to low incomes and unique abilities. students.

The students and families most in need should not be blamed for the bureaucratic budget holes created by inaccurate enrollment forecasts.

Has anyone at LCS asked these students and their families why they left and enrolled in other schools? If LCS is concerned about declining student enrollment, shouldn’t it be up to LCS to determine why students are leaving, address any issues they identify, and seek more aggressive methods of attracting and retaining students? ?

Perhaps LCS could use some of its $60 million in federal emergency aid to implement some of these new methods.

The appropriate response is certainly not to force these students to stay in public schools by eliminating programs that allow these students to attend the school that is best for them. Public schools are not one-size-fits-all education factories from which only the wealthy should be free to opt out.

Let’s not denigrate this achievement and the freedom it provides by relying on outdated tropes. Instead, let’s celebrate Florida as a national leader in groundbreaking education policies that empower families, regardless of income or need.

Michael T. Barrett, Esq. is the educational associate of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. He serves as a professional resource person for the Catholic Church in Florida on educational matters.


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