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Four Takeaways from Florida’s Legislative Meeting on K-12 Scholarship Programs

• Adam Peshek

Last week, I was invited by the Florida House of Representatives’ PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee to share an overview of regulations required for participation in the nation’s many scholarship programs. Here are a few takeaways from my presentation:

  • Scholarship programs positively impact students and taxpayers. The majority of research shows that students benefit from scholarship programs: including students who receive a scholarship, students who remain in public schools, and taxpayers who ultimately pay for the education. This not only includes performance on test scores, but also on attainment, civic values, integration of schools, and other important factors (see research from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, American Federation for Children and EdChoice for more information.) For instance, Matthew Chingos shared the results from a recent Urban Institute study with the committee. The study found that attending a private school with an Florida Tax Credit Scholarship increases a low-income student’s likelihood of enrolling in college by 15 percent. Furthermore, the longer students remain in the program, which serves more than 100,000 low-income students, the more likely they were to be enrolled in college.
  • Parents need more information to help them make choices. Research and intuition tells us that parents need more comprehensive information on schools to help guide their decision making. Transparency and easy access to information should be a top priority for states. In addition to state data, we also know that parents highly value the opinions of other parents when it comes to choosing schools. If parents crave this information, why are we not helping them access it through parent ratings, reviews and other experiences to help them drive their decision making? Industries are evolving based on user ratings – it’s time for the K-12 sector to catch up.
  • Each state should regulate schools based on their own context – not the context of other states. Some states have long-standing practices of requiring private schools to be “chartered,” “accredited,” or “recognized” in order to participate in state funding programs, have high school diplomas recognized, or participate in statewide interscholastic athletics. For instance, most students in private schools in Indiana have taken the state accountability test and have had access to certain state funding long before any scholarship program was enacted. In Ohio, “chartered” private schools have had access to reimbursement for administrative costs and transportation for decades. Florida has historically had much looser regulations on private schools, which led the state to add many regulations on private schools participating in scholarship programs. Each state’s regulatory environment was dramatically different before a scholarship program was enacted. This nuance is important to recognize before merely saying “regulate like that state.”
  • Successful states don’t try to turn private schools into public schools. It should be intuitive, but it is often forgotten that scholarship programs are intended to help parents afford the cost of attending a private school. States that lose sight of this often try to turn private schools into public schools by layering on culture-shifting amounts of regulation, which is counterproductive and leads to schools choosing not to participate in order to preserve their identities.

As leaders from across the country work to expand learning opportunities for students, I hope they will take the lead of Subcommittee Chairman Representative Chris Latvala and host an open and thoughtful dialogue on how we can strengthen these important programs so every participating student is able to attend a quality private school.

Take a look at the research presented and let me know your thoughts.

About the author

Adam Peshek @AdamPeshek

Adam Peshek is Managing Director of Opportunity Policy at ExcelinEd, where he provides strategic support to state leaders interested in developing, adopting, and implementing policies that increase educational options for children. He has provided expert testimony in more than a dozen state legislatures and is a frequent commentator on ESAs, school choice, and education policy across the country. He is also the is the co-editor of the first published volume on ESAs, Education Savings Accounts: The New Frontier in School Choice. Adam currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia and is a Senior Fellow with the Beacon Center of Tennessee.