I like the choice. Who doesn’t? I like to choose my restaurant, knowing that everything I choose has been inspected and certified safe. I like to choose my service station, knowing that the pumps have been inspected and certified for accurate weights and measures. I like to choose my airline, knowing that the pilots are trained with the expertise to ensure my safety.
For years, Republican leaders in Florida have sought to move public education toward a full-choice system where parents can choose between traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools, private schools, or home schooling. . But unlike other choices mentioned above, many of these alternative school systems have no oversight or accountability. The choice of parents has become a free for all. And it’s unfair to children and to society as a whole.
A July 19 column by Skylar Zander, Florida State Director for Americans for Prosperity, promoted the expansion of universal ESAs (education savings accounts) where every parent gets an account to spend wherever they please. This system is already underway and growing through the state voucher program that provides “scholarships” for private school tuition in religious schools, tutoring, and home schooling.
With the dawn of the industrial age in the 1890s, America established a universal system of public education to ensure that all children would receive a basic education. It was a commitment to the American people that their tax dollars would support a system with professional oversight, certified teachers, research-based programs, and accountability for academic success. An important element was that this public system would be non-sectarian, free from religion, as outlined in the separation of church and state provided for in the Constitution.
In 2022, as we move deeper into the information age, parenting is expected to become more rigorous as they grow into adults in a high-tech world of virtual reality. Yet elected leaders and their allies are promoting a totally unregulated system that will use public funds with little or no accountability. This is unfair to children and to our whole society. We are entering dangerous territory, like the years before universal public education when some students attended high-standard private schools, while most were left behind in a cottage industry of home schools or religious schools.
The proposed universal ESA system encourages scammers and peddlers to prioritize profits over children. Vendors will have free rein to advertise their wares to unsuspecting parents, offering free computers and other perks for choosing their “easy learning system”.
Our children need their parents to make informed choices. As you choose how to vote, think about the future of public education. What is the candidate’s position on school choice and are they prepared to insist on standards and accountability in the use of your tax dollars?
Sally Butzin is a community volunteer and children’s rights advocate. She is the past president of the League of Women Voters of Tallahassee.
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