Florida is high on the academic freedom rankings


As a mother of five, Emily Hayes knows that every child has different needs. And she is fully aware that these needs change over time.

This means that life at home must change as children grow up, as must life at school, or wherever a child learns.

That’s a lot for any parent to handle. Especially parents of children with special needs.

As a mother living in Port St. Lucie, Emily had access to K-12 education savings accounts, formerly known as Gardner Scholarships and now called Family Empowerment Scholarships for students with unique working abilities (FES-UA). These flexible scholarship accounts have allowed Emily to simultaneously choose different educational products and resources for her children, from textbooks to personal tutors and beyond.

>>> Assessment of freedom of education

Accounts “have the flexibility to change with the child,” says Emily, which has allowed her and her husband to specifically address the needs of each of their children with personal tutors and therapy services and , in recent years, a private school. “Each of the [my children] has so many different needs. And it changes from year to year as they progress from year to year,” she says. Two of her children are on the autism spectrum; another has complications related to brain and spine development.

Emily’s children are among the 25,000 students in Florida who use these accounts. Another 84,000 use vouchers to attend private K-12 schools, and another 80,000 attend private schools on scholarships funded by charitable contributions to scholarship-giving organizations, such as Step Up for Students.

With the breadth and depth of Florida’s private education landscape, the state is ranked first in a new Heritage Foundation survey of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in the areas of education choice, academic transparency, low school regulation, and high achievement. on investing in taxpayers’ spending on education. In three of the four categories examined, Florida ranks in the top three nationally.

For choice of education, Florida ranks third behind Arizona and Indiana. All three states offer many avenues for families to choose the learning environment that is best for their children. Studies show that choice education policies lead to higher levels of achievement and academic achievement, as well as greater civic participation and tolerance, and lower levels of crime .

But to choose well, parents need information. This is where the Sunshine State really shines, earning first place for academic transparency. Earlier this year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that lets parents see a list of materials teachers use in classrooms and view the school library’s catalog of books. State officials also endorsed a proposal that teachers and students should be free to participate in classroom debates, but no one can be forced to believe ideas, such as the idea that, because of the color of their skin, individuals deserve blame for past actions committed by others.

The high degree of transparency allows parents to hold schools directly accountable. Instead of trying to ensure quality through top-down regulations and red tape, Florida relies on bottom-up accountability, which is why it ranks second in the nation for freedom from regulation. Schools and teachers have great freedom to operate as they see fit, within the limits set by age and civil rights laws, and parents take responsibility through their freedom to choose schools that suit the better for their children.

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Florida lawmakers’ embrace of regulatory choice, transparency, and freedom has produced one of the highest returns on investment in the country, ranking seventh nationally. While keeping spending within reasonable limits, Florida has steadily improved its performance in the National Assessment of Educational Progress over the past two decades, reaching 17th place nationally in its combined math scores. and in fourth and eighth grade reading.

As for Emily, she says “kids thrive.” The school aligns itself with the values ​​of its family and offers “targeted therapy” to each child, a winning combination.

But it took more than one assigned school to help her and her children succeed. “Not all schools will meet the needs of all children,” says Emily, which makes educational choice essential.

If an assigned school anywhere in the country doesn’t meet a child’s needs, parents should point to Florida and ask their legislators, “Why don’t we have more options too?”


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