From the East Orlando Sun
by Daryl Flynn
What does school choice really mean?
The school choice movement has brought new words to Florida’s public school system. Words such as “choice,” “charter,” “educational savings account” and “virtual” are now frequently part of the education reform discussion. To understand the meaning of these words, however, is to also understand that the school choice movement may be leading us to unaccountable forms of corporate-run models for educating students.
Most proponents of the corporate model define choice as the ability of students to attend a school outside their assigned attendance zone. Supporters say parents know best, even if it means hiring for-profit corporations to run public schools. In fact, the Brookings Institute recently rated school districts for their choice options, stating “A fundamental rationale for school choice is its effects in creating a vibrant marketplace for better schools.” I agree that our public school systems must begin to stress service to parents and market the excellence of our public model of education. To imply, however, that simply creating vast options will improve the overall quality of public education is unsubstantiated.
This corporate-driven movement has even brought about a new way we reference publicly funded schools. “Traditional” schools are comprehensive public schools, most of which are embedded within neighborhood communities. “Charters” are also publicly funded but are increasingly being run by corporate management companies alongside a board of directors who are not required to reside within the same county as the taxpayers funding the institution. Even though their applications are approved or denied through local school boards, corporate-run charter schools often have limited financial accountability and transparency. Private corporate-run charter schools have limited financial accountability and transparency. Private management companies are not required to file financial disclosures.
Another choice option advocated by reformers is the “educational savings account” or “voucher.” An educational savings account consists of public money extended to a student to attend private school. Vouchers are available for special-needs students through McKay Scholarships and low-income students with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. In 2012, if voters pass the mistitled Religious Freedom Amendment to the Florida Constitution, religious organizations will be eligible for public funding. This will include vouchers for students to attend private, religious-based schools. Again, no accountability measures are in place for students using public vouchers.
Virtual education received a boost last year when the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring every high school student to take at least one online class before graduation. OCPS offers a virtual option, as do an increasing number of charter school providers. Proponents of virtual education say it makes a world-class education available to all students. Others say research doesn’t yet support the hype surrounding virtual education and the movement is being driven by those who want to profit financially with online companies.
Great strides have been made in Florida to provide all students the opportunity for a top-rated education. I believe that quality choice options are possible without eroding the foundation and accomplishments of our existing public education system. Parents should certainly have a say in their children’s education. It’s the school board’s responsibility to ensure that choices are of the highest caliber in all traditional, charter and virtual schools. We must also urge our Florida legislators to fully support and include local, accountable, public education as a confident choice for parents!
Send me your ideas and thoughts about how OCPS can increase local educational opportunities for Orange County children. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.