This is the final installment in Sue Legg’s series about twenty years of school choice in Florida. She is the former education Director of the Florida League of Women Voters and was assessment and evaluation contractor for the Fl. DOE for twenty years while on the faculty at the University of Florida.

She writes:

Twenty Years Later: The SociaI Impact of Privatization

Privatization of schools in Florida is about more than money. It reflects the ebb and flow of the common school movement originating in the 1830s which promoted a free public education system to assimilate the millions of immigrants arriving in the United States. Resistance came from political, religious, and social divisions, elements of which persist even now. Florida, now the third largest state must assimilate its growing immigrant population. The public schools include 2.8 million students who are 38% white, 33% Hispanic, and 22% black. Ten percent are English Language Learners. These demographics may well change Florida’s politics. There is a majority of younger and ethnically diverse people many of whom tend to register to vote as independents.

Charters and private schools represent 22% of the Florida student enrollment. Charter enrollments are 42% Hispanic and 20% African-American. The tax credit scholarship program enrolls 38% Hispanic and 30% African-American.
Numerous research reports e.g. Brookings, CREDO Urban Study, and Florida Department of Education raise concerns about the academic benefit of choice programs. Few examples exist where charters outperform similar public schools and proportionately more charters do less well. The social consequences of choice are even more serious as documented in the 2017 Florida State University Collins Institute’s Report on Patterns of Resegregation in Florida Schools.
The ‘separate but equal’ doctrine adopted by Governor Jeb Bush in 1999 has undermined diversity in schools. Schools with low income and high minority status tend to receive ‘D’ or F’ school grades, for which they were blamed, sanctioned, and made targets of charter school takeover programs.

The major findings of the Collins Institute report document the social impact of choice. The economic and racial segregation documented in regular public schools is even more severe in charters.

• About one third of black and Hispanic students attend intensely segregated schools (90% single race).

• Sixty percent of Florida’s children qualify for free and reduced lunch (FRL). Black and Hispanic students are 1.5 times more likely to experience double segregation by race and economic status.

• Charter schools over enroll Hispanic students (42%), and these students typically have from 10-20% fewer white students than in public schools.

• Black students are more likely to go to extremely segregated schools than Hispanics.

• Only in 8 districts did charters enroll at least 60% of FRL students.

• Most districts enrolled higher percentages of students with disabilities and English as a second language than their charter schools.

Accountability: Florida is masterful at self-promotion.

In April 2018, the headline for Governor Scott’s press report on NAEP results was: Florida Students Lead the Nation in Reading and Mathematics. While Florida’s schools fourth grade NAEP reading scores ranked 6th nationwide, they fell to 26th on the eighth grade. It may be no coincidence that the spectacular rise in fourth grade NAEP scores coincided with the implementation of third grade mandatory retention for students who are not proficient on the state assessment. A contributing factor to the drop in eighth grade scores is that about one half of the children on private school scholarships return to public schools after third grade. The high school graduation rank is 38th which may in part be due to requirements that students pass an algebra I exam and an English Language Skills test to graduate.

Florida also touts the improvement rate of ‘failing public schools’. Of over 4000 public schools, 35 received a failing grade in 2018. Yet, the legislature passed a law mandating a state takeover of failing schools by designated by charter management firms. The 2018 failure rate for Florida charters is much higher (30/365 schools).

Resistance to the Impact of Choice is Growing.

Progress through the courts is slow but necessary to make change possible. The Florida League of Women Voters won a Supreme Court decision in 2016 to redraw legislative districts. It won again in 2018 to allow early voting on college campuses, to block a confusing proposal to create a separate statewide independent (charter) school system, and to prevent the current governor from naming new members of the Supreme Court on his last day in office. The Citizens for Strong Schools’ Supreme Court hearing on school funding and quality is November 8th.

The court of public opinion looms even larger. The common school movement arose out of the need to address inequities due to immigration, religion, and school funding. Free public schools were seen as the best way to build a sense of the civic responsibility needed to support our new democracy. Will the voters, not only in Florida, once again recognize the value of the public interest over self interest in our public schools when it matters most?