By Senator Marco Rubio
October 10, 2014
Parents everywhere share a common dream: we all want our children to have the chance at a life better than our own. This has propelled the progress of our nation and has become an essential part of the American Dream. To give children this chance, every parent should be given the right to choose the learning environment that best fits their child's unique needs.
In the 21st century, the definition of “public education” is changing rapidly. It used to mean giving school districts all the taxpayer dollars raised to educate kids, and letting the districts assign children to public schools according to zip code. Fortunately, we are moving to a new definition: letting parents direct taxpayer funds—with proper accountability—to different providers, even different delivery methods.
Last year in my home state of Florida, over 40% of children educated with taxpayer funds didn’t attend their zoned public school. They attended district run magnet schools, charter schools, virtual schools and dual enrollment programs with colleges. This customization has enabled Florida to have great achievement gains for its lower-income and minority children over the last decade.
For 13 years, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program has played a critical role in this progress. The program provides tax credits to companies that donate to scholarship-granting organizations. It’s been so successful in Florida that I used it as a model for federal legislation I’ve introduced.
Today roughly 68,000 low-income parents use the program to send their child to a school that better fits his or her unique learning needs. Test scores show that these children were the lowest performers in their public schools when they left but now see learning gains equal to children of all incomes.
Incredibly, in spite of this clear success, the Florida teachers union and the Florida School Boards Association filed suit in August to shut down the program.
Should the suit succeed, these 68,000 needy children – 70% of which are either African-American, or of Hispanic or Haitian descent – will be evicted from their chosen schools. Further, hundreds of private schools in Florida serving minority children will be forced to close their doors.
Although this is happening in Florida, it should concern all parents across the entire country who want and deserve the freedom and opportunity to give their kids better education options.
It is also not some abstract legal case. These are real people.
I've personally visited some of these schools and talked to parents and children whose lives have been touched by this program. I'm outraged that unions have put their own wants over the needs of these children and families.
The teachers union claims to be suing to end the program because funding has "reached a tipping point."
But that simply isn't true. The program represents less than 2% of our state’s K-12 budget, and it actually saves taxpayers over $50 million every year.
The real reason the union wants to shut the program down is simple: it doesn't like having to compete with private schools for lower-income students.
Keep reading here.