Former Florida education commissioner Eric J. Smith: ‘School choice is an important option’

Eric J. Smith, the highly regarded Florida education commissioner who left after Gov. Rick Scott became governor, has landed at the George W. Bush Institute. His name and new title – fellow in education policy – surfaced today in the Huffington Post, in an op-ed he penned urging states to keep pushing for strong accountability measures. Part of Smith’s argument included a general nod towards expanded school choice:

Another essential principle of strong accountability systems is state intervention when schools don’t see achievement rates rise. And the most intensive interventions should occur in schools whose students don’t reach grade-level standards.

In that vein, school choice is an important option for students. Every single student deserves a quality education. It is simply not acceptable for a parent to be forced to keep their child in a failing school in the hope that the local teachers and administrators will eventually clean up their act.

States generally want to be creative and federal legislation isn’t standing in their way of doing that. Officials are empowered to employ tools beyond the standard choice policy of vouchers, including innovative reforms like allowing students in low-performing schools to get connected with high quality educators online.

The George W. Bush Institute’s principles call on states to build on the current foundation, apply the lessons learned, and provide parents with an even broader array of choices if their child is trapped in a persistently low-performing school.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at

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