Diverse choices in education provide opportunity

More than 250 students at Jones High School in Jacksonville, which last year celebrated its 125th anniversary, attend a physics class. That’s more than the number at most Orange County high schools.

Editor’s note: This commentary from Denisha Merriweather, director of public relations and content marketing at the American Federation for Children and founder of Black Minds Matter, appeared Thursday on orlandosentinel.com.

As the Black daughter of a 16-year-old mother raised in poverty in Jacksonville, I was delighted to see Jones High School (in Orlando) create a great physics program. The school is an inspiration.

But I was perplexed to see Jones’ success used to disparage the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship – a program that turned my life around.

In a recent Orlando Sentinel op-ed (”Jones success illustrates inadequacy of vouchers,” May 16), former Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend perpetuates three myths about education choice in Florida.

Myth 1: Private-school scholarships have high dropout rates due to poor school quality.

Urban Institute studies of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program found that scholarship students were more likely to attend and graduate from college than their peers who remained in public schools. Townsend ignores this success and instead points to a statistic in the studies; from 2004 to 2010, 61% of recipients left their scholarship within two years, and 75% within three years.

He claims this proves families’ dissatisfaction with schools, which constitutes “an extraordinary record of failure.”

That conclusion is not supported by surveys showing 90% of scholarship parents satisfied with their schools. Nor is it supported by the report’s authors, who addressed this misreading on the Urban Institute’s blog: “Our study finds positive effects on college enrollment and degree attainment, which makes it unlikely that broad dissatisfaction or dropping out is driving students to stop using the scholarship” (emphasis added).

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