Time to celebrate Florida’s commitment to human dignity, subsidiarity, common good, solidarity

Editor’s note: In today’s post, Michael Barrett, Associate for Education for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrates National School Choice Week by explaining why education choice is important on many fronts. To hear a 2021 podcast with Barrett and Step Up For Students’ president Doug Tuthill, click here.

I recently was asked why the Catholic Church supports school choice policies. It’s a valid question, because educational choice might not be the first policy issue that comes to mind when considering the Catholic Church’s work in public policy.

Hot-button issues such as abortion or immigration often receive more attention. However, the Catholic Church has long-supported school choice policies and offers a strong justification for supporting school choice regardless of whether one is Catholic.

So, during National School Choice Week, I offer it here in the hopes that it might continue to benefit discussions surrounding Florida’s education policy.

School choice policies promote human dignity by protecting the right of all people to obtain a quality education from a school that best suits his or her particular needs. Human dignity is preeminently important, because each and every person has inherent dignity by virtue of his or her existence.

Human rights are based on this inherent dignity and are thus universal, inviolable, and inalienable. The right to an education and to educational opportunities that allow a person to reach his or her full potential is derived from this principle of human dignity.

School choice policies also promote the principle of subsidiarity, which is the proper ordering of political governance within society. Parents are the primary and principle educators of their children and should be empowered with the ability to educate their children as they see fit.

However, while the primary duty of educating children lies within the family, parents also need help from society. Therefore, families, local communities, and various levels of state and local government all have their appropriate place in the implementation, governance, and imparting of education.

In Florida, school choice programs promote subsidiarity by recognizing the importance of parental empowerment by providing hundreds of thousands of families with real educational choice.

School choice policies promote the common good by allowing students to obtain an education in an environment where they can flourish intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The common good is the total of social conditions, which allow people, as groups or individuals, to flourish and reach their fulfillment more fully and easily.

Better educated students lead to better educated societies, which hopefully leads to a more productive and peaceful society and a more just distribution of goods. Florida’s school choice programs promote the common good by providing students with the opportunity to find the educational environment in which they can flourish.

Finally, school choice programs promote solidarity because they primarily serve low- and middle-income families and children with unique abilities.

Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit to the common good. Through solidarity, we commit ourselves to the good of our neighbor with readiness to put the needs of others above our own rather than seeking to exploit or manipulate others.

Without school choice programs, many families may not have the financial means to enroll their children in a private school or even have the option to send their child to a different school whether it be public, charter, or private. If only one educational option exists, and that option is a poor fit for a student, a parent has no choice but to accept a substandard education.

Florida’s school choice programs promote solidarity by providing all families with the opportunity to provide their child with an educational option that fits his or her particular needs.

In Florida, we are on the cutting edge of the school choice movement. We are one of the only states in the country where hundreds of thousands of parents are truly empowered with real educational choice.

This National School Choice Week, let’s celebrate Florida’s commitment to the principles of human dignity, subsidiarity, the common good, and solidarity.