When it comes to school choice, ‘haters gonna hate’

Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna blames an $11.5 million budget deficit on an increase in students taking advantage of new state laws that allow district funds to go to private schools, calling it “a dismantling of the current public school system as we know it.”

Editor’s note: This commentary from William Mattox, director of the J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options at the James Madison Institute and a reimaginED guest blogger, appeared Monday on Florida Politics.

A recent study of the rhetorical intensity of school choice debates by Harvard-educated researcher Jason Bedrick confirms Taylor Swift’s lyrical observation that “haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

Bedrick found that any legislative attempt to expand education options to needy families routinely comes under blistering attack, even if the proposed school choice expansion is actually quite modest.

What’s more, two new Florida stories show that school choice programs can face egregious attacks even in a year when there’s no legislative effort to expand scholarships at all.

Last week, school district officials in Leon and Hillsborough counties publicly complained that they are going to have less money to spend than they had hoped. And they pinned the blame on their favorite scapegoat — school choice scholarship programs that give needy families the opportunity to choose from an array of learning options, including schools not controlled by the districts.

The Leon and Hillsborough officials’ complaints appear to be a pre-emptive dodge to deflect taxpayer attention away from the fact that their districts failed to qualify for a $200 million pot of K-12 “school recognition“ money. This performance bonus funding could have been theirs had they complied with state law forbidding mask mandates in schools.

Rather than acknowledging the financial impact of their defiance, the Leon and Hillsborough officials chose instead to rail against school choice scholarships, invoking the tired old canard that these highly popular programs threaten to “dismantle” public education.

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