Editor’s note: This commentary from Juan Martinez, supervisor for The LIBRE Initiative-Florida, a group that advances economic empowerment in the Hispanic community, first appeared on orlandosentinel.com.
Anyone who spends much time with children knows how different and unique every child is from another. As anyone with brothers or sisters can attest, within a single family there is often great diversity between siblings, and even twins! It makes sense, then, that children have different needs and possibilities for their futures.
Florida is leading the way in transforming educational opportunities for all learners — and now it has the chance to keep the momentum going.
The recently introduced HB1 will expand the ability for parents to make personalized decisions for their children’s education by establishing educational savings accounts that would allow families to utilize their child’s share of public schooling funds to pay for customized education options.
Rather than being limited by what school district one lives in, families would be able to use these funds for a variety of options that allow them to customize their children’s education in ways that best suit their unique gifts, talents, and needs.
These options include everything from paying for private school, paying for homeschool resources, and even covering the cost of Advanced Placement tests.
This expansion of educational choice is more important than ever in the wake of the disruption caused by COVID-19, and especially for the Hispanic community, where declines in educational attainment were worse than average.
The one-size-fits-all approach is obviously failing the Hispanic community, which in 10 years has grown almost 5% to reach 28.4% of the traditional public-school population. Given this growth and the failure of traditional public schools to address their needs, it is little wonder that nearly 56% of Hispanic parents have considered alternative educational options and overwhelmingly support school choice.
Critics of ESAs might argue that this program will defund public schools and leave them unable to teach the students that remain. However, such concerns are without merit.
For one thing, the purpose of state education policy is to best educate students, not to maintain a status quo educational system that’s outdated and doesn’t serve learners. The world has changed from when mass schooling was first instituted, and it continues to change to this day. Public education must continue to evolve along with it.
Funding students, rather than a one size fits all system, will allow for the children of Florida to get an education that will best prepare them for their own unique future.
Additionally, the students who remain in public schools will continue to receive just as much funding as before. The ESAs established by HB1 will ensure every child is entitled to their share of education funding.
At the end of the day, the reality is that the traditional model has failed to meet the needs of so many students, especially Hispanic students.
When we go to the grocery store, we have a vast amount of choice in everything from the types of bread we eat to the shampoo we wash our hair with. Yet, for decades Floridians have been limited to one single public school based on their address, unless they had the extra money for a private school.
ESAs will not only allow families with less means to attend private schools, but to build an educational experience based on their individual children’s own needs and talents. Being one of the first states in the country to establish universal ESAs will help to ensure that Florida remains at the forefront of educational innovation that keeps our students at the cutting edge of learning.
Passing HB1 will expand educational choice for Floridian families, establish the state as a leader in educational innovation, and ensure that Hispanic children have access to the resources that will best ensure their future flourishing.
Let’s support our lawmakers in seeing this bill pass this year.