As universal school choice nears in Florida, some say more people of color should take advantage

B-Ready Microschool in Boca Raton, Florida, one of 380 Black-owned schools listed on the Black Minds Matter site, considers consistency the key to molding future leaders who communicate effectively and celebrate their differences.

Editor’s note: This article, which features comments from Denisha Allen, a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children and a former Florida tax credit scholarship recipient, appeared Monday on wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu.

On July 1, 2023, every school-aged child in the state will become eligible for an education savings account or private school tuition stipend. Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed off on a massive expansion of school choice that lifts income eligibility caps on the program.

DeSantis signed the bill at a Catholic high school alongside key state lawmakers and education leaders. The governor used the signing ceremony to point out that historically, most of the users of the state’s school choice programs have been Black and Hispanic students.

“That’s just the reality and part of that is a reflection of Florida’s demographics but part of that is that we really want to have no barriers for anyone regardless of their circumstances,” he said.

According to the most recent state data, the demographics remain true today. In 2022, 39% of students receiving a private school tuition voucher were Hispanic, and 28% were Black. The emphasis on minority children is also a function of how the state’s original choice programs were crafted.

When they were implemented in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were for kids with disabilities, low-income students, and those in failing public schools—factors that are largely related to race and ethnicity. It’s something Denisha Allen is keenly aware of, as well.

“I come from a family of high school dropouts. And so it was, you know, kind of destined that I would just follow in the same path as my family members,”
she said in an interview with WFSU.

“Many of them had jobs…working at a fast food restaurant. And I’m like, ‘okay, that’ll be [me]. I’ll probably, you know, have a baby or get a fast food restaurant. That’ll just be my life.’”

That life did not happen for Allen. She was among the early wave of school voucher recipients. For years, Allen was the public face of the state’s corporate tax scholarship program. She appeared in commercials supporting school vouchers, and she spoke in legislative hearings and at rallies in support of the program.

In 2020, Allen founded an organization called Black Minds Matter. It keeps a directory of Black-owned and operated private schools. Allen is also a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children, and she has long credited a private school with helping her recover from educational neglect.

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