Education: The Florida Model

Governor DeSantis’s remarks about school choice couldn’t have been more relevant as New York seeks a way out of its education crisis.

AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack, file
Governor DeSantis at Tallahassee, Florida on January 11, 2022. AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack, file

It’s too bad Mayor Adams wasn’t there yesterday for the speech by Governor DeSantis of Florida in respect of education. The Republican, who might yet become president of America, addressed the Tikvah Fund’s Jewish Leadership Conference. His topic was “the Florida Model,” a system that maximizes school choice and has managed to move the alligator-infested peninsula to the no. 3 education state in the country.

Some liberal New Yorkers, including politicians, tried to cancel Mr. DeSantis over Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, which is of concern to many in New York. The Jewish Heritage Museum withdrew its invitation. Tikvah moved its event to Chelsea Piers, where, despite protests, the parley proceeded without incident. Mr. DeSantis’s remarks couldn’t have been more relevant as New York seeks a way out of its education crisis.

What the governor spoke about was the emerging model in Florida, where not all families of modest means are limited to public schools. Thanks largely to the state’s Republican leadership, generous tax credit and voucher policies are allowing more than 170,000 young Floridians to enroll in private schools. Since taking office, Mr. DeSantis has marshaled public and private resources to increase the number of voucher scholarships available.

Gay students and families benefit no less than Orthodox Jews from such policies. A gay or Orthodox student in Florida has more opportunities to finance leaving his or her local public school than a gay or Orthodox student seeking a better education here. “The fact that we have robust choice has improved educational outcomes across the board,” Mr. DeSantis told the parley, likening school choice to “a rising tide to lift all boats.”

Florida is now ranked by Education Week third — behind Massachusetts and New Jersey — in K-12 achievement. It boasts more than 700 charter schools, more than twice New York’s count, and 500 magnet schools, almost five times New York’s, and open enrollment for traditional public schools. Fewer than a third of students in Miami-Dade County, the highest performing urban school district in the country, attend their local public schools.

Citing those figures, Mr. DeSantis spoke of “parents looking at their options and making the decision that is best for their families.” Mr. DeSantis took on the teachers’ unions as he defended students’ rights throughout the pandemic. “Every child has the right to in-school five days a week, in-person,” said the governor, who recognized early that school closures created more problems than they solved.

“Everybody that opposed having the kids in school — they were wrong,” the governor declared. Mr. DeSantis also addressed his opposition to wokeness in schools. Mr. Adams, too, has warned of wokeness, at least in the context of crime fighting. On schools, Mr. DeSantis stressed: “Parents have a fundamental role when it comes to the education and upbringing of their kids. They have a right to be involved in what’s being taught in school.” 

The governor made clear that Florida was fully supportive of “parents pursuing religious education for their kids.” His comment was met with applause. He spoke as New York’s Board of Regents tries to impose new regulations on yeshivas that would block such religious schools’ abilities to set their own curricula and instead force them to conform to new standards of “substantial equivalence” to local public schools.

Mr. DeSantis knows that, as the New York Post reports, 60,000 ex-New Yorkers became Floridians in 2021 — a figure on track to be surpassed in 2022. In his speech, Mr. DeSantis noted the “unprecedented” migration of families, not just retirees, to Florida. Enrollment in Florida’s Jewish day schools, institutions under attack by regulators in New York, increased by about a fifth in recent years, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

What a chance for Mayor Adams as he seeks to move his administration — and his party — toward the practical, problem-solving center. New York is investigating religious schools, as public schools fail to meet standardized testing goals. Diploma requirements are being lowered. Waitlists for charter schools are growing. We’d like to think that Mr. DeSantis might invite Mr. Adams to visit Florida so as to study its success. 

The New York Sun

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