Florida and Student Achievement

Since 1999, Florida has invested billions of dollars in real education reform that has catapulted the state’s student achievement into the realm of some of the highest performing countries.

How Did They Do It?

  • State-funded pre-K – $398Million/year 

  • Intensive reading initiative – $1Billion initial investment and $130Million/year ongoing  Click here to read more

  • Lowered class size – Lower elementary classes have a maximum class size of 17 

  • College readiness initiative – Professional development in Advanced Placement instruction for teachers, cash bonuses for teachers whose students pass national Advanced Placement exams ($50 per student for a teacher in a school rated A, B, or C; $500 per student for a teacher in a school rated D or F), cash bonuses for schools in the amount of $500 per student who passes a national Advanced Placement Exam), free PSAT for all Florida juniors, increased access to Advanced Placement courses for minority students 

  • A-F accountability rating system

These were not unfunded mandates; the state of Florida invested heavily to improve student achievement. Had Mississippi spent what Florida did per pupil from 1999-2009 (the last year for which data is available), total expenditures in Mississippi during that time would have increased by $5.4Billion – the difference for 2009 alone would have been over $398Million.

Florida has also implemented school choice initiatives through charter schools and tax credit scholarships (vouchers).

Florida’s Charter School Experience

According to Florida’s 2012 School Accountability Ratings:

For the second year in a row, almost 50% of Florida’s “F” rated schools are charter schools, though only 11% of Florida’s schools are charters. Florida’s charters are 7 times more likely to be rated “F” than Florida’s traditional public schools.

Previously, a national study named Florida as one of six states in which achievement gains for charter school students were significantly below those of their traditional public school peers. Florida first approved charter schools in 1996 and by the time of the national study had 348 charters, making it the third highest state for the total number of charter schools in the country that year.

This doesn’t mean that charter schools are bad. It means educating all children well is hard. It also reinforces The Parents’ Campaign’s position that charter school legislation must be written very tightly if we are to avoid the disproportionate number of failing charter schools that Florida and other states have experienced. Click here to see our Seven Principles for Sound Charter School Policy. 

Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarships

Florida’s own research of its tax credit scholarship program found:

“Test score gains for program participants are virtually identical to those of income-eligible non-participants remaining in Florida public schools.”  2012 University of Florida study of Florida tax credit scholarship program 

Additional research on tax credit scholarships shows similar result. Read more 

Florida’s achievement gains were not due to school choice.

As evidenced above, Florida has made significant investments in serious school reform such as state funded pre-K, lower class size, a full scale reading initiative, and signifiant incentives for success in Advanced Placement courses. Having invested for more than a decade in successful reforms directly related to student learning in the classroom, why do they want us to think that choice is the answer to their achievement gains?

Follow the money…the “Florida story” has received much attention in Mississippi. Jeb Bush and his staff from the Foundation for Educational Excellence have visited our state and shared their school choice message with legislators, state leaders, and educators. The Foundation recommends that Mississippi adopt charter schools and choice policies that they say will help us achieve what they have done.

It is interesting to note that many of the organization’s funders are for-profit corporations or groups that have a financial stake in the “market” of school choice, including Academica, Connections Education, Apex Learning, K-12 Incorporated, E2020, and Amplify, as well as a number of foundations that call for the privatization of public education. In 2011, when charter schools also made up half of the state’s F-rated schools, the Foundation’s director, Patricia Levesque, was credited by the Orlando Sentinel with saying that providing school choice was more important than schools’ accountability and achievement ratings. 

See these related articles:

Press Herald: Those helping write virtual school policy positioned to profit from it

Reuters: Jeb Bush, with cash and clout pushes contentious education reforms

Reuters: Writing bills, finding funds, Bush’s foundation at work

The Gazette (Iowa): Be wary of foundation’s motives

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