The beginning of the school year is a time of mixed emotions for parents. With two of my kids entering their senior year of high school, I’ve been reflecting on the challenges they’ve faced during their educational journey. Watching my children go through school showed me the importance of supporting our students, and motivated me to run for school board in order to be an advocate for them and other children facing similar obstacles.
During my time as a school board member in Florida, I fought to make sure our district’s students had access to quality learning opportunities. However, what I discovered during my four years in that position is that without a majority of school board members sharing this priority, change wasn’t going to happen.
It was eye-opening to see the problems that plague school districts around the state up close. I realized quickly that the district’s decision-makers were once fantastic educators but did not make for good administrators. The issues that plague districts can sometimes be traced to the fear of the backlash from speaking up to challenge the status quo. This ultimately harmed the students we were supposed to be helping.
In order to bring about the change necessary to get school districts on the right track, winning majorities on our school boards is critical. We must ensure these boards are no longer beholden to inside school district politics, corrupt unions, and power-driven superintendents. If we are serious about transforming the quality of education in America, we must be realistic in our approach. It’s going to take the turning over of school board seats, coupled with the passage of pro-parent and student-focused solutions, to effect lasting change.
Since the launch of BEST’s six-week School Board Candidate Academy in March 2021 the level of quality candidates has become noticeable not only here in Florida but across the nation. Parents aren’t just resting on their laurels and waiting on politicians to fix the problems blocking our children’s access to the world-class education they all like to allude to during election years. On August 23, 43 of Florida’s 67 counties saw pro-parent, common sense school board candidates either win seats or advance to the general election.
Parents are rightly fed up with a system that has shut them out over the last two years, and they’re fighting back. August 23rd was not an anomaly, because parents are not going away anytime soon. Parents are now considered the nation’s “swing voter,” and that is because parents now see that we must elect candidates to school boards who are willing to challenge the bureaucracy if we want to see real change. Winning elections and guaranteeing educational freedom for families will allow our kids to receive the world-class education they deserve.
That’s why, in addition to electing new school board members, we must ensure all Florida families have school choice. Under Florida’s current system, my family was unable to afford private school for our kids, but had too high of an income to qualify for Florida’s school choice scholarship programs. Unless there is a change, middle-class families like mine will continue to have limited opportunities for their students in Florida.
Florida parents are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida legislators to take bold action during the 2023 legislative session to expand school choice for Florida families. For over 20 years, Florida has led on this issue, but we are now falling behind.
This summer, Gov. Doug Ducey, R-Ariz., signed into law universal education savings accounts for all students, equivalent to only slightly less than the amount of state funding per traditional public school student. What this means is that parents have the resources to create a tailored education for their children. It also means families in Arizona will not have to suffer through another year of a learning environment that does not meet their student’s needs.
By contrast, Florida’s school choice model still relies too heavily on sending money to government schools. While charter and magnet schools aren’t traditional public schools, they are still public. Even when parents are given the choice to send their child to a public school outside their school zones, this is still only a public school option. This needs to change.
Florida prides itself as a pro-parent state, but still presents a relative lack of choices for families with kids in school, especially compared to states like Arizona. Clearly, a lot of work needs to be done. Florida state legislators must directly fund students instead of systems, like Arizona has.
In the coming year, Florida has the potential to make huge strides in improving our state’s education system. If voters elect school board members who will fight for our kids, and our state’s lawmakers meaningfully expand school choice, every child in Florida will finally have a chance to thrive.
Laura Zorc is the National Director of Education Reform at FreedomWorks.