|Ron DeSantis is Governor of Florida today because of 100,000 black voucher moms.|
My 25 Years in the School Choice Movement
By: George Noga – January 20, 2019
I started the school choice movement in Florida in 1994 by raising money for private vouchers for children in poverty – 80% of whom were minorities; it was an overwhelming success. Assisted by a new tax credit law, we rapidly expanded. The program, now called Step Up for Students, grants over 100,000 scholarships each year at a cost of $400 million. Due to the Florida success, I was invited to join the board of Children First America, which began voucher programs in over 100 cities. This posting offers reflections and observations based on my quarter-century in the movement.
1. School choice is a winning issue. Ron DeSantis is now Governor of Florida because 100,000 black voucher moms voted for him by a huge margin over Andrew Gillum, the black Democrat candidate, who vowed to abolish vouchers. Black women voted 18% for DeSantis only 9% for Scott and 7% for the GOP nationally. DeSantis also got 44% of the Hispanic vote. Doug Ducey won Governor of Arizona by corralling 45% of the Latino vote versus only 30% for McSally – again due to school choice.
2. Vouchers increase funding for public school children. Teacher unions, contrary to all logic, argue vouchers diminish funding for children in government schools. Assume there are 100,000 students is a school district funded at $10,000 per student, or $1 billion in total. If 20% receive vouchers for $5,000 (50% is typical), the 80,000 kids remaining in public schools now are funded at $900 million, or $11,250 each, equal to an increase of $1,250, or 12.5% per pupil remaining in government schools. QED
3. Choice is ultimate accountability. Opponents’ go-to argument is that voucher schools are unaccountable. Government schools are run by stultified, politicized and unionized bureaucracies whereas private schools are accountable directly to parents and students. A consumer armed with a free choice is the most powerful force on earth. Imposing rules on voucher schools turns them into the hell holes parents are fleeing and causes good private schools to shun vouchers, thereby reducing options for children from poor families. The state doesn’t interfere in schools where parents pay tuition directly, only in those that accept vouchers. They thus treat voucher parents as inferior to others.
4. Opponents always use race, class warfare and scare tactics. Even though I raised money from white businessmen to fund vouchers for black and Hispanic kids, I was called racist every time I spoke in public. Critics argue vouchers are bad because some kids are left behind; this is like asserting everyone should drown because there aren’t enough lifeboats to save everybody. Nor do vouchers skim the best students; voucher kids are indistinguishable from public school kids in every demographic.
5. School choice is about more than education. Government schools teach a vapid, PC, secular, valuless orthodoxy. Choice allows parents to select schools that reinforce, rather than contradict, parental values. Choice permits parents to select a safe environment versus metal detectors and perpetual police presence and to escape public schools, many of which are petri dishes for social dysfunction and breeding grounds for behavioral pathologies. Choice permits children to escape being held hostage by those standing in the schoolhouse door blocking their escape. Choice would be highly desirable even if there were no differences in educational outcomes.
6. Public schools are a jobs program for adults. Voucher schools that fail are closed. No government school ever closes. Inept and dangerous teachers can’t be fired; instead, they are shuffled among schools or paid to sit in rubber rooms. The problem is not that there are a few bad apples, but that there aren’t enough good apples.
School choice has come far in 25 years but has a long way to go until that magical day when every family in America has the power to choose. The 2018 election proved school choice is a winning issue among black and Hispanic voters. That should scare the bejesus out of teachers unions, progressives and others who are preventing poor kids from escaping failing schools. More importantly, it should embolden politicians of all stripes to embrace school choice – which is the civil rights issue of our time.
Watch for our special mid-week posting on Thursday, January 24th.