School Choice Defeat Leaves Minority Students in Florida With No Choice, by Deneen Moore

In Florida, the chances that a black child can get a decent education got worse on January 5, 2006.

On that day, the state’s supreme court struck down the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program.  This program gave the parents of children who were entering or already enrolled in underperforming government schools the power to move them to other public schools or participating private schools that they felt could do a better job or were a better fit for their needs.

It may not have been intentional, but the Florida Supreme Court’s decision helped increase segregation more than a gaggle of Klansmen.  As a result, many minority families lost the ability to move their kids out of schools that lack educational discipline but are brimming in complacency and hostility.  Their only means of escape to schools that focus on learning and accomplishment is to have the financial means.

For them, it will be back to their neighborhood schools that lack in diversity almost as much as they lack in educational quality.

One must question the decision-making process of the Florida Supreme Court and wonder if the members were even remotely aware of the progress already made through the school choice program.

Basically, the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program allowed students to relocate from local schools that state officials found failing in minimum educational needs.  Those students received a voucher redeemable at other participating schools.  It was a great boost for minority students in particular.  Out of the 763 recipients enrolled in private schools during the 2004-05 school year, for example, 61 percent were black and 33 percent were Hispanic.  Independent studies also indicated educational improvement in participating schools.

Since 1999, participation in the Florida program progressively increased as more parents and students became aware of it.  Students appeared intellectually stimulated when they were challenged, and optimistic attitudes among the participating students were noted by both teachers and parents.  These positive facts should be key reasons to continue the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program and encouragement for other states to implement similar programs.

Tragically, in striking down school choice in Florida, nothing was offered as a means to assist those minority students currently enrolled in the programs.  By the end of this school year, most of these students will undoubtedly return to the same poor-quality schools they fled because parents relied on the scholarships.

To deprive these minority students of a quality education should be considered a crime.  The Florida ruling closes the door on many black and Hispanic students’ hopes to achieve a quality education that would help prepare them for a successful future. 

It begs the question: when will those with the authority realize that, without school choice, many minority students will be robbed of a quality education?  What indications of our failing public education system escapes those in power?

Failing school systems translate into failed hopes and dreams for minority students.  An abnormally large percentage of the government’s schools continue to function on below standard levels, and it seems far more prevalent in minority communities.  The problem is significantly compounded due to acts of in-school violence and, in many cases, children raising themselves due to the lack of parental guidance and attention.

This ruling in Florida should be a wake-up call.  Minority children are depending on those willing and able to take a stand to fight for them so that they can receive a quality education when government schools are clearly failing.

I’d truly like to know how many of the Sunshine State’s supreme court judges, teachers, and political leaders are willing to send their own children to government schools that receive a failing grade?  In most cases, their wealth and power afford them a choice.  But it’s not the same for others.

# # #

Deneen Moore is a member of the National Advisory Council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments many be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.