A new nonprofit called the “School Choice Movement” will push a broad education agenda to expand scholarship programs for kids to attend private schools with public dollars, among other key initiatives proposed for the upcoming legislative session.
The organization’s efforts will likely be opposed by traditional schools and teacher unions, but will be bolstered by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s support and a new Education Commissioner, Richard Corcoran, who has been a champion of so-called “nontraditional” schools.
And with three new conservative justices on the Florida Supreme Court, “We think we’ll at least get a fair hearing” if lawsuits emerge over legislation, said Erika Donalds, chairman of the School Choice Movement, which launched this week.
Donalds’ husband, Byron Donalds, is a Republican state House member representing Hendry County and part of Collier County. He is a member of several education-related committees in the House.
A former Collier County School Board member, Donalds also served recently on the Constitution Revision Commission, where she pushed for Constitutional Amendment 8 that would set term limits for school board members and allow the state, rather than school boards, to approve and monitor certain public charter schools run by private groups. The Florida Supreme Court knocked the Amendment off the November ballot.
This spring in the Legislature, the School Choice Movement will be advocating for some of the issues connected to Amendment 8, such as school board term limits and more “independence’’ for charter schools that are monitored by school boards.
The organization also is pushing for more transportation money and innovative ideas to get kids to school if they attend charter and private schools.
And the group will be advocating for “education scholarship accounts.”
The nonprofit education reform group, Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), explains the education scholarship accounts in this way:
“Through an ESA program, parents can sign up to have their child’s education funding deposited into an account that they can use to pay for private school tuition, online courses, tutoring, special education services, curriculum, dual enrollment, and many other state-authorized uses. Unused funds rollover from year to year and can often be saved for future higher education costs.”
The School Choice Movement group also wants to get the message out that parents should have choices to get their children in the best school possible, whether that’s a private school, a public charter school run by a private group, or a traditional public school.
In some cases, “They (parents) don’t know what their choices are; they don’t feel they have choices,” Donalds said in an interview with the Florida Phoenix.
The group hopes to set up school choice fairs for parents to learn more about which schools would be best for their children. The organization already has a website: https://schoolchoicemovement.org/leadership/
As to opponents, such as the teacher unions, Donalds said, “They’re always fighting against expansion and choice. I expect they’ll continue to do that.”
But, “I think someday they’ll come to an acceptance” that the education landscape has changed for good.