An education reform expert is touting Florida’s scholarship program for students in foster care as a cost-effective model for other states to improve overall academic achievement in public schools.

Dr. Vicki Murray is the associate director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute (PJI) and director of the Women for School Choice project at the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF). She reports that reading levels for fourth-graders in the Sunshine State were close to the bottom of the barrel a little over a decade ago, but one of the changes made during that time was to give parents the opportunity to choose the best school for their children.

“Children who are not doing well or are in failing schools are given an immediate option to attend another public school that’s going to work for them outside of their assigned district, or they can use scholarships to attend private schools — and that includes special needs children, foster care children, and low-income children,” Murray explains.

Now, foster children and others considered to be “at risk” have made dramatic academic improvements, allowing Florida to jump into the top five among all states in fourth-grade reading achievement.

“So what we’re seeing in Florida really turns conventional wisdom on its head,” the PJI education studies director notes. “Children who are usually blamed as a drag on the system, in Florida, they’re propelling the system because getting them in schools that work for them benefits all students.”

Dr. Murray concludes that Florida should give hope to other states that want to achieve comparable results without the additional cost.