Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott recently announced his plans to push for education savings accounts to enable Florida parents to choose the schools they deem best for the education of their children, be they public schools, private schools, or even virtual schools:

“The parent should figure out where the dollars for that student are spent,” Scott told the St. Petersburg Times after hinting at the idea in remarks to 900 voucher students in St. Petersburg.

“So if the parents want to spend it on virtual school, then spend it on virtual school,” he continued. “If they want to spend it on, you know, whatever education system they believe in, whether it’s this public school or that public school or this private school or that private school, that’s what ought to happen.”

Yes! Florida has been a front-runner in education reform for over ten years now, and implementing education savings accounts to enable all of Florida’s children and parents to choose schools for themselves is the next step in moving forward with Florida’s efforts to increase accountability, transparency, and performance through competition. As IWF’s Vicky Murray describes Florida’s reform efforts:

Florida began a comprehensive public-education reform effort in 1999 that combined accountability, transparency and parental choice with far-reaching reforms such as alternative teacher certification and financial incentives for school success. Florida pursued those reforms from the top down through state testing and from the bottom up through parental choice.


After a decade of comprehensive reform, Florida fourth-graders rank among the country’s highest performers.

Some skeptics of school choice are calling “Foul!” Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss writes that the new student funding formula which would allow parents to choose among a broad array of schools, including public schools,

…is more likely to destroy the public school system than accomplish anything else.

Well, Mrs. Strauss, it seems that you don’t have much faith in the ability of public schools to compete with private schools over student funding. Why is that? Do you think that they are inferior to private schools, and if public schools were exposed to more competition they would simply fold? If that’s the case, isn’t it utterly irresponsible and morally reprehensible to keep  Florida’s children in inferior educational institutions?

What Strauss implies is that private schools have an advantage, because they are not subject to the same accountability standards as public schools. The view that private schools aren’t regulated by the state is false, however. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice compares state laws and regulations governing private schools in all fifty states, clearing up the misperception that private schools are outside of the realm of state control.

In fact, some proponents of school choice  are now switching gears, worried that public money subjects private schools to even more stifling laws and regulations, under the precept of increasing “accountability.”

Milwaukee school choice is a case study in point. In School Choice in Milwaukee, Peterson, Green, and Noye make the case that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program’s (MPCP) potential for success was stifled from the very inception of the program. The restrictions placed on the program severely limited its ability to raise student academic success, and to compete with public schools. Despite these barriers to competition, MPCP schools outperform Milwaukee public schools with respect to high school drop-out rates, and many researchers make a strong case, with respect to academic achievement as well.

MPCP was recently subjected to accreditation requirements, administered by private entities, with the result that MPCP experienced the largest decline in the number of new schools and the largest increase in the number of closed schools in the entire program’s history. Furthermore,  Governor Jim Doyle introduced many of the same requirements to which public schools are subjected in the 2009/2011 budget. MPCP schools are now subject to a dual regulatory system which has eroded many of the benefits of having private entities perform the accreditation.

I applaud Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott‘s plans to make school choice available to all of Florida’s eligible children. Increased parental choice and involvement has the best potential to further improve academic achievement in Florida, as public, private, and virtual schools compete with each other on quality for student funding. Florida legislators should look carefully at the regulatory details, however, to make competition work to the benefit of Florida’s children and parents, and not to reduce schools to the lowest common denominator. As Estelle James concluded in her international comparison of public policies to private education:

If subsidies combined with autonomy give private schools a competitive advantage over public schools, the regulations are designed to limit the autonomy and the competitive advantage. Cost and quality convergence are the revealed goals for heavily subsidized private educational sectors.