MORE OPTIONS IN EDUCATION
August 8, 2006
With taxpayer-funded vouchers and the explosion of charter schools, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has created vast new choices for parents and vast new markets for education entrepreneurs, say observers.
Supporters say school choice has embodied American's free-market values and forced schools to address students' needs or lose them to competitors. And despite early setbacks, the programs have grown in popularity:
- Two prominent voucher programs -- including one that gives disabled students a wider choice in schools -- have enrolled nearly 30,000 students.
- Charter schools -- which allow cities and nonprofit groups to run schools with state funding -- have attracted more than 80,000.
- Overall, More than 200 charter schools were active last school year, with more opening this fall.
"I feel parents are becoming more consumers in this education industry," says Jon Hage, president of Charter Schools USA, which manages 17 charters. "If you only have one choice of school -- the one you're ZIP-coded into -- you're not going to take the time and effort to educate yourself about the school."
Some choice programs, however, have been routinely attacked for lack of oversight, both educational and financial, and there have been cases of abuses with phony scholarship organizations.
But much of the experience with vouchers and charters has been positive, and has even forced public schools to improve:
- Magnet schools -- which draw from around the county into special themed programs -- have expanded and flourished in Florida's atmosphere of choice.
- Many districts have also experimented with letting parents choose between numerous traditional public schools in their area.
Source: Matthew Pinzur, "With vouchers come new choices -- and markets," the Miami Herald, August 7, 2006
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