Better Scholarships and Stronger Neighborhoods
A New A+ Plan for K12 Education to Address Unmet Needs
More than 20 years ago, a coalition of Florida education reformers that included Governor Jeb Bush and JMI founder Stan Marshall worked together to advance the A+ Plan for K-12 Education. This ambitious initiative included a combination of accountability measures (such as an A-to-F school grading system) and new education choice opportunities (including Florida’s first K-12 scholarship program).
The original A+ Plan proved to be an extraordinary success. It helped catapult Florida from the Bottom 10 to the Top 5 in various state-by-state K-12 education rankings.1 It established Florida as a national leader in education reform generally, and in school choice specifically.2 And it inspired several other states to adopt education reforms and scholarship programs modeled after those in Florida.
While the impact of the original A+ Plan has been extraordinary and far-reaching, many Florida families have yet to benefit directly from school choice – or to benefit fully from all that a skillfully-crafted education choice policy could bring. Consider:
• Some students remain ineligible for scholarships, even though their parents pay taxes and the state will fund their education if they attend a public school.
• Some families have education choice only in theory. They qualify for scholarships, but this doesn’t have much practical benefit because current vouchers can only be used for school tuition – and they live in a sparsely-populated area that does not have any alternative schools.
• Some scholarship recipients living in disadvantaged communities continue to suffer from what Harvard scholar Raj Chetty calls a dearth of “positive neighborhood effects.”3 For these students, the primary challenge isn’t access to meaningful school choice – it is overcoming the residual effects of assigned school policies on neighborhood composition.
Thus, a New A+ Plan is needed – and it should be designed to provide universal coverage for all students, real choices for families that lack them, and new opportunities for those living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Specifically, Florida’s New A+ Plan for K-12 Education should offer flexible-use scholarships to all Florida families (the A) with weighted funding for special populations, including those living in Title I neighborhoods that need revitalization (the Plus).
Such a policy would be good at any point in time; but a New A+ Plan crafted along these lines would be especially well-suited for our post-COVID world. For in today’s “new normal,” more and more people are interested in new ways to educate their children, new places to raise their children, and new strategies for stimulating “positive neighborhood effects” in disadvantaged communities.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these developments.