Blueprint Florida

More S⁠t⁠a⁠t⁠es S⁠t⁠r⁠i⁠ve ⁠t⁠o Repl⁠i⁠ca⁠t⁠e Flor⁠i⁠da-S⁠t⁠yle Pol⁠i⁠cy Reforms

By: Guest Author / 2024

Guest Author

Blueprint Florida


Thais Gonzalez

In recent years, the Sunshine State has experienced mass inward migration from thousands of entrepreneurs seeking a friendlier business climate, families seeking increased access to higher performing alternatives to government-run education, and those seeking a low-tax environment to build their nest egg for future retirement. Indeed, Florida is one of the fastest growing states in the nation – and it’s not hard to see why.

Over this same time period, Florida has reduced taxes, passed the most expansive education choice program in the country, lowered unnecessary barriers for those seeking to find gainful employment, increased access to affordable healthcare, made unions and their politics more accountable to their members and taxpayers, and kept the state open and safe for businesses and families to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it doesn’t come as a surprise that other state leaders have taken notice and introduced reforms that mirror Florida’s success on many of these policy issues. 

A number of states around the country are introducing Florida-style legislative proposals this session, but three states are going to be particularly interesting to watch: Louisiana, Georgia, and Tennessee – especially as these states are close neighbors to the Sunshine State and, perhaps even more importantly, each have called upon The James Madison Institute (JMI) Blueprint: Florida initiative to help them take the next steps toward making these reforms a reality in their states. 

One of the hallmark policies that JMI has championed for at least a decade, universal education choice, passed as a best-in-the-nation reform in 2023. This was a capstone effort in a multi-year pursuit of increasing access to quality educational options which have included an embrace of charter schools, passage and expansion of voucher programs, and tax credit scholarships. With JMI providing research and educational commentary on these issues through the years, Florida has continuously proven its commitment to parent-led decision-making and innovative learning methods for increasing access to the educational environments and tools that meet the needs of each child. 

This year, Louisiana, Georgia, and Tennessee are all pursuing the goal of universalizing education choice for students and their families. While incremental steps towards this goal may be needed, leadership in all three states seem to understand that this is the north star – and Florida has demonstrated how to navigate obstacles to getting it done. 

Over the last decade, Louisiana expanded its charter school program and introduced scholarships to provide low-income families with more educational options. Now, newly-elected Republican Governor Jeff Landry is making an effort to implement more school choice, a timely endeavor as student achievement has been on the decline and many students are struggling to recover from learning losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, 74% of Louisiana’s fourth graders aren’t reading at grade level and almost 80% can’t do basic math. 

Meanwhile, just across our northern border, Georgia is experiencing a surge in charter school enrollment and has taken steps towards expanding options for parents by passing tax credit scholarships that can be applied towards private school tuition – already delivering gains to student performance and engagement rates. 

Similarly, Tennessee has supported charter school options, while passing and slowly expanding smaller voucher and education savings account programs for students over the last decade. At the beginning of the legislative session this year, Governor Lee called for statewide school choice, proposing the Education Freedom Scholarship Act of 2024, which would allow parents to access a portion of their child’s per-pupil funding to use towards education at a school best suited to their needs. This proposal mirrors the JMI-promoted universal education choice expansions that were passed by the Florida Legislature in 2023. 

But education reform isn’t the only issue these states are looking to address. When it comes to protecting public employees from the coercive nature and political agendas of big labor unions, Florida has become the model to emulate as well. Last year, JMI research and educational materials for policymakers helped lead to the passage of “paycheck protection”, which ended the state’s role in extracting union dues from teachers’ paychecks, increased union financial transparency, and now allows employees a vote over their union representation if the union fails to demonstrate 60 percent membership rate. Louisiana and Georgia are likely to introduce or build upon this momentum with reforms of their own, while Tennessee immediately followed Florida’s lead in 2023 by passing paycheck protection for teachers and ending the state’s practice of collecting dues on the union’s behalf. 

Lastly, we are eagerly watching for Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia to make significant progress towards reforming and reducing their Certificate of Need (CON) laws. All three states are likely to address this important issue before legislative sessions end this spring. These anti-competitive barriers for new and existing healthcare providers to acquire technology or expand healthcare facilities hurt patient access to critical treatment and increase the cost of healthcare overall. Florida has led the way in repealing nearly all of our CON laws over the last five years, allowing for greater competition among healthcare providers and expanding access to quality care. This policy has led to an increase in the number of hospitals and greater access to healthcare. In 2023, after educational briefings provided by JMI, South Carolina passed reforms mirroring the Florida approach, leveraging the stories of Florida’s post-reform success.

Louisiana, Georgia, and Tennessee are poised to make significant progress on reforms to their education, healthcare and labor policies that expand opportunities for parents, students, patients and workers in their states. Through our Blueprint: Florida efforts, JMI is proud to come alongside these states’ on-the-ground leadership at the Pelican Institute in Louisiana, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and the Beacon Center of Tennessee. We look forward to celebrating their success as they look to Florida as a model for free-market and limited government policies that have been proven to secure freedom and opportunity for our state’s residents.

Thais Gonzalez is a policy research intern for The James Madison Institute.