A recent guest column in the Tallahassee Democrat by Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna extolled the virtues of a public education while warning of the harm done to that system by education choice scholarships.
I can sum up my reaction to that narrative in one word: Wow.
I’ve worked in private schools for more than 25 years, serving as principal for the last 11 years at Kingdom Life Preparatory Academy, a private, faith-based K-12 school in Tallahassee. I see on a daily basis the difference a private school education makes in the lives of our students and their families.
That’s what the critics of school choice fail to understand: the families.
I see students jump out of cars in the morning and excitedly run through our doors. They wear smiles, which tells me they believe they attend the right school. My inbox is filled with messages of gratitude from parents and guardians relieved to see their children enjoying their education.
I am not here to attack public schools. I taught in public schools before moving to private schools. Until we added a high school, many of our students continued their education at a public school, and we were happy for their success For many families, a public school education is the best fit for their children. But, as those of us who support school choice say, one size does not fit all.
My view is that education is one big, happy system with two sides. One is public and one is private. Every school has its own unique mission on how they educate. Parents know whether their children are learning. They can tell. That’s the main factor.
Parents deserve the right to choose which side is best for their children – public or private. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Education Options enable parents to find the right education fit for their children.
Opponents of those programs, like the author of the column in question, claim the state is sending money that could be used for public education to those programs, which the author claims “expand wealth and power for select individuals and private interests.” That’s a false narrative. Eight independent studies all concluded that the scholarship programs do not financially harm public education.
Last year, 73% of FTC and FES-EO students were non-white. The average household income for a family of four was of $43,164, and 45% of scholarship students live in single-parent households. That doesn’t look like wealth and privilege to me.
I will add that a study by the Urban Institute found students who attended private schools on tax credit scholarships were up to 43% more likely to attend a four-year college, and up to 20% more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, than their peers who attended public school.
School choice programs do not place a wedge between parents and public schools, as critics claim. They simply give parents an option.
If it wasn’t for school choice, many students would be in the wrong setting, basically set up to fail.
I’ve seen Kingdom Life Preparatory Academy make a great difference in the emotional wellness and academic ability of children since they are in a smaller setting, a setting that’s willing to meet their holistic needs. A public school couldn’t do that. I’m not anti-public school. I’m just pro-choice.
There are schools out there like Kingdom Life Preparatory Academy that believe in choice. We believe in making a difference in the lives of every student, and we take our job seriously. It’s not about diverting dollars. It’s about creating a healthy system of options.
Pastor Otis Young is CEO, Kingdom Life Academy, Tallahassee, FL.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: I’m not anti-public school. I’m just pro-choice | Opinion