Op-Ed

Memo to Democrats: Freedom and education are inextricably linked | Opinion

Two state studies find that students at charter schools in Florida students demonstrated higher rates of grade-level performance.
Two state studies find that students at charter schools in Florida students demonstrated higher rates of grade-level performance. Miami Herald

The Democrats’ two nights of debate blather in Miami were astoundingly lean on two essential subjects — freedom and education. And the debates were especially lean given how the very state where they gathered is proving that freedom and education can work together to cost-effectively deliver real results – including in Miami-Dade County.

However, there was plenty of discussion by the Democratic candidates wanting Big Government to redefine and take away our many freedoms: Taking away the private health insurance of 180 million Americans. Climate-change plans expanding Nanny State control over every nook and cranny of American life. There was a suggestion of a “freedom dividend” increasing dependency on Uncle Sam by handing every citizen $1,000 a year. Crazy stuff.

Equally meager, was any substantive discussion of education — the great equalizer and only true vehicle to the upward economic mobility so intertwined with the American Dream.

Yes, there were the usual surface platitudes. Bernie Sanders: “Education is the future for this country.” (Zzzzz.) Amy Klobuchar’s call for “public schools that work.” And John Delaney’s statement of the obvious: Public education “is not delivering the results our kids need.”

Two other major mentions gravitated to the same old, same old: Less freedom. And, of course, more taxpayer money.

If we know anything by now, “delivering the results our kids need” is not about the number of dollars spent on education, but the educational bang for those bucks.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) have excluded charter school students from their share of funds flowing from a recent tax referendum. The MDCPS do not seem to care that charter schools in Miami-Dade serve a student population that is overwhelmingly minority, and they achieve significantly greater academic results than their traditional public-school counterparts.

The decision to exclude charter public school students from the referendum funds to which they should be entitled has forced the city of Aventura to begin legal action against the MDPS. This is all happening despite the clear evidence from two Florida studies demonstrating that freedom of choice is the educational pathway that has benefited the Sunshine State’s neediest families, providing educational opportunities and academic success.

The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) released its annual charter school performance report earlier this year. With more than 4.2 million test scores and 195 comparisons of academic success highlighted, the FDOE specifically found in its own words that, “Students in charter schools outperformed their peers in traditional schools in nearly every category.”

Charter public school students demonstrated higher rates of grade-level performance in 82percent of comparisons between charter public school students and their traditional public school student counterparts and also showed greater learning gains in 93 percent. These showings held across students who are African-American (89 percent), Hispanic (93 percent) and school-lunch-entitled (93 percent). In fact, the achievement gap between how white and minority students tested in various subjects was much lower in charter public school students in 86 percent of comparisons. These are serious numbers, and ones that should be both applauded and replicated.

Meanwhile — and nota bene, Miami-Dade County Public Schools — a Florida Tax Watch report showed that the average cost of providing a K-12 student in the Sunshine State was 31 percent lower in charter public schools than in district-run public schools. (Full disclosure: I’m an Florida Tax Watch trustee.) Hence, charter public schools in Florida truly do deliver more bang for our educational buck even while educating our most neediest student populations.

Florida Tax Watch defines the “true” per-student cost, going beyond Florida Education Finance Program funding. The FEFP number averaged $7,307 for 2017-18.

But when school construction, debt service, capital expenditures and other costs are thrown in, the real cost comes to $10,856 — and an even-higher $14,900 per student in Miami-Dade. In contrast, the true, all-in average cost for educating a charter-school student was only $7,476.

To be clear, charter public schools achieve dramatically better academic results with dramatically lower funding — while serving student bodies that are 68 percent African-American and Hispanic students. This also underscores why charter public school teachers are (at least) equally entitled to those pay hikes promised in the referendum.

And P.S.: That student-body composition is the reason Florida has also proved educational freedom of choice doesn’t just deliver cost-effective educational results, it also delivers a better educated workforce with greater opportunities for upward mobility. We all want that and certainly those running for President should want that as well, particularly for our most disadvantaged student populations.

It is also smart electorally, thanks to “school choice moms,” with 18 percent of black women who voted Republican in the 2018 governor’s race, tipping the razor-close election to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

So, my free advice to Democratic presidential candidates and to the Miami-Dade School Board: More freedom, not less, is needed; greater parental empowerment and choice are required if they ever hope to truly advance the interests of their voters, not more government dictates. It isn’t just about spending more money. It’s about spending that money better by putting it into cost-effective charter public schools with proven academic results, giving parents with the freedom to make the best choices for their children.

Ed J. Pozzuoli is the CEO of Tripp Scott law firm, based in Fort Lauderdale. He is past chairman of the Republican Party of Broward County.

  Comments