Author(s): Matthew Ladner
Jeb Bush campaigned for governor on a clear and bracing set of education reforms in 1998. Having won office, he immediately pursued a dual-track strategy for reforming Florida’s K-12 education system: standards and accountability for public schools, choice and options for parents. Florida lawmakers followed those reforms with additional measures. They enacted instructionalbased reforms, curtailed social promotion, introduced performance pay for teachers, and expanded school choice for families.
Ten years after Gov. Bush’s election and subsequent work to improve K-12 education, this study lays out the cumulative impact of his reforms, using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
NAEP is the nation’s most reliable and respected source for data on K-12 education, testing representative samples of students in every state on a variety of subjects, including mathematics and reading.
Looking particularly at NAEP’s reading test, 53 percent of Florida’s fourth-grade students scored “Basic or better” in 1998, meaning they were able to master “fundamental skills.” By 2009, however, 73 percent of Florida’s fourth graders scored basic or above—a remarkable improvement. What’s more, after a decade of strong improvement, Florida’s Hispanic students now have the second-highest reading scores in the nation when compared to their peers; Florida’s African Americans rank fourth-highest.
Comparing students by subgroups reveals that Florida’s African American, Hispanic, low-income and disabled children all outscore their Ohio peers in fourth-grade reading. Florida’s Hispanic students outscored or tied the statewide averages for all students in 31 states, and only narrowly missed the statewide average in Ohio.
The pages that follow lay out Florida’s reforms, and suggest how Ohio policymakers could emulate the Sunshine State’s success. Florida’s work wasn’t easy, but the academic success that has occurred should make it easier for other states to follow.
Enacted 2003 • Launched 2004
Ohio students on the autism spectrum may receive vouchers for education services from a
private provider, including tuition at a private school. After participating students receive
education services, they apply to the state for reimbursement of expenses.
Enacted 1995 • Launched 1996
Parents in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District can receive vouchers to send their
children to private school or public schools bordering the school district. No more than half of
new recipients may be students previously enrolled in private schools.
Enacted 2005 • Launched 2006
Ohio students attending chronically low-performing public schools are eligible for “EdChoice”
vouchers to attend private schools. The cap on available vouchers is 60,000.
Enacted 2001 • Launched 2001
Florida provides a tax credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for
donations to Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), nonprofits that provide private
school scholarships for low-income students and foster care children and offer funds for
transportation to public schools outside a child’s district. Businesses get a dollar-for-dollar tax
credit for SFO contributions, with total credits capped at $229 million. Unused credits can be
carried forward to the next fiscal year.
Enacted as a Pilot Program 1999 • Expanded 2000
Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program allows public
school students with disabilities or 504 plans to receive vouchers to attend private schools or
another public school.
Enacted 2011 • Launched 2012
Ohio parents of children with special needs enrolled in public schools are able to receive
vouchers to pay for private school tuition and additional services at private therapists and
other service providers. Vouchers can be used at public providers (i.e., school districts) if the
district chooses to accept voucher students. The number of vouchers available is capped at 5
percent of the students with special needs statewide.