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Expanding School Choice A Priority For DeSantis Education Advisory Panel

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Indiana Public Media

School choice is a priority for the education advisory committee Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis has convened to help shape his policy goals.

The panel met for a second time in Tallahassee Friday.

Related: DeSantis Transition Team Discusses Concerns About Teacher Pay, K-12 Funding 

Newly appointed Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran kicked off the discussion by lauding Florida as a leader in school choice. Even so, the 40-person panel agreed that more can be done on that front.

Desmond Blackburn, who heads the nonprofit New Teacher Center and was previously the superintendent at Brevard County Schools, said a good place to start is expanding the definition of choice.     

“Right now I think still too much of our learning is confined in those four walls of a classroom,” he said.

Blackburn wants more vocational and technical programs, as well as online learning options.

Kim McDougal, a former chief of staff to outgoing Gov.  Rick Scott, said online education should be a viable alternative for all K-12 students.  

“Some parents and some children are ready in kindergarten. Other families, the parents or guardians, they may not be ready to do it until middle school,” she said. “I think you put it out there and you offer it.”

McDougal said gone are the days when teachers had all the answers.

The state-run Florida Virtual School has full-time online programs, as well as supplemental online courses for K-through-12 students.

Among the most popular school choice programs is the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships, which provides low-income families financial assistance to attend private schools.

Panel member John Kirtley founded Step Up for Students, a nonprofit that administers the state scholarships. He said studies showed school choice also benefits children who remain in their district assigned schools.

“The more a public school had children leave to go on the tax credit program, the bigger the learning gains for the kids that remained at that public school,” he said.

Critics say such programs hurt school districts by diverting money to private schools.

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, or on Twitter at @abukaradan17.

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.