The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the shortcomings of one-size-fits-all education. In the midst of a worldwide crisis, we saw our education system struggle to adapt to the individual needs of individual students. If it were not clear before that we need to move beyond prioritizing the system over the students, it is crystal clear now.
We should rethink primary and secondary education that is failing to meet the needs of every child. To do that, Florida needs to be as nimble and innovative as parents have been. While various jurisdictions have squabbled over how, when and where to reopen schools, families have largely ignored the spats and focused on finding approaches that work for their individual situations.
The Florida Senate has a measure that would move us a step closer to giving each Florida student the tools and resources they need to unleash their potential.
Senate Bill 48, sponsored by state Senator Manny Diaz Jr., of Hialeah, would provide more flexibility by ensuring that more Florida students can access an education that works for them — no matter where they live.
The legislation merges five existing programs into two and expands the use of education savings accounts, which can be used to cover the cost of computers and other electronic devices, tutoring, curriculum, supplies and other approved items.
The details are important, but the vision of every student having access to a learning experience that unleashes their unique potential is the driving force behind these reforms.
Florida has made great strides over the past few years, as the existence of these programs attest. But there is much more we can do.
For too long, we have forced children and families into a one-size fits-all system.
Our outmoded educational structure dictates students’ educational experience based on where they live rather than who they are or, perhaps more important, who they want to become.
We need to re-evaluate students’ educational experiences from the bottom up, especially as the pandemic has exposed even more faults in the system.
Diaz’s bill would streamline some of the elements that already were offering innovation, with an eye toward making them even more effective in providing students and families the opportunities they need and deserve.
Students now participating in the Florida Tax Credit and Hope scholarship programs would move to the Family Empowerment Scholarship program, created in 2019. Donors who fund the 20-year-old tax credit would still be eligible to contribute and claim a credit. The programs would remain open to families based on financial eligibility.
The McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities and the Gardiner Scholarship Program would be combined in a new program, and funding would be boosted from 95 percent of the per-pupil cost in public schools to 97.5 percent.
This reform can be a starting point for reexamining everything we do.
The pandemic gave us a rare opportunity. It exposed the shortcomings of the existing system. It often wasn’t pretty. Too often it was ineffective and left too many behind.
But it also provided a glimpse of another way of doing things. It provided us a chance to ask not just, Why do we do it this way,” but also, Why don’t we do it better?” Florida students and their parents took this approach and have begun to create bottom-up solutions to address the challenges COVID-19 presented by developing learning pods and micro schools.
Now we have the chance to learn from this experience and turn that learning into action. It’s time to insert reforms into our education system that enable students, teachers and families to adapt and meet any challenges we face. It is time to prioritize students and families over buildings and bureaucracies.
Skylar Zander is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida.