In Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech, “A Time for Choosing,” he outlines the foundational importance of what people believe about their personal ability to run their own lives:
“This is the issue: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government … or whether we confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives better than we can plan it for ourselves.”
The issue of education choice is the perfect case study of this critical point.
States have often been referred to as “laboratories of democracy.” They are where innovative policy initiatives can be tested, tinkered with, and perfected. Often, if one state’s policy initiative is successful, it will be picked up by others. That is what has happened in the case of Education Savings Accounts and the state of Florida.
While Arizona was the first state to adopt a successful and constitutional Education Savings Account program, Florida was not far behind! Today, 5,844 students in 174 schools across the Sunshine State are using the Gardiner Scholarship Program to access opportunity through curriculums customized to their needs.[i]
Though Florida’s program is tailored specifically to students with disabilities, they join Arizona in leading the nation on education choice in the form of ESAs. Having successfully survived constitutional challenges funded by opponents of education choice, the Gardiner Scholarship is one more outlet for students to have access to a personalized education.
Florida’s robust series of student-centered reforms over the last fifteen years (which we’ve well-documented before) have made the Sunshine State a fertile laboratory for providing a growing number of students with education options – like ESAs – to help them reach their full potential.
Lawmakers in Arizona and Florida have empowered a growing number of parents to make the best education decisions for their children, and the results for students have been dramatic. Now is the time for South Carolina to follow their example. Florida’s successful ESA program provides yet another example of one step we can take to follow Ronald Reagan’s advice to push decisions away from central planners and better support South Carolina’s students.