Student Vouchers Showing Up in Florida's Public Schools

Nov 14, 2002 03:00 AM EST

A south Florida newspaper says a number of voucher students in that state are going back to public schools.

The Miami Herald has reported that more than one in four students who took a voucher to attend private school in Florida this semester have transferred back to public education. But senior attorney Clark Neily with the Institute for Justice is very cautious about accepting that statistic at face value.

"Frankly, school choice opponents are pretty notorious in misrepresenting the statistics and portraying them in a way that appears to paint a picture that is not accurate -- so that would be my first reaction to that," Neily says.

"My second reaction would be that [there can be a number of reasons] for students who do move back into the public school system," he says. "I think one of the leading reasons is that some of them find ... that the level of academic expectations [in the private schools] is higher than they had expected -- and higher than they're comfortable with."

Neily, whose firm represents parents and children in defense of Florida's Opportunity Scholarships Program, says the 28% transfer rate does not indicate that the school choice system has failed, but rather that "one size fits all" is definitely not a good model. In fact, he says, the trend is a victory for school choice.

"The public schools improve dramatically in the presence of competition, and that's happened very much in Florida," he says. "Some schools have made great strides -- there's actually been some academic work that proves the point. And then we know this just from looking at the kinds of things that failing schools have done. They add all kinds of services [and] improve the level of education that they're offering."

Neily says the student transfer rate may also indicate that some parents have decided that public school alternatives available to them have actually improved, and they are willing to go back and give them a try.

By Jim Brown