Tuesday, December 04, 2018

OCPA column: School-choice moms tipped FL Gov race


School-choice moms tipped governor’s race
by Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA)

Why did 100,000 African-American women in Florida vote for Trump-backed Republican Ron DeSantis over Andrew Gillum, a Democrat vying to become the state’s first African-American governor?

The answer was provided by William Mattox last week in The Wall Street Journal.

“More than 100,000 low-income students in Florida participate in the Step Up For Students program, which grants tax-credit funded scholarships to attend private schools,” he writes. “Even more students are currently enrolled in the state’s 650 charter schools.”

“Most Step Up students are minorities whose mothers are registered Democrats. Yet many of these ‘school-choice moms’ vote for gubernatorial candidates committed to protecting their ability to choose where their child goes to school.”

DeSantis supports school choice. Gillum, backed by the public education establishment, did not.

Gillum was a strong candidate and, again, would have been the first African-American governor in Florida history. And yet, “of the roughly 650,000 black women who voted in Florida, 18% chose Mr. DeSantis, according to CNN’s exit poll of 3,108 voters,” Mattox writes. “This exceeded their support for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott (9%), Mr. DeSantis’s performance among black men (8%), and the GOP’s national average among black women (7%).”

“In an election decided by fewer than 40,000 votes,” Mattox observes, “these 100,000 black women proved decisive.”

From small rural communities to big cities, school choice is mainstream in the Sunshine State. And good policy, as they say, has proven to be good politics.

Step Up’s Patrick Gibbons, a former OCPA research assistant, points out that nearly half of Florida’s students attend a school based on choice, not just location.

Stunning but true: fully 46 percent of Florida students are enrolled in district magnet and specialty programs, online schools, public charter schools, private schools that accept choice scholarships, home schools, or some other choice.

Interestingly, Oklahomans want those same choices. In a statewide survey commissioned by OCPA and conducted by Cor Strategies in May 2018, likely Oklahoma voters were asked this simple question: “If you could select any type of school in order to obtain the best education for your child, and financial costs and transportation were of no concern, what type of school would you select.” The survey, which had a margin of error of plus/minus 4.37 percent, found that just under half of Oklahomans would choose a traditional public school. Roughly half would make other choices (36 percent private school, 8 percent charter school, and 8 percent home school).

Clearly, the demand for educational options is strong. Homeschooling is increasingly popular in Oklahoma. One of the state’s virtual charter schools (Epic) has 21,000 students enrolled. And private schools aren’t simply for the big cities: you’ll find them from Altus to Woodward (not to mention in tiny Corn, Oklahoma). Indeed, 77 percent of Oklahomans live within a 20-minute drive or less of at least one private school, and fully 86 percent live within a 30-minute drive or less.

Two years ago, more than 10,000 private-school scholarship recipients joined Martin Luther King III for a rally in support of school choice at the Florida state capitol.

“Fairness demands that every child, not just the rich, has access to an education that will help them achieve their dreams,” Mr. King once told OCPA. He told Politico that he believes his father would have supported private-school choice for needy students.

Clearly, a lot of Florida moms do, too.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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