It’s Time for America’s Cities to Go All-In on School Choice
The following was originally published by National Review.
School choice is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century. Choosing the right school opens opportunity, it shapes success, it prevents failure, and it unleashes economic opportunity. Great cities need dynamic schools to remain open, vibrant, and responsive to their residents’ needs. We believe the best way to improve our schools and invest in our future is to expand parent-driven school choice.
This is why the Suarez administration will partner with charter schools by offering them the space necessary to expand the overall number, quality, and choice of charter schools in Miami. Giving more parents more learning options — especially tech-based options — that work best for their children is a gamechanger. We believe parents, not administrators, ultimately drive school quality, performance, and outcomes. Now is the time to expand charter schools that integrate tech education to support Miami’s future economy.
Miami has always led on school choice. In 1996, T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, partnered with Governor Jeb Bush to start Florida’s first charter school in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. Even a decade ago, Alberto Carvalho, former superintendent of Miami-Dade public schools, foresaw the changing landscape in education: “Rather than complain about the incoming tsunami of choice, we’re going to ride it.” Since then, Miami-Dade County has launched 140 charter schools, serving more than 70,000 students, and more than 440 private schools that serve tens of thousands of students with school-choice scholarships. Miami has done well, but now we need to do better.
Building on Miami’s diverse education offerings is another reason that a growing number of high-profile financial firms and tech firms are relocating to Miami. Many of these new companies know our workforce is one of the most talented and competitive in the world. But they also know that to keep and to expand our edge, we need to expand the scale and scope of tech education in Miami. Charter schools offer a compelling choice for parents and students. We believe that we can turbocharge our economy and job opportunities by offering a full spectrum of educational choices through charter, public, and private schools. Miami-Dade currently has 115 magnet schools serving 70,000 students, and tens of thousands of other students in other district-created options. The Miami Education and Schools Association (MESA) program seeks to boost school choice by complementing, not competing with, our existing schools.
Moreover, the students who benefit from increased school-choice options are overwhelmingly from historically discriminated-against communities. In a 2019 study, the Urban Institute found students using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families — 24,502 students in Miami-Dade used them last year — are far more likely than their public-school peers to enroll in colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. And a 2020 study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research found that, as that same program grew, students in the district schools most affected by competition saw higher test scores.
We believe the benefits of school choice already accrue far beyond schools. High-quality research in other cities and states shows students in choice programs are more likely be civically engaged, socially responsible, and more politically tolerant. The innovation, optimism, and talent that education choice unleashes from the bottom-up spills over into every other sector of a smart, healthy, creative city. It spurs entrepreneurship. It yields a more capable, more dynamic, and more confident work force.
A stronger education system has positioned Miami even better for the challenges and opportunities that await all our cities. We believe incentivizing the growth of charter schools provides the choice and quality of schools that parents want and companies need. Increasing school choice is a pathway to economic freedom, student achievement, and parental involvement. This is a future all of us should fight for.
Francis X. Suarez is the mayor of Miami and the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Corey DeAngelis is the national director of research at the American Federation for Children.