Florida and Tennessee running circles around Mississippi on education freedom

By Aaron Rice
May 20, 2019

While House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach) killed a renewal of and a small expansion to the state’s Education Scholarship Account program this session, Tennessee and Florida have been moving forward to provide new options for children.

Florida has long been a champion of school choice, and is home to the nation’s largest program. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program provides a tax credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for donations to scholarship-funding organizations that provide scholarships to low and middle income students and children in foster care. A program that served approximately 15,000 students in 2003 now serves nearly 100,000. 

Florida is also home to two other school choice programs that serve another 40,000 students.

And this year, Florida enacted the Family Empowerment Scholarship program, which will provide new funding for 18,000 low-income students in failing schools to attend private schools. 

“The reason I fought so hard for the new Family Empowerment Scholarship is because of what I heard from the families on the waitlist,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “I was told how badly they wanted to send their child to the school they felt was best for them. Signing this bill will help tens of thousands of low-income children realize their dreams.”

While Florida has long been a school choice leader, Tennessee had been similar to Mississippi with just a small ESA for students with special needs. That program served under 150 students this year. But a new law will expand ESAs to students in Shelby (Memphis) and Davidson (Nashville) counties. While it is limited, those two counties make up about 25 percent of the state’s entire population. 

This bill was a top priority of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. In fact, DeSantis and Lee, both Republicans, made school choice an issue on the campaign trail while their Democratic opponents were vocal in opposition. It provided a winning issue on the campaign trail, and in their first year in office, both were able to deliver on a campaign promise. 

And students in Florida and Tennessee will be better off. We should find a way to allow parents in Mississippi to have options so parents can send their children to the school they feel offers the best chance for their children to flourish. 


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