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New Florida Governor Rick Scott Weighs Some Bold Education Reforms

Twenty-eleven is here, and I’m back with my youthful optimism looking toward a better, freer education future. While a lot of states — including Colorado — look forward to convening their legislatures with a focus on tackling budget problems, truly bold education reform is at the forefront of conversation in at least one place: Florida.

Education Week State Education Watch blogger Sean Cavanaugh recently took note of some recommendations made by Governor-Elect Rick Scott’s transition team. The 20-page document covers a wide range of ideas in various areas, including teacher quality, school choice and digital learning. Most of the focus is being drawn to a “universal voucher” idea that Gov-elect Scott had hinted at, and is now being fleshed out in the form of education savings accounts. As Cavanagh reports:

Under their proposal, parents would be allowed to receive funding equal to 85 percent of the “amount the student would have generated in the public school system,” presumably in per-pupil funding, to pay for private school costs, private tutoring, private virtual education, prepaid college plans, and other options.

And the remaining 15 percent? Scott’s team says it would flow back in the public coffers.

But the Florida governor’s transition team has advanced some other bold and interesting ideas, too, such as:

  • Following Colorado’s lead by tying a significant portion of teacher evaluations to measured student academic growth
  • Phasing out tenure for K-12 teachers by denying it to new hires
  • Again following Colorado’s lead: expanding public school choice by creating universal, mandatory, intra- and inter-district open enrollment
  • Upgrading an already top-notch K-12 accountability system
  • Removing excessive regulatory barriers that hamper students’ ability to access digital learning opportunities
  • Implementing a funding system that empowers and incentivizes local schools to promote students based on achievement rather than seat time
  • Creating a new “high-performance” charter school classification that provides greater flexibility and funding
  • Expanding existing successful private school choice programs: the corporate tax credit and McKay special needs scholarships

It’s too early to tell exactly which initiatives will get the most weight and priority, and how each of them ultimately will fare, even in a Republican-dominated state legislature. But considering the head start Florida has had in putting together a successful school reform program, most other states will want to pay close attention or risk falling farther behind.