DeSantis is more than anti-'woke.' He just delivered universal school choice to Florida.
As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis raises his national profile ahead of a likely presidential run, people seem to care a lot more about what’s going on in the Sunshine State.
Take for instance the hubbub over a principal at a classical public charter school allegedly losing her job after a teacher showed photos of Michelangelo's sculpture "David" to sixth graders, without prior parental approval.
What one school board decides to do – even if it seems silly – wouldn’t normally be the topic of such outsized attention. Even though DeSantis had nothing to do with this situation, the incident received more notice because it happened in Florida.
What does 'woke' mean?: For conservatives, it's so much more than political correctness.
Most of the focus is on how DeSantis is pushing back against “wokeness” in classrooms. The governor is creating outrage on the left for his efforts to expand the reach of the new law that limits what schools can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity outside of health class – dubbed “don’t say gay” by critics, even though the law doesn’t use those words.
School choice for all
It might not be as sexy, but there’s other education news out of Florida that deserves attention.
This week, DeSantis signed into law a sweeping school choice bill that will give all parents much more flexibility when it comes to their children’s education.
Florida is the sixth state in the country to enact universal school choice via the education savings account model – the fourth this year alone. These accounts give families the option to use funds for private school tuition, tutoring or homeschooling materials.
Will your state be next? A school choice revolution is storming the country this year
Biden is out of step with what parents want: Teachers unions may love Biden’s attack on charter schools, but parents won't be happy
Of the six states to now boast this kind of choice, Florida is by far the most significant. As the third largest state by population, Florida is home to more than 3 million school-age children.
The other states to have passed similar laws are Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Utah and West Virginia.
While private school choice has become common around the country, including in Florida, those programs were much more limited and usually based on family income or students' special needs.
Could Texas be next?
Until last year, that is. That’s when the school choice revolution – that I’ve written about before – really started in force.
COVID school closures: Teachers unions want parents to forget what happened during COVID. Don’t let them.
After years of COVID-related school shutdowns and a growing focus on leftist ideology at many public schools, frustrated parents have started demanding new options.
Republican governors and state lawmakers are paying attention and taking action. Texas, the second most populous state, appears to be moving forward with broad school choice legislation, with the support of Gov. Greg Abbott.
Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.
Obviously, the leaders of the country’s teachers unions are not pleased with these developments. Unions fight tooth and nail to prevent any kind of competition, whether in the form of charter or private schools.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is making the most noise, saying that these GOP states desire public schools to “crumble."
Freedom isn't authoritarian
DeSantis' detractors want to dismiss him as an authoritarian, but it's hard to see how expanding educational freedom fits that definition. Parents will likely appreciate having these options, and if the rollouts go well, there will be additional pressure on other states to compete.
“A lot of the anti-school choice rhetoric proves more and more hollow with each state that takes a step forward,” says Ben DeGrow, policy director of education choice for ExcelinEd. “There's all these proof points of success that undermine those arguments. Florida is a leading example of that. And so it encourages other states to say, ‘Why not give it a try?’ ”
If they don’t, I’m guessing the exodus of people from states like California and New York to Texas and Florida will continue.
Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How DeSantis just gave families in Florida a big win on education