Florida is Closing the Gaps in Education Equity, and Their Academic Performance is Soaring

Florida’s K-12 education system has gotten a major face-lift over the last twenty years, and continues to climb the ladder with the push of policies that offer more freedom for families of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. The state is a national leader in equitable education. According to the Florida Department of Education, they’re first in the nation in Advanced Placement Program (AP) participation and 5th in AP Performance, 3rd in Student Achievement, and 5th in closing the gap in educational achievement for Black, Hispanic and uniquely-abled students. But how did they get there?

What sets Florida apart from other states who have also made remarkable progress is that they haven’t increased monetary investment much. Michigan has increased its investment by over 20% per-student in just the last decade, where Florida’s per-student spending has pretty much remained consistent. Instead, they’ve mobilized policies and programs that prioritize equity in education.

Twenty years ago Florida introduced their A+ Plan for Education, which implemented an accountability system, parental choice and evidence-based practices for K-12 schools throughout the state. The accountability system held schools responsible for raising student achievement by implementing an A-F grading scale, a rewards and recognition system for high-performing schools and districts. This helped improve performance across the state, but also identified and allocated resources to schools and districts who were struggling.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest national assessment of American schools for grades 4, 8 and 12, and produces annual state assessments named “ The Nation’s Report Card.” Florida’s diverse populations have made remarkable progress in multiple scoring areas over the last two decades. In reading performance, Black fourth graders jumped 26 points, Hispanic students jumped 27 points, and students from low-income households improved by 29 points. Math performance skyrocketed by 27 points for Black students, 19 for Hispanic and 21 for low-income students. To put that in perspective, each population scored at least two grade-levels above their performance levels since the A+ Plan for Education was rolled-out.

Additionally, Florida prioritizes educational opportunity and equity through parental choice, also called “school choice,” a policy that gives parents the power to choose which school their children attend rather than being assigned to a public school based on where they live. This gave students from low-income households access to better education. School choice also extends to private schools, where students from low-income and working-class families can qualify to receive funding through the state’s K-12 scholarship program known as the Family Empowerment Scholarship.

Last year, Governor DeSantis passed House Bill 7045, which expanded the scholarship offerings to students with unique abilities. This bill also exempts military family members from school waitlists and maximum scholarship program enrollment. In June, Governor Ron DeSantis further promoted education equity through House Bill 7067, which increased the Family Empowerment Scholarship awardees by at least 28,000 students per year.

These bills establish equity by breaking educational barriers and give students from all backgrounds access to the same opportunities. These are the types of policies and programs that have uplifted Floridians and helped them become a leader in closing gaps in educational achievement. Florida continues to set the bar in education reform, and it’s time we follow in their footsteps.

This October, we are hosting in-depth discussions with top leaders in education at the West Michigan Policy Forum conference on how Michigan can improve education in ways other states have accomplished. Register now on our website.

By West Michigan Policy Forum.