But there is scant evidence that these students fare better academically than their peers in public schools. And there is a perennial debate about whether the state should support private schools that are mostly religious, do not require teachers to hold credentials and are not required to meet minimal performance standards. Florida private schools must administer one of several standardized tests to scholarship recipients, but there are no consequences for consistently poor results.This is the same faith-based outlook that drives the "choice" movement in Arkansas, exemplified lately by Walton-financed lobbying to keep the Little Rock School District in state control and to encourage interdistrict transfers, vouchers and charter schools. Accountability is scant in the Arkansas programs, too. The state, which insists on controlling the Little Rock School District, is repeatedly reluctant shut down poor charter schools. The voucher legislation provided little in the way of meaningful accountability or assurance that money was going to a school worthy of the name.
“After the students leave us, the public loses any sense of accountability or scrutiny of the outcomes,” said Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade County public schools. He wonders what happens to the 25,000 students from the county who receive the scholarships. “It’s very difficult to gauge whether they’re hitting the mark.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate for school choice, does not seem to be bothered by that complaint.
Students play chess during an enrichment class at Academy Prep, a private middle school in Tampa that includes students from low-income families who receive tax-credit scholarships to attend. Academy Prep students go to school 11 hours per day and nearly 11 months per year. (Courtesy of Academy Prep Center of Tampa)
She is driven instead by the faith that children need and deserve alternatives to traditional public schools. At a recent public forum, DeVos said her record in office should be graded on expansion of choice-friendly policies. She did not embrace a suggestion that she be judged on academic outcomes. “I’m not a numbers person,” she said.