Florida Ranks First on National ‘Education Freedom Report Card’

Florida Ranks First on National ‘Education Freedom Report Card’
Students arrive for their first day in school at the Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami, on August 23, 2021. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
Allan Stein

MESA, Ariz.—Florida is the overall winner on a national report card that measures how well states provide access to school choice and parental input into children’s education.

Parents not only have a right to choose where children learn but what they learn, according to the 2022 Education Freedom Report Card of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy organization.

The report card included a list of state educational rankings in four key study areas: education choice, regulatory freedom, transparency, and return on investment for education spending.

“The top-ranked state across the board in our 2022 Educational Freedom Report Card is Florida,” The Heritage Foundation said.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), talks about school choice expansion in Arizona with Derrick Morgan, executive vice president of The Heritage Foundation, during an "Education Freedom Report Card" celebration in Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 25, 2022. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), talks about school choice expansion in Arizona with Derrick Morgan, executive vice president of The Heritage Foundation, during an "Education Freedom Report Card" celebration in Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 25, 2022. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

“Florida does exceptionally well in allowing parents to choose among private, charter, and district schools is home to a strong ESA program, and ranks third overall for education choice.”

Florida took first place for academic transparency and second place in regulatory freedom “making it one of the freest states for teachers and students to pursue education largely devoid of red tape,” the think tank said.

Arizona No. 1 in School Choice

Arizona ranked first in school choice following the recent passage and implementation of expanded universal school choice legislation signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

“This is really kitchen table common sense stuff. This is something parents want,” said Ducey, the guest speaker.

According to The Heritage Foundation, Arizona took first place for education choice “even without its universal ESA provision,” which provides public funds that can be used outside of the public school system.

“For parents looking for the wildest array of education options, Arizona is the place to be.”

The universal school choice program provides up to $7,000 in education scholarships to K-12 students in Arizona. The legislation prevailed despite attempts by opponents to derail the program going into effect in September.

Panel speaker Jenny Clark, founder and executive director of Love Your School in Arizona, said a signature petition to stop ESA expansion was a “real wakeup call to me.”

“When parents get on an empowerment scholarship, they’re so darned happy they decide to stay” in school choice programs.

But if people “really care about fostering education and freedom, we have to care about things that are attached to particularly private school choice programs,” said Lindsey Burke, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy.

School choice includes the ability of private schools to “operate as they see fit,” Burke said.

Burke said education freedom applies not only to parents and children, but to teachers and whether schools offer alternative certification options and reciprocity between districts.

‘Left-Leaning’ Teaching Programs

She noted that traditional college-based teaching programs are often “captured by the left” and “some of the most left-leaning institutions in America.”

Burke said the report card also calculated the number of districts with chief diversity officers and how it’s replicated throughout K-12 programs.

“We’re seeing this over and over again in districts across the country,” Burke said.

The report card also measured the proportion of districts with a chief executive officer on staff and common-core assessment programs.

While Arizona ranked fifth in regulatory freedom, with 10 percent of teachers having an alternative certification, there is full reciprocity.

“That’s good,” Burke said.

For Arizona school districts, 20 percent employ chief diversity officers, and Arizona is “certainly not the worst of states” in this regard.

Regarding regulatory freedom, Mississippi ranked No. 1 on the report card.

“Although education choice is critical for the future of education freedom in this country—and some would argue it is the reform that catalyzes all other necessary reforms in K-12 education today—it is one of the many factors we assess in this report card,” The Heritage Foundation stated.

Jonathan Butcher, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, hailed Florida’s No. 1 ranking in academic transparency, saying that what children learn in the classroom is “the kind of stuff parents want to know first on.”

“That is, at its essence, why we felt that transparency was so important to include as a part of our report card,” he said.

He alluded to an incident in a Texas school district that compared police officers to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

It took action from the governor to address the matter, with parents’ concerns being largely ignored by school boards.

“It should not take a governor calling for something to be done in a school to do something about what’s going on in a curriculum,” Butcher said.

CRT in the Classroom

The report card also looked at the prevalence of critical race theory (CRT), and whether students were forced or compelled to affirm or believe any idea that violated the 1965 Civil Rights Act.

CRT isn’t merely an academic field of study, “it is an action plan” that utilizes compelled speech in education, Butcher said.

In the final category—return on investment in per-pupil spending—Idaho topped the list.

“How taxpayer dollars are spent is an integral component of choice and empowerment,” The Heritage Foundation said. “Our report card therefore examines the return on taxpayer investments in K-12 education in the states.”

“Idaho took first place in this category, providing a high [return on investment] for taxpayer spending on K-12 education.”