School choice wins in Florida, advocates say

Continued Republican control of the Legislature and Governor's Mansion pave the way for expanded choice options.
John Kirtley of the Florida Federation for Children
John Kirtley of the Florida Federation for Children
Published Nov. 7, 2018

One of Florida's most prominent school choice activists came away from Tuesday night's election results with one clear takeaway: Choice won.

"When given a clear choice between a candidate who supports empowering parents to choose K-12 options for their children and a candidate who wishes to restrict those choices, voters prefer the candidate who supports educational choice," John Kirtley, the Tampa-based founder of the state's tax credit scholarship program, said in a released statement.

Kirtley, whose Florida Federation for Children spent about $1.6 million on 39 races statewide, pointed to wins by key advocates who back expanded tax credit scholarships, charter schools and other forms of education apart from traditional district schools — not the least of which was Ron DeSantis's narrow victory as governor.

DeSantis included expansion of choice as a key plank of his education platform. Florida already has some of the largest choice programs in the nation.

Beyond DeSantis, Kirtley touted state Senate victories by Manny Diaz, the Hialeah Republican and charter school firm employee who pushed through several choice bills while in the Florida House; Polk County Republican Kelli Stargel, a staunch charter supporter; and Keith Perry, a Tallahassee-area Republican and tax credit backer.

In the House, the Federation   which is associated with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — backed wins by several candidates including Rep. Chris Latvala, a Pinellas County Republican who led the charge for controversial HB 7055; and Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, a staunch choice supporter.

In his release, Kirtley said the Federation worked to educate tax credit scholarship recipients — few of whom are Republicans — about the candidates who back choice, in addition to pouring money into the campaigns.  He suggested the effort paid off.

"Tonight's victories by pro-educational choice candidates continues the trend from this year's primaries, where four pro-educational choice Democrats won their races," he said. "Floridians from both political parties today showed support for educational choice by casting votes for candidates who favor giving parents more options to customize their child's education for their individual needs."

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva indicated that in his chamber, the push for choice will continue.

"I congratulate my friend, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis, on his victory tonight," he said in a late-night statement. "I look forward to working with him to ensure Florida continues to be an economic, educational, and employment model for the nation. Florida will continue to show the country what conservative government looks like."