School choice appears to be a central theme of President-elect Donald Trump's agenda for K-12 education. That much is clear, based on the few details he shared during the campaign and his Wednesday announcement that Betsy DeVos will be his pick for secretary of education.
But with little else to go on, those who follow education in Florida say there is no telling how schools will be affected by Trump's presidency.
DeVos, a prominent figure in Michigan, is nationally known for pushing to expand and deregulate charter schools, and working to steer public money toward vouchers that allow students to attend private schools. She also has strong ties to Florida, where she sits on the board of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, a strong proponent of school choice.
Trump has pledged $20 billion in federal dollars that would follow students to whatever school they choose — public or private. According to his website, the money would be distributed to favor states that have private school choice, magnet schools and charter laws.
If that plan were to come to fruition, then Florida could be an ideal recipient.
The state, like DeVos' home soil in Michigan, has been fertile ground for the charter school movement. Across Florida last year, some 270,000 students were enrolled in more than 650 charters. A half-million students participated in 489 magnet schools. And voucher-like Florida tax-credit programs have granted more than 90,000 scholarships to children from low-income families to attend private schools.
What will the new administration's impact be in a state where school choice is already so prevalent?
Key observers suggest that the future of education policy, both nationally and in Florida, is in a wait-and-see mode. Even those most involved in these issues didn't want to speculate publicly, saying Trump did not make clear during the campaign what he has in mind.
"Not sure if or how the Florida model plays into the Trump plan or vice versa," said former Florida education commissioner Gerard Robinson, a member of the president-elect's transition team.
Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the direction would be more clear if Bush, the former Florida governor, or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had won.
"They would have had people put together 10 to 15 pages" on education, Hess said. "Trump is not a policy wonk."
He added: "Do I think Trump sat down and did a budget analysis of the $20 billion? I think he was saying he generally was supportive of school choice."
Those on the other side of the aisle advocating for public schools say Trump's values will be defined in part by his budget and the secretary pick.
"Florida already is the number one state in the country for school choice," said Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, "And the kids they 'claim to want to help' are the very kids that they leave behind and create segregated schools and those of haves and have-nots."
Melissa Erickson, executive director of the Hillsborough-based Alliance for Public Schools, said school choice works if the accountability systems are comparable.
"If everyone is shopping for education individually, it's not the same buying power," she said. Expanding choice is "dismantling what we currently know as public schools."
Some who benefit from the state's current setup are hopeful for what's to come. The Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, which operates the Tampa Bay area's second-largest school system after public schools, has seen enrollment rise with help from Florida's tax-credit scholarships.
"To me, we would welcome an expansion of school choice just because (the current scholarship program) is capped at a certain income level," said Chris Pastura, superintendent of the diocese. "We would welcome any additional assistance just because it's able to move that (cap) up, because I think there a lot of families that are caught in the middle."
To qualify for a full Step Up for Students scholarship — a tax-credit program Pastura credits for the diocesan schools' 0.3 percent growth since 2011 — a household of four must earn less than $4,050 a month. A family must earn less than $5,265 a month to qualify for a 50 percent scholarship.
"At the same time, we believe in the common good, so I wouldn't want to see anything that would explicitly be harmful to the public school system," Pastura added. "We believe you could have a good public school system and good assistance to private schools as well."
Contact Colleen Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.