By Patricia Levesque,  Executive Director

 

When Florida’s legislature opened its 1999 session—twenty years ago this week—we had an education system that had been failing its children for generations. In fourth-grade classrooms across the state, nearly half our students were reading severely below grade level. Even more students were low performers in math, ranking well below the national average.

In Florida’s high schools, only half the students graduated on time, if they graduated at all. And for those who aspired to college? Florida ranked among the ten worst states for students completing Advanced Placement courses.

Enter the A+ Plan for Education.

Governor Jeb Bush and the 1999 Legislature took bold action to overhaul Florida’s failing system, increasing accountability for schools, rewarding them for student learning outcomes and creating unprecedented education options for students. The A+ Plan was well named, because now, two decades later, Florida is a national leader in rising student achievement.

Consider our progress:

  • Florida’s fourth graders are 5th in the nation in reading achievement and 7thin math.
  • Our high school graduation rate has climbed for more than a decade, to an all-time high (86 percent) this past year.
  • And Advanced Placement courses? Florida is the top state in the nation for percentage of students taking these rigorous courses and 3rd in successful completion.

 
Florida’s families also have access to one of the country’s broadest set of education options to help their children succeed: from universal public school choice, statewide virtual learning and public charter schools to scholarships for low-income families, students with disabilities, bullied students, struggling readers and more.

But as Governor Bush has encouraged Florida leaders over the past two decades: success is never final and reform is never finished. The work to ensure every child in Florida has access to a quality education – and with it, the chance to succeed in life – is a moral imperative.

Today, far too many students are assigned to schools that are not meeting their educational needs.  More than a hundred thousand students are on waiting lists for public charter schools or private education scholarships, and many others would like access to different public schools, but they cannot afford the transportation to make the move. Too many families are searching for an environment that is a better fit for their child, but those education options remain out of reach.

With this legislative session, Florida’s leaders have real opportunities to continue the state’s impressive work on behalf of students.

Governor Ron DeSantis has quickly established himself as a true champion of education reform, already announcing impressive proposals to advance career and technical education and dramatically expand school choice.

Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis and reform allies in the Legislature, Florida is in a great position to once again raise the bar of excellence by giving more hard-working families access to education options that best fit their children, no matter their income level. We must improve the quality and realign education pathways with current workforce demands, ensuring a 21st-century focus on computer science and expanded access to high quality career education and college credit coursework.

We must double down on our commitment to early literacy and next generation learning. And we must continue to attract, develop and support excellent teachers who are the backbone of our education system.

The Foundation for Florida’s Future is optimistic about the 60 days ahead, as legislators convene in Tallahassee to make a difference on behalf of all Floridians. We hope they’ll be inspired by those who crafted and championed the A+ Plan twenty years ago and, quite literally, changed Florida’s future.