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Mr. SCOTT of Florida. Mr. President, I would like to thank my colleague from South Carolina for all of his work to promote school choice. I have been proud to partner with him each year to cosponsor the National School Choice Week resolution and promote the maximum amount of educational choice for parents.
Since I have been in Washington, I have noticed how many different school options are available for families in the area: public schools, charter schools, private schools, religious schools, home schools, co- ops. There are all kinds of options for parents and their children here.
DC is an example of a place where school choice has helped everyone, as government-funded schools have generally failed.
Of course, Washington, DC, is also where our Nation's political elite and their children reside. It is where diplomats from around the world come and send their kids to the school of their choice. Bureaucrats, politicians, and wealthy parents have all the choice in the world to send their kids to get a great education. But why should that choice only be available to the elite political class? Why is it that teachers unions and Democratic politicians want to fight school choice and keep students from middle and lower income families in failing schools?
It is a perfect example of how the swamp works: They will give every advantage to their own kids, while pushing the working class down. The elites have always had school choice, and like my colleague from South Carolina, I simply want to extend that choice to every family.
During my 8 years as Governor of Florida, I was a proud champion of school choice and charter schools. I have long believed that parents, not the government, know what is best for their children.
Near the end of my time as Governor, Florida had 653 charter schools operating across our great State. More than one in four K-12 public school kids in Florida chose a school other than the one that they were assigned to.
We were ranked third in the Nation for our number of charter schools and the number of students enrolled in our charter schools. That competition helped everyone, including our public school system. When I was leaving, we ranked fourth in the Nation for K-12 student achievement. In other words, our push for maximum choice helped their students in all of our schools get ahead.
That didn't happen overnight, of course. But we had to work at it. For example, I worked to expand access to Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship Program. This tax credit encourages voluntary contributions from corporate donors to scholarship funding organizations. These organizations then award scholarships to students from low-income families so they can attend private schools or get help transporting them to a public school in another school district.
During my 8 years, the number of kids benefiting from that scholarship program grew from 40,000 to 108,000. Sixty thousand more students were able to attend a school that better met their needs because we gave them that choice.
Similarly, I signed legislation creating open enrollment in Florida. That bill allowed more than 280,000 students to attend any public school in the State regardless of their ZIP Code.
I also signed legislation to expand access to scholarships for students with disabilities so they could attend a public or private school of their choice.
I also signed a bill creating the Schools of Hope Program. It established high-quality educational options for students attending persistently low performing public schools.
Instead of attending the lower performing school, we drew in charter school networks that had a proven track record for operating high- performing charter schools in underserved communities. Because we offered them increased autonomy and flexibility and gave them access to grants and low-interest facility loans, these charter schools were better able to serve Florida's neediest students.
Add to that, I signed legislation to give every student access to virtual learning, with 428,000 students taking advantage of that program in the 2017-2018 school year. That number was up by 312,000 students compared to 10 years earlier.
Parents could use Florida Virtual School to supplement what was happening in person at school, and they could use a hybrid setup with home school or do completely online learning--whatever best suited their child's needs.
In Florida, school choice isn't just for the elites, it is for everyone because every family deserves the chance to send their child to the school that best meets their needs. Whether it was virtual school, a private school, a religious school, home school, a charter school, or a public school in a different district, I fought to give the kids the best opportunity to get a quality education.
And the best part about it, this kind of choice and competition among schools benefited everyone. It helped all of our schools, including our public schools and neighborhood schools, to improve.
In October, a team of researchers from Northwestern University, UC Davis, and Emory studied the outcomes of Florida students who remained in public schools in the 2016-2017 school year--the same time we were continuing to expand school choice.
I will read you what they concluded.
We find broad and growing benefits for students at local public schools as the school-choice program scales up.
In particular, students who attend neighborhood schools with higher levels of market competition have lower rates of suspensions and absences and higher test scores in reading and math.
And while our analysis reveals gains for virtually all students, we find that those most positively affected are students with the greatest barriers to school success, including those with low family incomes and less-educated mothers.
In other words, school choice helps students of poor and working class families, like the one I grew up in. I was born to a single mom with an 11th grade education and never met my birth father. My adoptive father never had more than a sixth grade education. We were poor and didn't have much to brag about. We lived in public housing and moved around a lot. But my mom pushed me to work hard in school and get a good education. And by God's grace, I was able to live the American dream. That is why I am here--because school choice shouldn't only be for the elites, it should be for everyone.
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