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One more thing to love about Florida, school choice.

Florida’s Education Model Spreads

Arkansas Gov.-elect Sarah Sanders recruits a Ron DeSantis administration reformer.

By The Editorial Board, WSJ

Jan. 5, 2023 6:40 pm ET


With gridlock in Washington, most of the constructive policy action this year will be in the states. An early good sign comes from Arkansas, where Governor-elect Sarah Sanders has hired a top Florida education official to drive reform.


Jacob Oliva, a senior chancellor in Florida’s education department, is a “leader who has proven himself in the fight to empower parents and implement bold education reforms” under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tweeted Ms. Sanders, who takes office on Jan. 10.


Florida and Arizona have led the nation in school choice, and Mr. Oliva has been part of the reform team in Tallahassee since 2017. He oversaw policy relating to K-12 schools. That included a 2020 law raising the enrollment cap for school vouchers, and a 2021 law that increased access to vouchers by raising the income eligibility cap and expanding the ways parents could use the scholarship funds.


Mr. Oliva also pushed for schools to re-open for in-person instruction during Covid. Florida was ahead of others on this—Gov. DeSantis ordered in-person school in autumn 2020—and states are coping with the learning loss from prolonged remote education.


Mr. Oliva can bring Florida’s good ideas to Arkansas, which is poised for more education freedom, and could use it. Thirty-two percent of the state’s public schools received a D or F grade based on Every Student Succeeds Act scores in 2021-22. The state’s National Assessment of Educational Progress scores are below average.


The state has a tax-credit scholarship and a scholarship program for special-education and foster-care students, but they are limited in scope. Income eligibility for the tax-credit scholarship is capped at 200% of the federal poverty level. Only about 9% of the state’s more than 450,000 public school students attend charters.


“Whether that is through charter school, private school, a virtual school or a local school district, parents have a right to have a seat at the table and look at opportunities available for them,” Mr. Oliva said last week, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. “And if we can expand choice options for families, then that is a win for our students.”


Ms. Sanders has promised an education agenda to “empower parents with more choices,” and the election results in November elevated school choice advocates in the Legislature. The new Senate president said the Legislature will work on education choice “for every kid in Arkansas.”


States are policy laboratories, as the cliche has it, and Mr. Oliva’s move is an example of how innovation and success in one state can spread to others. Gov. Sanders will have to overcome opposition from the teachers union and Democrats, but by recruiting Mr. Oliva she’s showing her desire to shake up the education status quo for the benefit of students.


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WSJ Opinion: Ron DeSantis's 'Great American Exodus' to Florida

In his keynote address at the Miami National Conservatism Conference on Sept. 11, 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted how Florida differs from liberal-run states on quality of life issues including taxes, education and crime. Images: LA Times/Getty Images/Reuters Composite: Mark Kelly

Appeared in the January 6, 2023, print edition as 'Florida’s Education Model Spreads'.

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