Report: Florida ranks first in education freedom

(The Center Square) – Florida’s approach to education and education outcomes ranked first out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in a new Heritage Foundation Education Freedom Report Card.

Florida’s dedication to education transparency, regulatory freedom, return on investment, rejection of critical race theory, support for school choice, parental rights and educational savings accounts are all cited as reasons for its top ranking.

“Florida is the top-ranked state across the board,” the report states, because it “embraces education freedom, respects parents’ rights, and provides a decent ROI for taxpayers.”

In response to the top ranking, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “When other states were locking people down and keeping their kids out of school, we made sure kids were in school because we put their well-being before politics. While states like California, New York, and Illinois that denied in-person education to their children are now suffering from plummeting educational outcomes, Florida’s schoolchildren are thriving because we invest in our students and we empower parents to decide what learning environment is best for their kids. Thank you to The Heritage Foundation for recognizing our success and ranking Florida number one in the nation for education freedom.”

The report card measured four broad categories of School Choice, Transparency, Regulatory Freedom and Spending. Within these categories, it also evaluated 24 subsets. Its stated goal is to inform parents and policymakers about successes and areas in need of improvement and reform.

“Florida is the only state with top-10 ranks in every category,” the report notes.

It ranked first overall, first in transparency, second in regulatory freedom, third in school choice and seventh in spending.

Florida ranked first in transparency because its lawmakers created “a high standard for academic transparency,” rejected critical race theory and passed a Parental Bill of Rights. The legislature also made sure parents and taxpayers can review classroom assignments, a level of transparency not seen in many other states.

When it comes to regulatory freedom, Florida is “one of the freest states for teachers and students to pursue education largely devoid of red tape. An impressive 42 percent of Florida teachers are alternatively certified, making their way to K–12 classrooms through a means other than a traditional university-based college of education.”

It also points to Florida’s “full reciprocity of teacher licensure, allowing anyone with a valid teaching license from another state to teach in Florida, or anyone who holds a certificate issued by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards” as beneficial to its education system.

It also points out that Florida doesn’t use Common Core–aligned tests, something the state legislature also banned.

When it comes to school choice, “Florida does exceptionally well in allowing parents to choose among private, charter, and district schools,” the report states. It also highlights Florida’s K–12 education savings accounts that allow parents to customize their children’s educational opportunities, and generally respects the autonomy of homeschooling families.

Florida could improve its school choice ranking, the report suggests, by expanding eligibility for its private-education choice policies.

When it comes to overall education costs and return on investment, Florida spends the 48th most per pupil among states – $11,043 in cost-of-living-adjusted terms annually.

When comparing spending to outcomes, Florida is tied for 17th place in its combined fourth-grade and eighth-grade math and reading average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) score. Its public schools employ 0.93 teachers for every non-teacher and its unfunded teacher pension liability represents 4% of the state’s GDP.

Florida can improve its ROI ranking, the report suggests, by improving its students’ math and reading NAEP scores, limiting growth of its non-teaching staff, and lowering its unfunded teacher pension liabilities.

Florida can maintain its top ranking by limiting growth of “non-teaching staff, particularly chief diversity officers,” and by embracing “alternative routes for teachers to K–12 classrooms or by ending certification requirements altogether.”

States ranked in the top 10 after Florida are Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, South Dakota, Mississippi, West Virginia, Montana, Louisiana, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina.

The bottom ranking 10 are the District of Columbia, ranking near last in nearly all categories, followed by New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska, Rhode Island, Washington and Illinois.

Those in the bottom have done “very little to provide transparency, accountability, and choice to families,” the report states.