Yesterday I visited the Greater Miami Academy, a private Adventist school with 175 children in the elementary part and 165 in the Academy (grades 9 to 12).
The school takes part in a programme called ‘Florida Pride’ which is intended to help poorer families send their children to a private school.
Fifty children in the elementary school are on ‘Florida Pride’ scholarships and 23 in the Academy. The subsidy is worth $3,500 a year and comes out of money that would otherwise have been paid by companies to the government in tax.
The parents have to make up the difference between that money and the fees of US$4,000 in the elementary school and US$5,500 in the Academy. (Incidentally, the subsidy given by the church is bigger than that from taxpayers, since the cost of giving a child a place is actually US$11,000.)
I asked to talk to some of the students on the programme. In trooped four girls in 9th grade, aged about 15 or 16.
I asked why their parents had gone to the trouble and expense of applying to get them onto the Florida Pride programme instead of staying at a public (local government) school. The first, Denise, said that students in the public school she previously attended brought in weapons…guns. I asked if they waved around the guns, had them in holsters or what? She said they would have them and then show them.
Yahaira said that students at public school ‘get drugged’. She said it was ‘more challenging here’ academically. There are small classes in the Academy – often 14 or 15 – whereas in the public school there were classes of 30.
Elisabeth said about public school, “you see guns, you see knives”.
Geniver said in the public school there were “a lot of drugs. I told my mom. She sent me here”. She said she was getting higher grades here and learning a lot more.
Elisabeth added that when she was at the public school, she expected to go to a “medium” college (university) but here she could expect to go somewhere like Columbia.
I asked how they expected their lives might be different now compared to what they would have been if they had stayed at their public schools.
Yahaira said that many at the pbulic school dropped out, got into drugs or got pregnant. She added that in the private school, “We’re like in a little bubble. We’re not into that stuff.”
Denise said, “If I had stayed at public school, I would be a completely different person. There were so many temptations.
They made reference every now and again to God. I asked them what their favourite subjects were. Denise said the Bible. Elisabeth and Geniver said health (which is a subject including venereal disease, sex, drugs and nutrition) and Yahaira said gym.
When they were explaining why their parents had sent them to the Greater Miami Academy, it was noticeable that they kept on using the words ‘safe’ and ‘safety’.
There is enormous opposition to the policy of school choice which has been promoted by the Governor, Jeb Bush. But when you meet girls whose lives do appear to have been significantly improved, such opposition seems strange, if not cruel.