Tiffany is armed to look to her own defense

In 410, after years of enough backstabbing, civil wars and barbarian invasions to make a Games of Thrones scriptwriter blush, the Saxons invaded the Roman province of Britannia. The Roman Britons called upon the emperor for aid, which resulted in what is known as the Rescript of Honorius. In this rescript (a formal reply) Emperor Honorius, distracted by internal rebellion and Visigoth invasion, related “Britannia must look to her own defense.” It was not apparent then, but centuries of Roman rule over Britain ended.

Florida families suffered an Honorius-style rescript of their own in 2020 with the closure of schools. One can only describe the damage suffered by students as horrifying, and it could have been worse. The Florida Education Association, for example, pursued litigation all the way to the Florida Supreme Court in the hope of keeping schools closed. The case went against the FEA, but the message was clear: you are on your own.

Florida families evidently have not forgotten, as Step Up for Students has awarded 410,365 full-time scholarships under Florida’s expanded choice policies. Florida families are filing approximately 1,400 new applications daily. Being less dependent on a group of people eager to throw your children overboard when times get tough apparently appeals to many.

That constitutes a promising start, but it understates the significance of Florida’s new universal eligibility: Every Florida student now has an exit option. The ability to leave and take your money with you isn’t just a form of accountability; it’s the ultimate form of accountability. All Florida students will benefit from the universal expansion of choice regardless of whether they use the program.

American families must look to the defense of their children, and states like Florida have empowered them to do just that. Not coincidentally Americans have been moving to Florida in astounding numbers. Dominoes will accordingly continue to fall.

In 2019, just months away from what became the COVID-19 schooling debacle, this blog included a discussion of Robert Pondiscio’s concept of the “Tiffany Test.” Pondiscio defined students as a “Tiffany” if they had bought into the promise of education but had been let down by the system. The post included the following prediction:

“Maybe it’s a little early, maybe the time is not quite yet, but the day is coming when our K-12 policies will fully and appropriately respect the dignity of families to exercise autonomy in schooling. When that day comes, the unfulfilled, the disappointed, the mistreated, the misfit, and the dreamer will seek better situations for themselves.

They won’t ask for permission but rather will be exercising their rights as free people. Pleading with adults to do what is right won’t be the first or only option. When that day comes, “Tiffany” can speak softly, but her voice will be imperial; the system will center around her at last.”

There was no shortage of Tiffany students in 2019 but a great many more beginning in 2020. In Florida and many other states, they’ll be in charge of their own education.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of Next Steps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.