top of page




Not all superintendents oppose school choice

Editor’s Note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being published by newspapers statewide. Since this column was originally published, the legislature overrode Gov. Beshear’s veto of HB 9.

As I was writing this column, Gov. Andy Beshear issued his promised veto of House Bill 9, which funds public charter schools in Kentucky.

Beshear’s veto will delight the teachers’ unions, his ideological soulmates who played a crucial role in getting him elected.

And, such is expected from a group for which opposing meaningful reforms holding schools accountable or empowering parents with alternatives are litmus tests for whether lawmakers get a campaign contribution or primary opponent.

However, not even teachers’ unions have been pounding their pitchforks as loudly as superintendents and other administrators in opposing – as Louisville Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher describes HB 9 – giving some Kentucky families “a little bit of choice.”

Such opposition, however, isn’t found in all school districts across the nation.

Leaders of some of the nation’s largest and fastest-improving districts embrace choice, particularly as a way of motivating real change in the traditional public school system.

Alberto Carvalho recently completed a 13-year stint leading the Miami-Dade County Public Schools – America’s fourth-largest school district – and its nearly 350,000 students, nearly seven in 10 of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

Not only are 90% of Miami-Dade students minorities, but a substantial number are immigrants and English learners; nearly three quarters of whom are enrolled in choice programs in a district which now offers families access to more than 500 non-district schools unavailable 20 years ago.

That’s a multitude of options even in a school choice-rich state like Florida where, according to Education Next, 45% of all students in K-12 attended “something other than their assigned schools” in 2018.

Miami-Dade’s a district where all kinds of options not only exist but are growing, including charter schools that provide public choice and private schools which can be accessed with scholarships.

Carvalho believes the kind of appropriate pressure applied when parents or guardians can make the ultimate choice about where their children attend school makes everyone up their game.

“We are now working in an educational environment that is driven by choice,” Carvalho once said. “I believe that is a good thing.”

He adds, “We need to actually be engaged in that choice movement.”

For sure, choice-rich Florida has seen some of the greatest growth among all states in educational alternatives – and in progress.

Recent analysis of the eighth-grade reading results on the Nation’s Report Card shows Florida’s white students between 1998 and 2019 improved from 29th to ninth place among the 36 states that participated in both years.

At the same time, Kentucky’s white eighth graders fell from 28th to 32nd place.

“Rather than complain about the incoming tsunami of choice, we’re going to ride it,” Carvalho said when he arrived in Miami.

It wasn’t just talk.

Carvalho himself designed iPrep Academy, a school of choice to which 3,355 students applied for 112 open seats in 2018.

In October 2019, Education Next reported that he led the expansion of Miami-Dade’s choice, adding charter and magnet schools, career academies and international programs to the point that the district’s portfolio of educational options “is unrivaled in Florida and perhaps anywhere else in the country.”

The results are nothing short of amazing.

In 2018, Miami-Dade students’ reading performance ranked in the top three among Florida’s largest school districts in six out of eight tested grades – very different from a decade earlier in 2008 when they were near the bottom of the state’s 14 biggest systems. Miami-Dade’s Blacks are in the top five.

Were he a superintendent in the Bluegrass State, it’s impossible for me to envision an innovative leader like Carvalho joining the opposition to providing a “little bit of choice” for Kentucky’s parents.

In fact, he would likely be pushing for a lot more.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

More Articles: 

bottom of page