JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During a stop Monday at a Jacksonville charter school, Sen. Marco Rubio said he supports school choice.
Rubio, who sat down for a one-on-one interview with News4Jax, made his remarks as critics continue to call for changes in school spending.
Charter schools have come under fire for receiving public funding but operating with little oversight compared to traditional public schools.
The senator said charter schools, such as the newly opened Jacksonville Classical Academy, offer opportunities unavailable elsewhere.
“Look, I’m a big believe in school choice, and in particular the charter school, because it allows for innovation,” Rubio told News4Jax. “It allows for trying new things and new learning environments.”
There are now 687 charter schools operating in Florida, up 14 over last year. According to the Florida Department of Education, more than half of charter school students come from low-income homes and more than two-thirds of them are minorities.
Arguments against charter schools have remained consistent: critics say that public funding should only be spent on public schools. Besides that, a common criticism is that charter schools lack the same degree of transparency as their traditional counterparts.
But Rubio said charters come with fewer restrictions and more diverse populations, providing a better opportunity for many students than they might have in traditional public school settings.
“The more variety and the more freedom there is to explore and find ways new ways of teaching people, the better it is,” the senator said.
Regardless of where Floridians stand on charter schools, there’s no disputing their growth. Over the last decade, the number of students enrolled in charters has nearly doubled. They now teach nearly as many students as Miami-Dade County, Florida’s largest school district.
Rubio, who’s backing a bill that would essentially withhold funding from any school that doesn’t offer in-person learning after a April 30 deadline, also praised Florida’s handling of schooling during the pandemic, which has created new challenges for families and school districts alike.
Asked where he stood on schools requiring face masks, the senator said it’s not a political decision but rather a health decision.