Legislators in Florida are considering a new private school voucher bill that would divert even more taxpayer dollars away from public schools into the coffers of private institutions, including religious ones.

At a press conference organized by the Southern Poverty Law Center yesterday to highlight current and proposed policies that undermine public education in Florida, AU Vice President for Public Policy Maggie Garrett spoke bluntly about the problems with vouchers.

 “Private school vouchers don’t work,” Garrett said. “They don’t improve student achievement, they lack accountability, and they fund discrimination. And yet, during a pandemic, when our public schools are facing unprecedented challenges and face mounting costs, we have legislators seeking to drain even more money away from the public school system in order to fund more vouchers.”

Added Garrett, “Florida’s voucher programs predominantly funnel taxpayer dollars to religious schools. In fact, 80% of the private schools in Florida that receive vouchers are religious. Forcing taxpayers to fund someone else’s religious education violates fundamental principles of religious freedom.

“In addition, religious schools often discriminate against students, families and staff. Many religious voucher schools require students, families and teachers to be members of certain religions or adhere to certain religious principles. As a result, many students who belong to minority faiths or are nonreligious are rejected by voucher schools, or they have to hide or change their personal beliefs in order to participate in Florida’s voucher programs. Florida should not be funding, let alone expanding, programs that can reject students because of their religious beliefs.”

In a March 10 letter to Florida lawmakers, Nik Nartowicz, AU’s state policy counsel, outlined the many problems with vouchers, including the fact that many private schools have discriminatory policies.

“Private schools do not abide by federal civil rights laws that apply to public schools,” Nartowicz observed. “Unlike public schools, private schools accepting vouchers often deny students admission or expel them for a number of reasons. These include religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, academic abilities, disciplinary history, or ability to pay tuition. In 2019, for example, 156 Florida private schools that received a voucher had explicit anti-LGBTQ policies or views, including 83 schools that refuse to admit or could expel students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

It's simply wrong to compel taxpayers to support private schools that engage in blatant forms of discrimination like this. 90% of America’s children attend public schools, institutions that welcome all youngsters, regardless of race, religion, gender identification or socio-economic background.

Americans United has a new website to educate Americans about the threat vouchers pose to public education and mobilize support against these schemes. Please visit the site and sign the petition to confirm you believe public money should fund public schools.