May 2023 Church & State Magazine - May 2023

Fla. Adopts Voucher Program Despite Criticism From Public School Advocates


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a universal school voucher bill into law March 27. Under the terms of the legislation, all state residents will be eligible for taxpayer support to pay for private schooling and homeschooling.

DeSantis, who is expected to seek the Republican Party nomination for president in 2024, signed the bill, HB 1, at a private school in Miami. Estimates of its cost depend on how many parents take advantage of it, but critics put the figure at $210 million to $4 billion.

 In a media statement, Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, criticized the legislation for subsidizing private education for wealthy families and pouring taxpayer funds into the coffers of unaccountable private schools.

“Average Floridians will be helping pay for millionaires and billionaires to send their kids to elite private schools that hand-select their students,” Spar said. “Once again, we see Gov. DeSantis putting his political ambitions ahead of Floridians, including our students.” 

Abandoned public schools: Is this the DeSantis model? (Getty Images)

The Florida Policy Institute, which opposes vouchers, slammed the program for its high price tag. Institute CEO Sadaf Knight told the Orlando Sentinel, “At a time when our K-12 schools are already severely underfunded, the governor approved a program that will reroute billions in education funding from public education to unaccountable private schools. By opening up the floodgates of funding to private education, including by giving vouchers to the wealthiest families in the state, HB 1 presents a significant long-term risk to the funding for our public schools.”

Existing Florida voucher programs provide taxpayer aid to low-income students or students with disabilities. The new program is unusual for its wide scope and lack of income qualifications. The law refers to vouchers as “education savings accounts.” Private schools that take part will remain free to discriminate in admissions and hiring staff. 

Currently, about 87% of Florida’s students attend public schools. 

Similar far-reaching voucher plans have also passed recently in Utah, Arkansas and Iowa. However, the Georgia House of Representatives voted 89-85 March 29 to reject a sweeping voucher bill that had the backing of Gov. Brian Kemp (R). 

In other news about vouchers:

  • Vouchers are not faring well in the U.S. Congress. Days before DeSantis signed the Florida bill, Congress voted overwhelmingly, 311-113, against a private school voucher proposal by U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX). Roy’s proposal would have effectively created a new nationwide school voucher program and reduced funding for public schools with high concentrations of indigent and high-need students.
  • Lawmakers in Maryland have struck a deal to cut 10% from the state’s voucher plan. Gov. Wes Moore (D) has proposed eliminating the plan entirely and putting the state’s focus on public education. But some legislators balked, and after a brief stalemate, a compromise was reached. The plan will receive $9 million in the state’s new budget. 
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