June 2019 Church & State Magazine - June 2019

Florida, Tennessee Legislatures Pass Voucher Plans

  Rob Boston

Both chambers of the Florida legislature have passed a sweeping school voucher plan, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed it into law.

The plan, called the “Family Empowerment Scholarship Program,” allocates $130 million for vouchers and increases the annual income limit for participation to $77,250. That figure will increase in years to come. It is estimated that 18,000 students will take part in the plan.

Florida’s Constitution contains a provision stating that no tax money shall be spent “directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination,” and separate language calling for the state to maintain a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

The Florida Supreme Court cited the second provision in striking down a similar voucher plan in 2006 in a legal challenge brought by Americans United and other groups. But Republican governors have since then stacked the state high court with conservative judges who may be more likely to uphold the scheme.

A voucher bill has also cleared the Tennessee legislature. Under the plan, the state will create “education savings accounts” that will provide tax aid to parents who use private schools. The program will apply to two counties in the state. The Nashville Tennessean reports that by 2024, the program could cost the state as much as $330 million.

The plan was championed by Gov. Bill Lee (R).

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