Florida bill would make all students eligible for private school vouchers

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

A new bill filed in Tallahassee, if passed, will allow all students in the state of Florida to receive private school vouchers.

All students would be eligible, regardless of income or whether they are in public school or are being home-schooled.

Some lawmakers call this bill the start of a new era of Florida education. Critics worry about where the money will go if the bill is passed.

If the bill becomes law, public schools could see fewer students, and that would mean fewer dollars because public schools are, in large part, funded based on enrollment.

School is in session, and lawmakers will soon be too. Between now and March 7, the legislature will be setting the agenda, and school choice figures to be a hot topic.

Speaker of the House Paul Renner filed the bill that, if passed, would dramatically expand the state’s school voucher program.

“The conservative republicans who are pushing this believe that educational choice is a good option for all students and shouldn’t just be limited to low-income families and families with disabilities,” said Political Scientist Aubrey Jewett.

Jewett reviewed the proposal and said the measure opens up the school vouchers program to all students, K through 12, regardless of their family income.

Children from families with an annual income of $55,500 and children in foster care would get priority. Families would be allowed to spend the money on private school, homeschooling, college courses, and or private tutoring.

No student enrolled in public school would be eligible for the voucher, which currently is worth $8,200 a year. There are about 9,400 kids currently on a waiting list for vouchers

FCGU college of education professor and associate dean, Fenwick English, said wanting to go to a private school and going to a private school are not the same thing. “Students are eligible to be admitted. But that doesn’t mean there’s any guarantee that they’re going to be admitted.”

If the bill is passed, would Governor Ron DeSantis sign it? “It seems to me that he would gladly sign on to something that increased educational choice for all students,” said Jewitt.

Jewitt said that would give the governor something else to celebrate with conservates if he were to run for president.

The way the law is written now, students from low-income families and with special needs are eligible for vouchers. The new measure opens up the school vouchers program to all students.

“The critics are concerned that historically if you have a voucher program like this, it may lead to cuts in public education and less money available for public schools,” Jewitt said.

Charlotte County Public School’s Spokesman Michael Riley said if more kids opt out of public school, there will be less money for public schools. Enrollment is a large factor in annual funding, and public schools can’t turn a child away.

“We’re ready for whatever. It does matter. The dollars do matter. Don’t think they don’t, but we’re here about educating children. And we’re going to do it with more, or we’re gonna do it with less and whatever we get. We’ll make it work for the kids,” said Riley.

Lee County schools say they are aware of the bill but offered no comment when asked.

You can read the bill being proposed by clicking here.

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