Jeb Bush, others weigh in on plan to allow rich families to use public dollars for private schools

By: - January 20, 2023 4:50 pm

First grade Hispanic students raise their hands to answer a question during a class taught in Spanish. Photo by Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images.

A day after a proposal to expand Florida’s so-called scholarship program, which would allow even the very wealthy to send their kids to private schools with public dollars, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and other organizations are weighing in on the newly announced legislation.

Bush is the founder of the nonprofit Foundation for Florida’s Future.

“The right to a publicly funded education is a promise our state makes to every student, and yesterday, (House) Speaker Paul Renner and members of the legislature took bold steps to ensure each and every Florida student can access the education of their choice,” Bush said in a Friday press release.

The bill in question, HB 1: School Choice, would remove a wealth cap on who can apply for some of Florida’s major scholarship programs, often described as “vouchers,” which are currently designated to students with special needs or students of low-income to middle-class families.

The bill is sponsored by South Central Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck and it will likely become a major focus in the 2023 legislative session in the K-12 education realm.

Bush continues in the statement:

“Florida stands on the monumental verge of restoring the original intent of publicly funding education – by funding individual students – so each child can reach their God-given potential. HB1 is a forward thinking and important move toward ensuring Florida remains the nation’s leader in student-centered solutions …”

A partner of the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action for America also voiced its approval of the expansive  legislation.

The executive director for Heritage Action, Jessica Anderson, says that HB 1 would provide families with the flexibility to use public dollars for what’s called an education savings account for a variety of educational needs, according to a written comment Friday.

But others are skeptical about the potential implementation of HB 1 and how it might financially impact Florida’s public schools.

The Florida Policy Institute is a non-partisan and nonprofit policy research organization. Thursday, they urged Florida lawmakers to consider the “harm it (HB 1) would cause to the public schools in their districts.”

“We cannot understate the fiscal damage that HB 1 would inflict upon Florida’s public schools. Our state’s voucher program is already siphoning $1.3 billion from school districts’ budgets —10 percent of total state school aid this year — and diverting it to private schools, according to a recent report from FPI and Education Law Center (ELC),” according to a written statement from Norín Dollard, a senior policy analyst at FPI.

“Now, legislation just introduced would expand our state’s voucher program even more, forcing school districts to forfeit even more public taxpayer dollars for private education, and possibly halting important investments such as increases to teacher pay, supplemental tutoring, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) enrichments.”

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.