Dems fight vouchers: ‘I just don’t think we should be subsidizing millionaires or billionaires’

By: - January 26, 2023 5:35 pm
Teacher in her classroom

Teacher in her classroom. Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images

With GOP lawmakers pursuing an expansive plan to let nearly any K-12 student in Florida use taxpayer dollars for a private school education, Democrats began their fight Thursday to ward off the legislation.

But at a first stop to discuss the bill (HB 1) in a subcommittee, Democrats’ efforts fell short.

A crowd sits during a subcommittee meeting discussing an expansion for “vouchers” using taxpayer dollars. Even rich families could participate. Jan. 26, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon, who represents part of Duval County, tried to at least keep millionaire and billionaire families from sending their students to private schools on public dollars.

The legislation opens the door for rich to super-rich families, which generally hasn’t been the case in other “scholarship” or “voucher” programs in Florida.

“I just don’t think we should be subsidizing millionaires or billionaires,” Nixon said. She tried to amend the legislation, but the bill sponsor, Rep. Kaylee Tuck, encouraged  lawmakers on the panel to vote down the amendment.

“The point of the bill is to expand options to all students, regardless of income,” Tuck told the subcommittee. Tuck is a Republican who represents counties in South Central Florida. Nixon’s amendment on barring wealthy families related to the voucher program, failed.

A series of other amendments failed too, including Nixon’s attempt to ensure that private schools do not discriminate against race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, family status, birthplace, ancestry, culture, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or the expression or texture of the student’s hair.”

Tuck said that private schools are already required to follow anti-discrimination laws.

In a written statement following the subcommittee meeting, Nixon called the bill a “handout” to wealthy families.

“My people-friendly amendments would have made some marginal improvements to HB 1. If the Legislature insists on funding unaccountable institutions, it’s common sense we require that these schools will serve students with IEPs, that they do not allow discrimination in any form, and that we will not give the ultra-wealthy unnecessary handouts at the expense of families in need,” according to Nixon’s statement.

The subcommittee did accept two changes to HB 1 from Rep. Susan Valdés of Hillsborough County.

She added language to HB 1 that would require the Department of Education to notify information to school districts on how many students will be using the expanded scholarship or voucher opportunity.

The other amendment from Valdés approved by the subcommittee would require parents to be notified “that participation in the scholarship program does not guarantee enrollment.”

The subcommittee passed the bill on Thursday. It still has a way to go before the full House and Senate votes, and the governor would have to sign off.

The vast majority of students in Florida are public school students. In a 2021-22 annual report from the Department of Education, there were 416,084 private school students compared to 2,833,175 public school students in Florida.

According to Step Up for Students, which oversees Florida’s state scholarship programs, the average scholarship for private school education is $7,700.

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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.