Should wealthy golfer Tiger Woods’ kids be able to attend private schools on public dollars in FL?

By: - March 10, 2023 4:15 pm

Students rushing to go to recess. Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

The question of whether families of millionaires and billionaires should benefit from an expanded taxpayer-funded voucher program to send their children to private schools has become a sticking point as state lawmakers and even Gov. Ron DeSantis grapple with whether the very wealthy should qualify.

In a House committee Friday, the debate centered on a very famous golfer: Tiger Woods. According to a Forbes’ profile on the athlete, Woods has a net worth of $1.1 billion, and has lived in Jupiter Island on the Atlantic coast. He has children.

The discussion was in reference to HB 1, a bill that would allow any student, regardless of their families’ income, to be eligible for a “scholarship” or “voucher” that would allow students to attend private school on taxpayer dollars.

Rep. Joe Casselo, a Democrat who represents part of Palm Beach County, said that including folks like Tiger Woods and other wealthy families in state-funded voucher programs doesn’t make sense.

“Look, I’m for vouchers,” Casello told the committee members said Friday, “but we’ve lost sight of meaning of what we were trying to accomplish when this program started.”

Currently, state vouchers are focused on the families of disabled students or students of low-income to middle class families.

He continued: “Heck, people who are sending their children to private schools now – the elite, I would say. Heck, Tiger Woods’ kids could qualify for vouchers. Does this make sense? It doesn’t. We’re losing sight of what the voucher program was.”

But Rep. Mike Beltran, a Republican who represents parts of Hillsborough and Manatee counties, said that he is not bothered by the likes of Tiger Woods benefiting from vouchers.

SAN DIEGO, CA – JANUARY 25: Tiger Woods looks on the 11th hole during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines South on January 25, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

“One of my colleagues said that, you know, Tiger Woods’ kids are going to be eligible for this program,” Beltran told lawmakers at the committee meeting. “I guess he’s right, I guess that’s the punchy talking point. I understand why he said that but, Tiger Woods’ kids are eligible for public schools right now.”

Beltran added: “More importantly, Tiger Woods is paying a ton in taxes, I guarantee you — I hope he is, unless he’s cheating on his taxes — But he’s paying a ton in taxes, far in excess of whatever benefits his kids are going to get from the government. So it doesn’t really bother me that folks who are maybe not indigent are going to be participating in these programs.”

HB 1 is on its way to the full House floor after several committee stops.

The bill has gone through many changes. but the language remains that all students are eligible so long that “the student is a resident of this state and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state.”

But as the House prepares to hear HB 1 on the floor in the coming weeks, even Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated that he is not a huge fan of the very wealthy utilizing state-funded vouchers.

DeSantis said in a press availability earlier this week:

“It doesn’t mean that if they do something different that I would not support it, but I just view ‘universal school choice’ as being, if you have a family that’s very high income — they have school choice. They don’t necessarily need to be eligible for the program. They are eligible. They can go, pay tuition and do it.

“I think there’s a philosophical interest among some to say ‘everybody, universal, money follows the students.’ And I get that, and philosophically, I am not even opposed to that…But I also know we’re in a situation now in Florida, we have limited number of seats that we can even accommodate in private school.”

He added: “I’d like to see the focus remain on, of course, low income, but even getting in into the middle, and even, in some sense even higher-middle class — you look at like Miami, and some of these places, you know, you could be making $150,000, household of four or five, and that doesn’t go as far as it used too. Not just with inflation but with everything else that’s going on.”

“I wouldn’t say that any of that would be a deal breaker for me, per se. But I am totally comfortable saying that if everyone in Florida who can afford it can go on their own without getting it, and everyone who can’t get a scholarship, to me that is still universal,” DeSantis concluded.

Of 18 lawmakers who voted Friday on HB 1 in committee, some of the lawmakers have net worths of more than a million dollars, according to a Phoenix analysis of state documents from the Florida Commission of Ethics and Florida Division of Elections. These are financial disclosure forms that are required.


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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.