Florida House approves massive voucher program; Rep. Kaylee Tuck, the sponsor of the bill, is being hugged in the House chamber following the vote. March 17, 2023.
GOP lawmakers on Friday rolled over Democrats in the state House, pushing a massive voucher, or “scholarship” program, that would open the door more widely than ever before for families to get public dollars for a private school education in Florida.
Any student who’s a resident in Florida and eligible to enroll in K-12 public schools could participate. Even millionaires and billionaires could do so, though in earlier years, that was generally not an option on the education front.
“We are redirecting money to people who don’t need the money. Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this right now?” said Rep. Dotie Joseph, of Miami-Dade.
Democrats argued strenuously about the voucher expansion, HB 1, saying that Florida’s public school system, with some 3 million students, needs help.
“Our public schools are not broken, they are just unsupported and they’re constantly on attack,” said Rep. Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds, representing part of Palm Beach County. “We have more money than some countries in this world.”
He added, “When are we going to devise a plan to not destroy public schools but support public schools.”
Despite the concerns by Democrats, GOP lawmakers easily supported the voucher expansion. The vote was 83-27 on Friday.
The state Senate would have to approve the legislation, as would Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has grappled with the idea of super-wealthy families getting the vouchers.
In the current legislation, the expanded voucher program would still provide priority to children from low-income to middle-income families.
Still, State Rep. Anna Eskamani, of Orlando, described what’s happening in Florida: Huge privatization, mass privatization, for Florida’s education system.
The discussion over so-called “school vouchers” has long been a contentious battle in education politics. GOP lawmakers have typically approved voucher expansions. Democrats usually don’t.
Rep. Kaylee Tuck of South Central Florida, the sponsor of HB 1, pushed through the legislation on Friday.
Families can choose a variety of schools to participate in the voucher program, from Catholic schools and other religious schools and private schools that have more pricey tuition.
In debate on Friday, lawmakers continued to discuss the number of $8,000 related to getting a voucher, but it wasn’t particularly clear. And the amount of money statewide also isn’t clear.
A legislative analysis of HB 1 showed a figure of $210 million, presumably for year one, in 2023-24, but that wasn’t entirely clear either.
“It is alarming that the Florida House passed HB 1 without any guardrails to mitigate the unprecedented cost and impact this legislation would have on our public schools,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of Florida Policy Institute, in a statement Friday.
“We are dismayed that it passed without fully accounting for the true potential cost of this expansion. Our analysis has shown that the projected $4 billion price tag for universal vouchers would hurt our schools, our communities, and most importantly, our children.”
Knight added: “As the companion bill, SB 202, heads to a floor vote, we urge the Senate to carefully consider the impact on Florida’s public schools. As we have noted before, the only other state to pass a similar universal voucher bill, Arizona, has seen the cost of its program skyrocket well past initial estimates. Florida public schools cannot afford to have their budgets decimated after years of under-investment. Before passing a bill that would pay over $8,000 per child to wealthy families as a discount for pricey private school tuition, the Senate should include growth caps, income limits, and appropriate funding for the program outside of the traditional funding for public schools. The Senate should also adopt measures to ensure transparency and accountability in the program.”
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