Critics allege bill would siphon too much state funding, damaging the public school system.
Local area state representatives have put their full weight behind education legislation that would significantly expand private school vouchers to almost all K-12 students, eliminating income eligibility requirements. While the supporters claim the bill would open up more opportunities for students, critics allege it would divert funding and greatly damage Florida’s public school system.
Under House Bill 1, any student would be eligible for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) and the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES-EO) for students attending private school, although it would continue to prioritize students from lower-income households as well as those in foster care and out-of-home care. However, the bill goes further by allowing eligible homeschool students to receive vouchers under the two scholarship programs.
Among other things, HB1 would also expand “the scope of authorized uses for the FTC and FES-EO scholarships to include, among other authorized expenses, instructional materials, curriculum, and contracted services provided by a public school or school district, including classes,” according to a House bill analysis.
“This bill will allow Florida to lead the way in allowing parents to take charge of their child’s education. No child should ever be left behind in regards to a good, quality education that best fits their learning style and needs,” wrote Republican state Rep. Doug Bankson of District 39 on Facebook on Jan. 26. The Apopka resident serves on the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee, which last week advanced the bill largely on party lines.
Republican state Rep. Carolina Amesty, who represents District 45 and is one of several co-sponsors of the bill, called HB1 landmark legislation in a Facebook post. She also serves on the subcommittee that voted to advance the bill. Both lawmakers operate privately run schools. Bankson is the founder of the Apopka Christian Academy, a K-12 private school affiliated with his Victory Church Apopka World Outreach Center that provides a Christ-centered curriculum. Tuition for 2023-2024 is $8,450 plus $450 in additional fees (although scholarship is available). Amesty is executive vice president of the nonprofit Central Christian University, owned by her father, Juan Amesty.
Critics charge that HB1 would be harmful to the state’s public school system. “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),” said Norin Dollard, PhD, a senior policy analyst with Orlando-based Florida Policy Institute that opposes the bill, in a Jan. 19 statement. She said the bill would force 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 enrichments.” STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and math education. Dollard added that Florida’s public schools are underfunded and rank 44th in the nation for per pupil funding. She said there’s “no fiscally sound reason” to expand the voucher program. Last year, her organization issued a report that said about $1.3 billion, or about 10 percent of K-12 state funding, was redirected from public school districts to private education.
A Feb. 1 Palm Beach Post editorial said the bill comes with undetermined costs that are “jarring and hypocritical” and would bleed state budgets and undermine education. In fact, the House bill analysis noted “the bill would have an indeterminate fiscal impact.”
The editorial added: “Florida already faces a shortage of teachers and support personnel, fueled in part by low pay, unnecessary parental infringement and increasing threats of violence. Inflation, meanwhile, is making it harder to control costs of running schools. Now is not the time for lawmakers to play fast and loose with public school finances.”
WFSU News reported that the Republican-controlled legislature will likely approve the bill and send it to Gov. Ron DeSantis.