21st February 2024

Florida began offering school vouchers under certain circumstances back in 1999 under then-governor Jeb Bush. It was the first statewide voucher program in the country, and opponents criticized the plan at the time on constitutional and educational grounds.

Over the years, the program has faced both support and criticism. Proponents argue that it offers families, especially those with lower incomes, the opportunity to choose schools that better meet their children’s needs. Critics express concerns about the diversion of public funds to private institutions, potential lack of accountability in private schools, and the overall impact on public education.

In March of this year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB1 into lawexpanding the voucher program and significantly increasing taxpayer funding for private schools. The new law eliminates the current financial eligibility restrictions and allows any student who is a resident of Florida and eligible to enroll in K-12 public schools to participate.

And it prioritizes awards to students with household incomes that do not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level, and incorporates a second priority level for students who live in households with incomes between 185 percent of the federal poverty level and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. Four-hundred percent of the federal poverty level is about $120,000 a year for a family of four. The new universal voucher programis estimated to cost $4 billion in the first year of implementation alone, according to a cost analysis by Florida Policy Institute and the Education Law Center.

We get some context on the new law, and the history of how vouchers work in Florida.

Guests:
Dr. Norín Dollard, Senior Policy Analyst and KIDS COUNT Director at the Florida Policy Institute
Damaris Allen, Executive director of Coral Gables-based Families for Strong Public Schools

Dr. Dollard and Ms. Allen will be giving a presentation this Sunday, December 3 from 11:30-1:30pm at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples titled “Taxpayer Funding for Private Schools: Is it Helping or Hurting Public Education?” Email [email protected] to register.

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