Meg White: Florida’s voucher program
Educator and public ed advocate looks at the ever-spreading Florida voucher program.
Roughly 123,000 new students have received private school vouchers in Florida, taking advantage of the major expansion of the program under Governor DeSantis’ HB1. As of September, 242,929 students had enrolled in 2,098 private schools using the vouchers, also known as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and the Family Empowerment Scholarship. This is an increase from the 170,000 students who received vouchers last year (jaxtoday.org).
A report released this month also said, 27% of the voucher students enrolled this year in private schools are from households with incomes above $120,000 (400% of the federal poverty level for families of four) About 29% are from families whose incomes are between 185% and 400% of poverty level, (which would include household incomes of up to $120,000 for families of four). Another 44% are from families below 185% of the federal poverty level, or $55,000 in income for a family of four (jaxtoday.org).
“Of the 122,895 new students, 84,505 (69%) were already in private school, 16,096 (13%) came from public schools, and 22,294 are entering kindergartners” (jaxtoday.org).
So wealthy families are taking advantage of the program by having the state pay for their children to attend private schools at an estimated cost of $676 million to the state (Orlandosentinel.com).
Even more disconcerting is how many of these schools are unaccredited.
Of the roughly 2,300 private schools accepting vouchers, 69 percent are unaccredited, 58 percent are religious and nearly one-third are for-profit, according to the state education department (Hechingerreport.org)
DeSantis’ legislation allows K-12 students to take advantage of these educational savings accounts worth about $8,500. Since 2019, Florida has paid for vouchers by rerouting state money from public districts to private education (hechingerreport.org).
Data supports that wealthy families are using the vouchers to pay tuition at private schools they already attended. These are likely families that are able to provide transportation, as most private schools do not offer it. However, access to private schools, even with vouchers poses additional problems for low income families who cannot provide transportation to schools farther from their homes. Additionally, vouchers do not cover the full cost of tuition (hechingerreport.org).