May 11, 2024

Sue Kingery Woltanski: What Is That New Car Smell?

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Florida has one more creative way to steer money toward private schools via vouchers. Sue Kingery Woltanski reports for Accountabaloney. Reposted with permission.

Picture this. You’re buying a new car in Florida. Your car dealer hands you a paper asking you to give a small amount of the sales tax you owe to a non-profit organization which would divert funding away from public schools in order to publicly fund homeschooling families (i.e. personalize his or her education). What if you were asked to divert your tax dollars away from public schools to provide tuition discounts to students already attending private schools? Would you sign that paper?

Or will you be deceived by the language (above) clearly designed to hide the intended uses of your “donation?”

Voucher enthusiasts are hoping for the latter.

Something stinks and it isn’t your new car.

recent nationwide survey demonstrated that most Americans support public funding staying in public schools:

“They asked participants to choose their preference between education funding going toward either sending low-income students to private schools or to improving public schools. Overall, 73 percent of participants said funds should go to public schools.

Even when broken down by political party and income, a majority of each group wanted the funds for public education.

I believe most Floridians support their local public schools as well. Despite 25 years of expanding school choice options, Floridans continue to overwhelmingly choose public schools.

After Florida expanded to Universal Vouchers last year, families did not flee public schools in massive numbers. Almost 70% of Florida children taking advantage of the new vouchers this year were already in private school or homeschooling. Funding students who have never participated in the public school system is equivalent to publicly funded tuition discounts and funnels more money away from our public schools.

Soon, when you purchase a new car in Florida, your car dealer will be required to ask you to contribute to the diversion of $90+ million/year away from public schools and the state budget, funding instead homeschooling and tuition discounts for private school attendees.

Will you sign to further defund our public schools? Know what you are being asked to sign when you are presented with that form.

The Back Story

Since 2018, through the Hope Scholarship/voucher program, purchasers of motor vehicles in Florida could donate $105 of the sales tax on their new car to fund private school tuition vouchers to victims of bullying and violence in public schools. Motor vehicle dealers were required to provide a Hope Scholarship Program – Contribution Election (Form DR-HS1) form to each purchaser or registrant of a qualified motor vehicle. The purchaser or registrant could choose not to contribute but enough purchasers signed the form to generate, in total, more than $90 million each year. Most recently, the form looked like this:

Hope Scholarship Program Contribution Election DR-HS1

While the motor vehicle tax credit program was very effective in generating funds, relatively few students applied for the Hope program. In 2019, legislators passed SB 7070, which authorized repurposing the unused Hope Scholarship funding to fund Florida Tax Credit Scholarships (private school tuition vouchers).

By 2023, just 538 students participated in the program, at a cost of approximately $4.3 million annually (far less than the $90+ million generated by the sales tax scheme).

When Florida passed Universal Education Savings Account/vouchers (HB1) in 2022, they created the Personalized Education Program (or PEP), funded through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. PEP was created to provide Florida’s homeschoolers access to a publicly funded education savings account to fund their child’s home education.

This year (2023-24), the PEP program funded “no more than 20,000” eligible homeschoolers. For the 2024-2025 through 2026-2027 school years, the number of funded scholarships can increase by 40,000 each year. By 2027-2028, and every school year afterwards, every eligible homeschooler will have access to an account to “customize their education (i.e. fund their homeschooling).

In other words, next school year as many as 60,000 home school/PEP accounts may be funded. At about $8,000 each, 60,000 PEP accounts will cost $480 MILLION in 2024-2025, over 5 times the amount generated by the current car sales tax scheme.

Even Senator Erin Grall, a champion of home education policy who homeschools her own children, questioned why a homeschooled needed an equivalent amount of funding as a child in a public school. “I think that the potential for abuse rises significantly with the dollar amount and keeping a child at home,” Grall said in a 2022 Education committee meeting.

Is this a good time to remind folks of last summer’s revelation that homeschoolers were allowed to purchase theme park passes, 55-inch TVs, Legos and stand-up paddleboards with their PEP voucher money?

Currently, Florida reports 154,289 students participated in home education programs during the 2022-2023 school year. The cost of providing all 154,289 students with a FTC account would be approximately $1.2 BILLION! That will buy a lot of Legos.

This session, Florida’s Legislature passed HB1403: School Choice which, among other things, essentially eliminated the Hope Scholarship program (still allowing bullied students to obtain a tuition voucher through the state’s other voucher programs) and formally transferred all the tax credits to to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program.

With all of these changes, HB1403 required a new Contribution Election Form to be created for car purchases which, at a minimum included the following following description of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program:

“The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program provides a student the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to attend an eligible private school or personalize his or her education.”

Lines 139-149 HB1403

The language is clearly deceptive. Again, Something stinks and it isn’t your new car.

ADDENDUM 5/29/24): To be clear, the ability for new car buyers to divert $105 of sales tax on their purchase is not new. It has been going on since the Hope Scholarship was created in 2018. At that time, new car buyers were told they could contribute a portion of the sales tax toward a scholarship (voucher) to allow a child who had been bullied in their public school to leave their “unsafe school environment.” The program generated a lot of revenue but very few participants (It turns out, as predicted, most bullied kids don’t want to leave their school and friends, they simply want the bullying to stop). Over the years, the excess tax credit revenue was repurposed – first, to pay for tax credit scholarships (tuition vouchers) and more recently to pay for education savings accounts for homeschoolers. Now, the program solely funds private school vouchers and homeschooling. It has been my experience that the car dealers have no idea this is a scheme to funnel public funds away from public schools.

When I have been offered these forms, I simply wrote “NO” in giant letters across them.

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