September 13, 2023

Group Expresses Frustration Over Lack of Voucher Transparency

Florida’s new universal voucher program is projected to cost upwards of $4 billion in the first year of implementation alone, yet little is known about scholarship awardees

FLORIDA - A group of 31 nonprofits, education advocates, faith-based organizations, and others are calling on the state to release information on education voucher awardees after learning that the nonprofits overseeing voucher distribution have already awarded more than 410,000 full-time scholarships. 

In a letter addressed to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Florida Policy Institute (FPI), Families for Public Schools, and others expressed concern that little is known about the characteristics of the students applying for scholarships under the state’s new universal voucher program, the future budgetary consequences of these scholarships, and the likely downstream impact on public schools.  

House Bill (HB 1) went into effect on July 1, 2023. The measure expanded the state’s voucher program by removing the income cap — previously 375 percent of the federal poverty level — and opening up eligibility to all K-12 students.

The letter’s signatories are requesting that policymakers provide information on how the state budget will be impacted if voucher scholarship costs exceed the allocated per-district amounts within the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), the available funds from the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program, and the Educational Enrollment Stabilization Fund.

While HB 1 was moving through the legislative committee process earlier this year, FPI and the Education Law Center had sounded the alarm that a universal voucher program could cost Florida roughly $4 billion in the first year of implementation alone. The state has now allocated a total of $4.2 billion for vouchers for fiscal year 2024, including $2.8 billion in general revenue that could have gone to Florida’s public schools.

Norín Dollard, PhD, senior policy analyst and KIDS COUNT director at FPI, said: “We recognize that not all children that are awarded scholarships will enroll in private schools or as Personalized Education students. However, the sheer volume of the number of awards is staggering and seemingly not sustainable.  We really need to understand how this is going to affect school districts and the characteristics of students receiving the scholarships in order to make sense of the return on this massive investment of public education funds in private and homeschool education.”

Damaris Allen, executive director at Families for Strong Public Schools, said: “HB 1 allows tax dollars to be used for personal gain. Parents are allowed to purchase theme park tickets, paddle boards, and 55 inch TVs. Parents can spend as much as $500 on Disney tickets. That same $500 given to public schools could transport up to 180 students to and from school for four days.”

Beth Lewis, executive director at Save Our Schools Arizona, said: “Florida's experience with universal vouchers — from the egregious usage of funds for things like trampolines and Legos, to the high potential for cost overruns — is frighteningly close to Arizona's. I would urge lawmakers to bring greater transparency to the budget process and help ensure full funding of public education.”

Rev. Rachel Gunter Shapard, co-founder of Pastors for Florida Children, said: “When we resource the already resourced who have everything they need to succeed academically, what good does that do us as a state? Yet when we resource the under-resourced through public schools, those who cannot afford to pay over and above what is allotted through vouchers are able to receive a high quality education. Investing Florida’s education dollars in ways that will do the most good for the most people will improve all of our lives through the formation of a highly educated citizenry.”

Cecile M. Scoon, Esq., co-president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said: "The League of Women Voters believes that providing our children a solid education is the cornerstone of building a strong democracy. When people are well educated they can advocate for themselves and are more likely to interact with their local and state government. Removing needed education dollars from public schools and giving them to individuals and institutions that are not held to the same high standards of public schools is destructive and unfair to children and families that rely on public schools. The dismantling of public schools must stop or our democracy will not survive." 

Click here to view the letter

Downloadable Resources

There are no attachments currently.
No items found.
Related posts
No items found.