September 14, 2023

Statement from Florida Policy Institute on Universal Voucher Program Data

Yesterday, FPI, in partnership with 30 education advocates, nonprofits, faith-based groups, and others, called on the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) to be transparent about the sustainability of the education budget for scholarships and to provide data on students who’ve been awarded scholarships under the state’s new universal voucher program. This means not only sharing current enrollment data, but also publicly addressing current trends in scholarship awards and corresponding cost projections in relation to available funding.

We appreciate Step-Up For Students, a nonprofit overseeing distribution of vouchers, providing data on scholarship awards after our request. However, Step-Up For Students is not a government entity. It is the responsibility of the FLDOE, the steward of taxpayer dollars and the department to which our letter was addressed, to proactively publish data as outlined in HB 1.

As we continue to analyze the data provided by Step-Up For Students, what initially stands out is that roughly 7 in 10 new scholarship awards are going to students already enrolled in private school, at what FPI estimates is a $676 million cost to the state. This is more than triple the initial estimate by the Florida House. This money is going to subsidize tuition that families were already paying, an average of $8,000, that they can now use for other purposes. It should instead be going to public schools to address long-standing underfunding. Additionally, according to the newly shared data, 53,828 of the new enrollees (44 percent) are from families making over 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $120,000 for a family of four.

Floridians are rightfully concerned about how their tax dollars are being used. Inflation adjusted, Florida’s public school base student allocation is lower than it was nearly two decades ago, and our average teacher salaries are ranked 48th in the nation. Given the steep price tag of HB 1 and its impact on Florida’s public schools, it is incumbent on FLDOE to ensure the highest standard of transparency and timeliness in how the funds are spent and who is benefitting.

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