February 2, 2023

Universal Voucher Program Under HB 1 Would Cost Billions, Analysis Finds

Funding for public school districts would drop by over $900 per pupil if the Florida House’s voucher expansion bill was enacted

TAMPA, Fla. -  Legislation (HB 1) that would implement a massive expansion of Florida’s voucher program by broadening eligibility to include all K-12 students in the state would redirect billions in state school aid from public to private schools, according to an analysis by Florida Policy Institute (FPI) and Education Law Center (ELC).

High-income families, current private school students, and homeschooled students would be newly eligible for vouchers under the proposed law. Even under conservative estimates, Florida Empowerment Scholarship (FES) vouchers would cost the state about $4 billion dollars in the initial year of HB-1 implementation. This does not include costs for the proposed expansion of the Florida tax credit scholarship vouchers ($568 million in 2021-22).

Specifically, FPI and ELC estimate the following costs to Florida taxpayers from HB 1:

  • $1.1 billion for 124,063 students currently receiving FES vouchers;
  • $890 million for 104,477 new FES vouchers for current public school students once the family income cap is lifted;
  • $1.9 billion for 219,017 new FES vouchers for current private school students newly eligible for vouchers; and
  • $85 million for 10,000 new FES vouchers for homeschooled students newly eligible for vouchers.

The FES vouchers are funded by rerouting state education funding from a student’s resident school district to cover the voucher. Current private school students and homeschooled students are not included in district enrollment totals. This means that approximately $2 billion in new state funding would be required to fund vouchers for these students. If the state does not increase revenue to cover the costs of students already in private education, the reallocation of state aid to vouchers will leave school districts with significantly less revenue to fund the remaining public school students.

“HB 1 vastly expands the responsibility of Florida’s public schools without providing any funding to do so,” said Norín Dollard, PhD, senior policy analyst and KIDS COUNT director at Florida Policy Institute. “It’s important to grasp the sheer size of this proposed expansion — if HB 1 was signed into law, the funding needed to support it would exceed the Hillsborough County school district’s budget, and there would be more voucher scholarships than there are students in Hillsborough public schools, which comprise one of the largest school districts in the nation.”

“It is crucial for Florida lawmakers to understand what HB-1 is set up to do to the public schools and students in their districts,” said Mary McKillip, ELC Senior Researcher. “The data we are providing are estimates, and costs could potentially go much higher. Florida is on the precipice of a devastating attack on the public schools.”

Over the last decade, the number of private schools in Florida has grown by 30 percent, in contrast to national trends, which saw a 9 percent decline.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

Education Law Center, founded in 1973, pursues education justice and equity to ensure that all students receive a high quality public education effectively preparing them to participate as citizens in a democratic society and as valued contributors to a robust economy.

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