A priority proposal is moving through the Florida House which would give every K-12 student thousands of dollars each year to spend on their education with little oversight and regardless of family income level or disability status. Under House Bill 1, so called “education savings accounts” would be accessed by families to pay for private school tuition, home schooling, plus a variety of school related expenses (vaguely called “instructional materials”). The bill mentions that low income families would be prioritized but makes no specific mention of how that would occur.
Also not mentioned is how the bill’s sponsors plan to pay for it.
The cost, according to the staff analysis, is “indeterminate.”
And that “is not reasonable,” said Norín Dollard, a senior research analyst at Florida Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on quality of life issues for Floridians. The group issued a report on voucher funding in September.
About 266,000 Florida children attend private schools without using any current state scholarship or voucher, Dollard notes. All would be eligible for education savings accounts under the proposal.
In addition, approximately 150,000 children receive home schooling. HB 1 would provide accounts to as many as 10,000 of them in the first year, with more to come in following years.
Conservative back-of-the-napkin math suggests that if just 25% of the newly eligible students participate, and those currently in the program remain, the added cost would reach $600 million, Dollard said. As participation grows, the total could approach $4 billion or more within five years, she added.
If that’s the policy decision in leadership, so be it, Dollard said. But it needs to be funded somehow. Tampa Bay Times
The bill, a priority of Speaker of the House Paul Renner, has been fast tracked and passed its first committee on party lines. The governor released his voucher proposal last week. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “It did not include specific funding for the House priority of creating universal education savings accounts, which has been estimated by some observers to require billions of dollars. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he has not yet endorsed the bill, and he wanted to see more details before committing money in his budget ask.”
Opponents of voucher expansion agree, the bill’s champions must explain how they plan to pay for it. Since there is no new funding stream, the monies must come from existing sources which would result in massive cuts to public schools and catastrophic instability to school districts left with no means to plan.
Arizona, a state which passed a similar voucher bill, reported high demand for the program. Headlines out of the state report devastating budget implications and the new governor has announced her desire to repeal the new law.
According to Forbes– an analysis of the Arizona program by the Grand Canyon Institute found, “These vouchers primarily benefit wealthier households.” GCI found that no zip codes with a median income above $80,000 (well above the state median income) have schools receiving a D or F grade from the state. Those wealthier zip codes account for 45% of universal ESA applicants. Those zip codes that do include one “failing” high school or two “failing” k-8 schools only account for 3.5% of the universal ESA applicants. 80% of universal ESA applicants are not in public schools. That means one of two things must happen. Either the state must come up with additional funding (about $177 million in GCI’s estimate), or school districts will send funding to “follow” those students, even though the reduction in costs for the district will be $0.
The Florida Policy Institute asserts, “Even under conservative estimates, Florida Empowerment Scholarship (FES) vouchers would cost the state about $4 billion in the initial year of HB-1 implementation…If the state does not increase revenue to cover the cost of students already in private education, then the reallocation of state aid to school vouchers will leave school districts with significantly less revenue to fund the remaining public schools students.”
What can you do about this? Contact Governor DeSantis and your elected officials. Tell them what you think about this proposal. Send an email and/or tweets to them with two simple clicks. Then, share this information with your friends.
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