Calling it a move toward “universal choice,” House Speaker Paul Renner on Thursday announced a proposal that would make every student in Florida eligible for school vouchers — a move that Democrats blasted as a Republican attack on public education.
The legislation (HB 1) would essentially set up what are known as education savings accounts, providing state-funded vouchers that families would be allowed to use for private-school tuition and numerous other services and expenses.
For instance, the bill would permit families to use the money on things such as tutoring expenses, instructional materials, fees for various exams and “contracted services” provided by public schools.
“In terms of the ESA (education savings accounts), we’ve limited it in some fashion to things that are clearly in the educational lane. So, some states have opened that up to purchasing uniforms and doing other things that don’t have an educational purpose. So, the bill limits it to things that, we would all agree on, have an educational purpose,” Renner, R-Palm Coast, said during a news conference to announce the legislation.
House Choice & Innovation Chairwoman Kaylee Tuck, a Lake Placid Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said the measure would allow parents to create a “customized and tailored education system that fits best for their students.”
But House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, criticized the measure, calling it a “continuation of Republican attacks on our public education system that helped create the American Dream by providing education to the poor and rich alike,”
“This sets our state backwards. This is school choice for schools and not for Florida families. This will also probably leave a price tag for the difference that the parents must pay, when the voucher doesn’t cover the full cost of tuition,” Driskell told reporters.
Vouchers have been one of the most-controversial issues in Florida’s education system since Jeb Bush, a major school-choice supporter, was elected in 1998. Republican lawmakers and governors have approved a series of programs that have gradually expanded vouchers.
But the new proposal would mark a vast expansion of eligibility.
Under the measure, families could receive vouchers if “the student is a resident of this state and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state.”
“It does expand (eligibility) to everyone,” Renner said. “And it also adds the extra layer of what’s called an ESA.”
Eligibility requirements in current voucher programs, such as the Family Empowerment Scholarship program and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, are typically based on the income of recipients. Those two voucher programs, which included about 188,000 students during the 2021-22 school year, have an income limit of $111,000 for a family of four.
Home-schooled students also would be eligible to receive vouchers under the bill. The measure would include a cap of 10,000 vouchers for home-schooled students in the first year, with the number growing to 20,000 a year after that.
Renner said the expansion also is aimed at eliminating waiting lists for voucher programs. The Family Empowerment Scholarship program, for instance, has a waiting list of 9,400 students seeking vouchers for special-needs educational options.
“I just don’t think it’s morally acceptable for us to do what we’ve been doing, which is … some are in, some are out,” Renner said of the waiting list. “We’re picking winners and losers there. And these are kids that need early intervention.”
Renner, who became speaker in November, told reporters Thursday the amount of funding needed for the measure hasn’t been determined.
But Rep. Felicia Robinson, D-Miami Gardens, warned that the bill would be a misuse of public funds.
“This is not acceptable. My concern is that the voucher program does not have the accountability that it needs to have,” Robinson said. “The voucher program contributes to the rampant fraud, waste and abuse of public money.”
The Republican-controlled Legislature has contemplated education savings accounts in the past.
A 2021 proposal backed by former Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., who is now the state’s education commissioner, sought to create the accounts, but the proposal died. It drew heavy opposition from the Florida Education Association teachers union and Democrats.
The new House measure appears to be on a fast track, as it is expected to be heard by a House committee as early as next week, according to Renner. Lawmakers are holding committee meetings in the weeks leading up to the legislative session, which is scheduled to begin March 7.
While a Senate version of the bill has not emerged, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, signaled her support Thursday for the legislation. Gov. Ron DeSantis also has supported school choice.
“Here in the free State of Florida, we trust parents to make the best decisions for their children. This historic legislation empowers parents, ensuring they direct the significant funding Florida taxpayers are dedicating to education to the best program for their child,” Passidomo said in a post on Twitter.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
Clearly, this is aimed at killing public education. Republicans are always trying to take money away from the middle class, whether it is Social Security, Medicare or public education. All things we have paid into all our lives. Renner is for supporting more of our tax dollars to go to religious warriors: one specific, acceptable religion. The combining of church and state, and less money for our children going to public schools. I am sick to death of the far right, supposed “Christians” trying to take away from the rest of us and forcing their doctrines upon us. Let these churches pay for their own indoctrination. I’m quite sure the hat passing and tithing can cover it. Look at the lavishness of the Catholic Church and the Vatican.
This also means that our tax dollars can go to the Judy and Joe Church of Christ School for the Pocket Book. How about the God Wants Me to Have a Cadillac Church? Oh, how about all those home school folks? Who’s monitoring this? Definitely ripe for abuse, and it will be widespread. I do not want my money to go to this!
I do not like, or trust, Renner for many reasons, mostly involving his overreach. This is serious overreach. I hope this House Bill fails. Florida has been embarrassed enough.
Deborah Coffey says
Clearly, the destruction of public education is the goal. NO! NO! NO! This is disgusting. We don’t get a choice over our own bodies and now we don’t get a choice about paying for fundamentalist Christian Nationalists to indoctrinate their children?
Jay Briscoe RIH says
Or perhaps, parents do not want their children to be bullied as they would be in a public school system.
This is no slight against any school administrations. It’s simply a way of life that bullying happens on campus. I was a victim of it in every school i went to in addition to when I taught in NJ and Palm Beach.
Parents CHOOSE to teach their children. Stop labeling people you don’t agree with. You come off very close minded and as ignorant as you accuse homeschoolers of being.
Tony Mack says
Republicans have been trying to kill public education since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. They fool people under the guise of “Parents Rights” and dole out taxpayer money to private education venues including religious institutions. I saw it in South Carolina where so-called “private, religious affiliated” schools were chartered with the express purpose of keeping out, you know, “those people.”
Other Nations don’t seem to have a problem with public education and, in fact, many students excel because of the systems they use.
Additionally, this ought to be a warning to teachers in the public education system — Republicans do not want you teaching their children period, end of debate. They refuse to pay a decent wage; they dictate what books and what history can be taught and they damn sure don’t value you as decent people who can instruct their children to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
Once again, Republicans destroy what used to be an honored institution with values teachers. Pathetic, really…
“The voucher program contributes to the rampant fraud, waste and abuse of public money.”
Not a single shred of evidence to support this dribble. Show your work Ms Representative.
This state desperately needs alternatives to its public education system; one of the worst performing in the nation.
Tired of it says
There are plenty of examples of fraud and abuse.
The dude says
“ one of the worst performing in the nation.”
Because the morons who run Florida are starving it to death. In Flagler they refuse to invest in the kids, or anything not related to the olds. So kids literally have no reason to stick around here, unless they’re into mowing lawns, running backpack blowers or baking pizzas.
I find it ironic that the very folks who packed school board meetings two years ago screeching on about “YOU HAVE TO OPEN THE SCHOOLS BACK UP!!!” are now agitating to close those same schools down.
feels as if it’s time to get the hell out of here
Deborah Coffey says
Florida is not one of the worst performing educational systems in the nation. Do your homework, idiot!
JOE D says
DID MY HOMEWORK:
The “Facts” are after all the averages are totaled (math score, reading scores and other scores ) Florida AVERAGES out in the middle (Nationally)
See the below National report, reported on with statistics in the daily commercial:
Not the worst, but nothing to brag about either…
17 th in math scores
9th in reading scores
30 th in teacher/ pupil class size
46th (ouch) in SAT scores (college preparation)
39 in ACT score ( alternative testing for college preparation)
49th (double ouch) in the number of licensed or nationally certified teachers to student ratios
Florida can really do better
James Mejuto says
” One of the worst performing in the nation”? ? ?
I actually think you don’t know what the hell your talking about, Yoyoma!
One reason why you don’t understand our public educational system is because you have friends like DeSantis
and Renner who continue to muddy up the waters.
James Mejuto says
” Calling it a move toward universal choice”? . . . I would call it a move toward corporate choice, the likes of DeVos !
Yeah!. . . Let’s try to make more money out of Public Education !
What will happen is that in addition to paying our bills for public education, we will also be funding/paying for private education and no evidence at all that these private schools do better. In fact, what happens is they can reject any student they declare unfit, while our public education system will not and does not want to reject them.
The DiSantis state run vouchers and his ‘education savings accounts are nothing more than a cruel avenue to paying double: one for vouchers and another for Palm Coast Education tax. One wonders why families who always complain their taxes are too high would agree to pay an extra $800+ every month for a bogus program ?
Why don’t we ask Rep. Renner, a Republican which “things have an educational purpose”?
Hmmm. Isn’t that redistribution of wealth? How socialistic tsk tsk Paul.
This is nothing but an open play to help fund private schools in this state. The government provides an education system for all children in the state – it’s called the public school system. It’s far from perfect and every parent has the right to opt out of this system and either home school or send their child to a private school. And that is absolutely their right to do. However, as a taxpayer in this state, I’m already paying taxes to fund the public school system. What I see here is an additional (at this time, unknown amount) that will be required to fund this “ESA” plan. If you do not plan to use the public education system, taxpayers in this state should not be asked to fund that decision. This is not “freedom”. This is a major overreach by politicians to fund a minority of parents who – for whatever reason – opt out of public education.
“Freedom” is the right to choose the type schooling you want your child to have. It is not having the government pony up taxpayer dollars to fund anyone’s decision to not use the public school system. This can only lead to more funding problems in the long run and more taxes on all of us. Send your kids to private school or home school them; just don’t ask the rest of us to pay for it!!
Call me Ishmael says
Well said, Jim.
It certainly seems that this stunt would be a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
If that matters anymore.
I agree with Jim. As a former educator I have worked in a variety of school systems. Two things that also stand out as issues in the present ‘debate’ About school choice is that rarely are privately run schools evaluated in any measureable way as to their academic progress, and there seems to be little or no
public accountability as to how much profit is involved nor how the instructors are chosen or paid including benefits! My (senior) taxes are largely going for school taxes. The least I would expect is accountability!!
Edith Campins says
The worst thing that could hapeen to public education. Republicans know that educated people won’t vote for them.
Private schools, tax dollars. My kids are grown and gone, my taxes help pay for public schooling. Why should I help pay for private schools with my tax dollars. What students will attend? Mostly white rich kids because I’m sure the requirement to attend will be tough for middle income people, but their tax dollars will help fund the schools for the rich kids. People voted Republicans this is what they get. Perhaps more people will vote Democratic next year.
Jay Briscoe RIH says
Yeah, cause when Dems had a supermajority, teachers REALLY benefitted.
Every school district gets a certain amount of money from the state per student. If a student isn’t attending a public school then the district isn’t losing money. Why not give that money to the parents to help defray the cost of a private, or religious-bases or home school? Why shouldn’t children of poorer families be able to attend private schools? BTW homeschooling is closely monitored in Flagler county.
JustBeNice: Well for starters, there are three reasons:
1.) There are PUBLIC schools. Public schools are paid by public funds.
2.) There are PRIVATE schools. Private schools are paid by private funds.
3.) There are HOME schools. Home schools are paid by home schooling parents’ funds.
See the differences?
Jay Briscoe RIH says
Yeah, cause when Dems had a supermajority, teachers REALLY benefitted.
People really should ask what Flagler did with the last bit of money Desantis sent.
It’s common knowledge. The GQP hates schools and educated people. Conservatives are going to have a hard time growing old in the 21st Century.
James Mejuto says
What do I think?: It should be interesting to find the money contributions Rep. Paul Renner is receiving from the DeVos Charter Schools organizations. I know this telling tale explains and reveals why Renner is pushing these Charter’s instead of tax payer public education.
I believe we should investigate Renner and examine his list of political contributors and contributions.
Michael Cocchiola says
O.K., Paul. You lost me on this one.
First, roughly 80% of private schools are religion-based. You are very dangerously mixing faith and facts.
Next, there is no way to judge whether private schools are teaching state-approved materials to accepted standards. There is also no way to evaluate the performance of private school teachers.
Then, home-schooling is to a large extent without the policies, rules, or regulations that are applied to public schools. Remember? That was the stated impetus to charter schools. Free of restrictions and bureaucracy. You have no idea what home-schooled students are learning and if they are at least minimally proficient in the subject matter. Yes, there can be tests, but any nitwit can be taught a test if the answers are made available.
And finally, how would anyone know if parent-teachers of home-schooled students are in any way qualified to teach, and how would anyone know if the parent-teacher is keeping up with advances in teaching and in subject matter, particularly STEM subjects? How would you even know if bad parents or guardians are just taking the money and sloughing off their teaching duties? You don’t.
This is a very bad proposal. I urge you to think before you act.
Nancy N. says
As the parent of a homeschooled student using the current version of the FES scholarship, I’d like to correct some misconceptions about how the homeschool version of the scholarship works.
First, parents do not receive the money directly. The money is deposited into an account managed by a non-profit scholarship administrator contracted by the state. Parents spend funds and then submit receipts for reimbursement. If the item is approved as educationally relevant, only then do parents receive reimbursement. Parents and other family members may not be reimbursed for their time and other expenses teaching, and there are strict qualification requirements for others hired to tutor or teach a student. Under state law, parents are exempt from these requirements when teaching their own children. However, most parents use materials and curriculum designed by experts in the topics they are teaching. The presumption that homeschool parents are incompetent and/or lazy is offensive. It takes a lot of energy and commitment to homeschool. It’s FAR easier to throw your kid on a school bus every morning.
Second, in a state where Ron DeSantis has politicized education standards, I wouldn’t hold up adhering to “state standards” as something to aspire to. In fact, an increasing number of parents are choosing homeschooling precisely because they want to teach material that is not allowed in public schools or that their child would not be allowed access to in public schools. They want their child to have access to non-whitewashed versions of American history and other topics, materials that are inclusive of all kinds of people and families, and are inclusive in other ways. Or they want to expand their child’s education beyond the traditional offerings. For instance, my autistic child would never be offered French and education in European Art and History in local schools, but she loves learning them in our homeschool classes.
As to whether homeschooled kids are learning or not…you are right, anyone can have the answers to a test, and thanks to state testing, schools are now “teaching to the test”. Kids aren’t getting an education. They are learning to take tests. Homeschool students are freed of the objectives of testing and can actually learn in a constructive way without having to worry about how they will make their district look on a test. The pressure of tests isn’t good for kids or for their education. (And don’t get me started about the stress of active shooter drills….)
Nancy N: Your points are well taken, and you definitely sound like a responsible parent. However, home schooling is your choice. It is a decision you and your family made to opt out of the pubic system. I grew up in the public school system, and I’ve paid into the public system all my adult life. I am well beyond the parenting part of my life, yet I am still paying into the public school system. I do not want my tax dollars to go to religious, private schools or home schools. I do not want these ideologies to take money away from the public education system, that is struggling to keep its head above water as it is. That simply is not right and it’s simply not reasonable to expect these tax dollars after you have opted out for your children.
As you have stated yourself, the current plans for education, decided by the current government here in Florida, is not something you, or any of us, should aspire to, will become even more restrictive. I don’t believe that is something you are working towards, but that is the direction we are unfortunately headed. It could very well backfire on you and your family.
OMG, I did it again! Many moons ago, I worked for an Engineering firm. The head guy was out of town, and there was just two of us women in the office. There was construction going on, and during a time when there were no cell phones, the construction workers would come in to our office and want to use our business phone. Well, I got all clever and put a sign in the glass door stating that our phones were not for public use. The boss came back and had a really perplexed look on his face and asked me about my sign. I went and pulled it out of the window, and it read:
“Our phone is not for pubic use”
On the bright side, no one asked to use our phone again!
Jay Briscoe RIH says
How do you know teachers in public, private and charter schools are qualified to teach?
Joe D says
Public school teachers can be licensed/certified by a National testing standard taken initially in their Senior year of college, then after they graduate, they take the certification level test ( in public schools, you have several years and “try’s” to pass the tests, before you are supposed to be directly supervised by a certified teacher (“highly qualified “ level) if you fail the certification testing repeatedly.
However Florida’s Governor has decided to solve the teacher shortage by bringing in “teachers” who may never have had any Teacher Education beyond HIGH SCHOOL!! Technically they are “substitute teachers”…..but there isn’t to my knowledge a limit in time or subject as to what or how long these “substitutes “ can continue to teach without standard teaching credentials
Private schools have the “option” of hiring certified teachers, but they are not REQUIRED to (certified and “highly qualified” rated teachers do not come cheap), and if your private school is FOR PROFIT….they are NOT spending lots of money hiring all certified teachers, so they can maximize that bottom line profit level!!!
Home schooling and private schools are a parental choice taxpayers should not be subsidizing. If you do not want to send your child to a public school that is your prerogative but don’t expect taxpayers to pay for it.
Of course the GOP party wants to get the same monies awarded to public schools since most of their children all attend private schools. As always the GOP party takes takes and takes. A party that selfishly only think about what they can do to benefits themselves.
No wonder they continue to lose voters and will continue to lose voters. The GOP party supports Santos that right there tells you more reasons not to vote for a party that has failed their public servant obligations.
One aim of “MAGA” is the resegregation of society. Racism fueled the growth of the Republican Party in the South and sustains it yet. They are still trying to “Impeach Earl Warren!” albeit posthumously.
Hey genius, it was the Democratic party in the South that fueled racism. Geeze, read some history books.
Nancy N. says
Geez why don’t YOU read some history books, Pan…if you did, instead of parroting conservative talking points, you’d have heard of the Dixiecrats’ defection to the GOP.
Pan apparently is unfamiliar with the Goldwater revolt or Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” when the most virulent southern racists changed their party affiliation en masse. Some few of us declined and modified our views.
Ray W. says
Hoisted by your own petard. Those Dixiecrats that are the foundation of your point are no longer Democrats. They fled to the Republican Party long ago. Geez, read some history books.
Ray W.: Getting snarkier, congratulations!
Jay Briscoe RIH says
Wasn’t Biden the one who signed off on the “War on Drugs” and the Crime Bill in 1994?
Didn’t he also say he didn’t want his kids in a racial jungle????
Biden signed off on the crime bill. The war on drugs, now in its second half-century and more lost today than it was then, was Nixon’s idea.
As long as these private schools provide have the same requirements as public schools do, I have no issues. So they need to provide the same services like speech, physical therapy, special needs classrooms, and everything else public schools do. If not, you are segregating the population again.
Judging from the hysterical comments and name calling, it looks like Speaker Renner is about to inflict a mortal wound to the liberal socialist movement in Florida. God bless America.
StevenG: I am amused every time one of the far right calls anyone who disagrees with them “hysterical.” Someone tell me, is that on Fox Entertainment?