The Florida House of Representatives has voted 76-39 to approve a bill that would divert $130 million in tax revenue to funding tuition vouchers for private schools. The bill is now on its way to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis to be signed into law. Meanwhile, the state has 2.8 million students enrolled in a public school system that’s becoming more overcrowded and underfunded by the day.
The new “Family Empowerment Scholarship Program” would raise the annual income limit for voucher eligibility from $66,950 to $77,250, and would approve the 13,000 children currently on a waiting list to receive vouchers.
Proponents of the bill believe it will increase school choice and help children from the state’s poorest families attend private schools. But the policy behind this bill ignores the real problems at the core of Florida’s education system. The state ranks close to the bottom of the list in terms of teacher salaries and spending per student, despite having one of the largest education budgets in the country. Public schools around the state are in need of basic things like air conditioners and school supplies that the $130 million now earmarked for vouchers could easily cover. Florida parents also have more choice in schools than in most states, with publicly funded charter schools or magnet schools accounting for more than half a million students in the school system.
A similar bill was championed by Gov. Jeb Bush back in 2006, but was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court at the time. The court found that the legislation violated the Florida constitution’s stipulation that the state provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools.” However, since the election of Republican Gov. DeSantis last year, the state’s Supreme Court has been stacked with three more conservative judges, and the legislature appears confident that any legal challenges mounted against the bill will now be dead on arrival.
The implication here is that education is a privilege based on wealth and performance, and not a right for all children as public schools believe, and that the state investing in a few tuition vouchers makes it all okay. Many Florida families will never be able to afford to send their kids to private schools, no matter how much money the state throws at them, and with the passage of this bill, the legislature has signaled that those kids’ education means less to them than those who can pay.