Private school vouchers on track to expand

Students from Leon and Gadsden counties at a College Reach-Out program. Photo courtesy: Inika Williams

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said in a column earlier this month that he supports expanding school-of-choice programs for the state’s public and private schools. 

School choice in Florida allows families to use public resources to receive education outside their neighborhood school and even at private schools. This program is used to help improve academic outcomes, lead to more satisfaction among parents, enhance school safety, reduce criminal behavior, and positively impact later life outcomes such as earnings and knowledge skills. 

Supporters also hope this brings in more revenue through scholarships for students. 

 “Since I signed Florida’s first school-of-choice program into law in 1999, our state has led the school-of-choice movement. For more than two decades, they have focused almost exclusively on those students who need more support. From low-income families, students assigned to failing schools and students with special needs,” Bush wrote. 

 Bush hopes a new bill — House Bill 1 — would significantly expand school-of-choice options successfully. HB 1 has been introduced to the 2023 legislative session, and it cleared an education subcommittee by a 13-4 vote on Thursday.

Bush said he wants all students to receive the education they deserve because they are our future leaders. 

 “Now, this new legislation will enable all Florida students to have this opportunity. It puts Florida on the path toward creating the most advanced innovative education funding program in the nation by making every student eligible for an education scholarship account,” Bush said. 

 Though Bush has a massive vision for Florida’s public schools’ future, some oppose expanding school choice.

They say this will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding that could bring more issues to local school districts. 

 Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hana accused state Republican lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis of intentionally defunding Florida’s public schools by extending voucher programs and schools of choice back in September of 2022. 

 During a live virtual school district meeting, Hana shared his thoughts about why the Legislature should not support the school-of-choice movement. He was the only superintendent present at the conference. 

 “What’s happening is we are diverting funds for students with special needs, for students who otherwise will lose programs that are vitally important to their academic success. Over 20,00 students receive public funds and public tax dollars from attending mom-and-pop private schools. Many of those are religious-based, with no accountability or monitoring from the Department of Education,” Hana said during the virtual conference.