As he gets ready to start an anticipated GOP presidential campaign, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation on Monday allowing all K–12 students in the state to receive taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools.
This is part of his ongoing commitment to education.
The measure enhances Florida’s voucher system by removing the program’s income-qualifying restrictions.
Democrats and detractors have claimed that the law could undermine public schools, amounts to a subsidy for the affluent, and has an uncertain cost.
The so-called “school choice movement” first took off in the United States in the 1990s, but it has recently acquired momentum again due to the coronavirus pandemic, school closures, and ongoing cultural discussions about racial and gender issues in education.
DeSantis has emphasized eradicating what he views as liberal ideology in education as a critical component of his conservative platform, capitalizing on Republican anxiety over what they see as unsuitable themes being taught in schools.
At a bill signing ceremony at a Miami Catholic school, DeSantis said, “There will be a preference for low and middle-income families, but at the end of the day, we fundamentally believe that the money should follow the student, and it should be directed based on what the parent thinks is the most appropriate educational program for their child.”
The legislation moved quickly through the state Assembly because it was a top priority for Republican House Speaker Paul Renner.
In response to “some of the madness that happens in our K-12 schools,” Renner stated on Monday that the new law would permit parents to send their children to alternative schools where their values and faith are honored.
Under Republican governor Jeb Bush, Florida started its voucher program to assist parents in paying for private schools more than 20 years ago.
Throughout the subsequent three Republican administrations, much legislation was passed to extend the program. A statute DeSantis signed two years ago increased the income threshold for voucher eligibility to 375% of the federal poverty level.
DeSantis claimed on Monday that 1.3 million children in Florida attend schools their parents have picked.
This year, so-called school choice bills have been passed or are being considered in almost a dozen other states. Only a few states offer coupons to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
According to Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar, the measure will cause public funding to be diverted to private institutions.
He said it “would siphon billions of taxpayer resources away from the neighborhood public schools that almost 90% of Florida’s parents trust to teach their children.”
Additionally, this new law will transfer public funding to private schools managed by corporations with no accountability.
Democrats have brought up the program’s possible cost on numerous occasions.
The House estimated the measure’s potential cost to be over $209 million, while the Senate estimated the possible cost to be over $646 million.
The scheme might cost $4 billion, according to a calculation by the independent Florida Policy Institute.
Fentrice Driskell, the leader of the House Democrats, stated on Monday that “expense and accountability are severe problems.”
She stated, “I am afraid that this might be terrible to Florida’s public schools, and I think many in our caucus share this perspective.