House, Senate Unveil New Voucher Program As Opposition Lines Up

Mar 14, 2019

The Florida House and Senate are at odds over how to make good on Governor Ron DeSantis’s promise to eliminate a 13,000 student wait list for private school scholarships. 

Credit peoriapublicradio.org

Both chambers want to use public money to create a  the Family Empowerment Scholarship to add to the state’s existing ones. But the House would allow a family of four with incomes of up to $97,000 a year to qualify, and cover up to 28,000 students. The Senate has a smaller income threshold.

 “The original intent of the scholarship was to aid and address low-income and moderate families and students, and I think that’s where we have to stay," said Rep. James Bush, D-Miami during Thursday's House Education committee where the chamber's plan was rolled out. 

The state created the original Corporate Tax Scholarship program to help low-income students in failing public schools attend private ones. Over the years its expanded to include middle-income families and is serving more than 100,000 thousand students. It took in nearly $700 million last year in donations from businesses in exchange for tax credits. 

But the use of public money for the new scholarship program is  something Nicolette Springer with the League of Women Voters opposes.

“This bill is unconstitutional. We cannot be taking public dollars and funneling them through private institutions. Secondly, these dollars are flowing to private schools with no accountability," she said.

Private schools are private for a reason. They don’t have to adhere to the state's limits on class sizes nor do they have to confirm to state requirements on school lunches, building sizes, nor curriculum. They also don’t have to participate in the state’s standardized testing system and there's no state regulatory body that oversees them. They also have more flexibility in how and what they teach and who they hire.